Learnings on Osmium

Os ElephantThis is what I love most about the precious metals industry: more than 30 years in the business and the learning never stops. Back in 2017, I got myself into a pickle by promising the European Chapter of IPMI a paper on Osmium for their annual conference. At this point, I didn’t even like Osmium which had caused me several headaches back in my Degussa (the original one) days. The market is small, applications are few and to make matters worse, the metal forms a toxic substance when exposed to air, raising the question whether it is as much a precious metal as Pluto was a planet.

Things changed when I heard of a company offering osmium in a crystallized form, which isn’t just harmless in natural atmosphere, but also quite pretty to look at. My continued research after the conference, together with featuring the crystallized product in my paper sparked feedback from several industry contacts prompting me to revise some of the assumptions that I originally made.

Here is what I learned:

  • Osmium is not just co-mined with other platinum group metals (PGMs) in South Africa. Significant quantities are also co-mined with nickel in several places around the world. Increased nickel demand for battery-electric vehicles will inevitably lead to more above-ground osmium.
  • There already are substantial above-ground inventories of Osmium in unprocessed form (sometimes in conjunction with iridium as so-called “Osmiridium”) waiting for a mainstream application.
  • Combining the information received from said industry contacts it must be assumed that the annual consumption of Os worldwide today is between 800 and 1,000kg.

Positioning Os as a novel, non-synthetic diamond replacement in jewelry applications therefore remains a convincing proposition if it can be accomplished. So far, the concerns I had raised in my blog when first reporting about the idea remain unaddressed. It would appear that a more compelling marketing strategy combined with industrial scale production are required to make it happen.

In the meantime, I will keep watching, and learning.

 

 

 

Let’s talk about Osmium

Osmium – the hardest of the eight precious metals, the one with the highest density of all metallic elements on earth, and with an annual production of just 350kg also the rarest of them all. Why is it we aren’t hearing about it more?

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While doing research for a paper I presented at the IPMI’s recent seminar in Budapest (Hungary) earlier this month, the first apparent issue was: is Osmium a precious metal in the first place? It certainly checks some of the boxes – precious metals, generally speaking, are very conductive, but another criteria is that they do not oxidize in normal atmosphere and temperature. Osmium is known to oxidize in contact with air, and to form Osmium tetroxide which is highly poisonous on top of this embarrassing effect. It also has a strong odor. Which is why Os used to live on the fringes of the precious metals world, used to harden alloys (such as in golden fountain pen tips), as a contrast agent for tissue samples in scanning electron microscopy and a few others. Osmium, then, is a bit like Pluto, formerly known as “Planet Pluto”. It hangs around with the rest of the gang but isn’t really a member of the club. Or is it?

Just when I was beginning to regret having taken on this topic, the story took a dramatic turn. I came across the “Osmium Institut zur Inverkehrbringung und Zertifizierung von Osmium GmbH” (Institute for the distribution and certification of Osmium Ltd). Let’s call them OSI, if you don’t mind, although the acronym had a different connotation in the past. The company, with head office in Germany, developed a process to crystallize osmium, rendering it not only completely harmless but also quite beautiful. The crystals are already being used in the production of upscale jewelry and wrist watches, and they have been produced as 1 ounce discs for the collector’s and investment market.

While osmium crystals sparkle almost like diamonds, they cannot be industrially grown and are much rarer in quantity. Ingo Wolf, general manager of OSI, explained: “To mine a single ounce of osmium, 10,000 tons of metal ore, usually platinum ore, are required. Concentrations have been declining for years and there will be a point in the foreseeable future where we simply run out of osmium because of this”. If and when this happens,  the increased use of osmium in jewelry applications would lead to even higher rarity of the metal.

The caveat? Making the crystals is expensive, and the yield is low. While an ounce of “regular” osmium powder trades at around US$ 425 / ozt in today’s market, the crystals sell for around EUR 850 / g (approx. US$ 30,000 / ozt). This elevates them to a new product which has found its own market, much like diamonds consist of carbon.

Will osmium become a rare commodity for investors? That would require a market, and it remains to be seen if one will develop. With lessons to be learned from the fate of the diamond and the Bitcoin markets, there should certainly be room for a rare tangible asset that cannot be artificially reproduced.

Update: I am not associated with the Osmium Institute in any way.

IPMI Europe: Seminar in Budapest in November

Here is another event that will be hard to miss: the European Chapter of the International Precious Metals Institute (IPMI) will be hosting its annual seminar in Budapest / Hungary from November 12 – 13 this year. I had the pleasure of attending last year’s seminar in Prague which was sold out. Presentations were very good (not just because I was speaking), and there was plenty of time to get to meet people who don’t typically attend the IPMI’s U.S. based summer conferences.

If you are pondering to attend I suggest you decide quickly because space is, once again, limited. Event title is “7 Precious Metals” and – spoiler alert – I will be talking about something completely different.

Head over to http://www.ec-ipmi.org/index.php/next-events-title/8-events/16-budapest-2018-seminar to learn more, and to register.

Hope to see you all there!

Don’t miss it: LBMA / LPPM Conference in Boston

IPMI’s friends of LBMA / LPPM will be hosting a conference in the U.S. later this year. This will be a high-caliber event with many interesting presentations to see, and great people to meet. There will also be a trade show, and IPMI will be an event sponsor. Don’t miss it! Dates are October 28-30 and the venue is the Boston Park Plaza. Head over to www.lbma.org.uk/events for more information, and to register.

Precious Metals & Mobility Symposium – Cutoff Date for special rates is March 26

It’s finally happening: IPMI’s first symposium on the transformation of the automotive industry will start April 16. We have an exciting slate of speakers covering many different aspects of this topic. Sign up now as space is limited (seriously, the room will hold 90 people max).

Kitco News will provide news coverage, and it looks like we’ll have Tesla Model 3 to check out on Wednesday. Don’t miss out – hope to see you next month in East Brunswick.

Click here for the full program and registration info:  https://1drv.ms/b/s!ApQo82MBAeM2ioRHU7FPGghRzlvtEg

 

Precious Metals and Mobility Symposium

Mark your Calendars:

An IPMI Symposium on the future role of Platinum Group Metals in the Automotive Industry

When: 16-18 April, 2018

Where: The Heldrich Hotel and Conference Center, New Brunswick / NJ – USA

Details and registration info will be available shortly on the IPMI’s website.

Advanced Practices for Precious Metals in Jewelry

BangkokOn February 19-20, 2018, the International Precious Metals Institute (IPMI) will host a seminar on best practices in the jewelry industry in Bangkok, Thailand. Sponsoring the event are Pandora, MasterMelt and Umicore.

It is not too late to sign up so head over to the IPMI’s website for more information, and registration details. I’ll attend as the IPMI’s Chair of the Board of Directors and acting Executive Director.

Looking forward to seeing some of you at the event!

 

Precious Metals and Mobility

Upcoming event: the IPMI’s European Chapter is hosting a seminar in Prague, Czech Republic, from November 13-14, 2017. Title is a question: “What will our metals’ future look like in Europe?”. I’ll give a glimpse at an upcoming symposium topic on precious metals and mobility and provide some insights into the subject.

For more information and registration, please click here. I look forward to seeing some of you at the event!

Get it now: IPMI Conference App

Screenshot_20170508-1543591More and more people are using smartphones while the usage of thumb drives has dropped. So for the upcoming 41st IPMI Conference, the entire conference program will be presented via a conference app, developed and sponsored by Sabin Metal Corporation.

The app will allow you to keep track of events, navigate the conference floor, find and communicate with other participants, and much more.

Special sections will feature exhibits and sponsors.

Using the app is free for all conference attendees. What is more, the app will remain active for a year after the event so you have plenty of time to migrate new contacts you made to your regular contacts list.

How to get the IPMI Conference App:

Android and Apple:

In your respective app stores, search for “IPMI 41st Annual Conference” and follow the instructions.

Windows Mobile:

Please click this link: http://py1zqy.m.attendify.com/ to launch the web based version of the app. Note that there is NO Windows-supported app that you could download from the store. All features and functionalities of the web app are identical to the Android and Apple apps.

If you have a QR reader, you may also use the codes displayed in this document..

What next?

IMG_20170508_181738 (2)_LIAfter launching the app, be sure to create your user account which will identify you as a conference attendee. Please enter your name and how you wish to communicate with other members during the event. Feel free to add a picture of yourself if you like. It will make it easier for people to find you in a crowd.

Launching the app will take you straight to the “Activity” screen. This screen will inform you about the latest activities related to the conference, and to people joining the app. This screen will be very busy pre-conference but settle down and focus during the event to inform you about last minute changes or exciting unscheduled things happening right now.

A very important feature on this screen is the menu icon on the top left. Clicking this icon opens the main menu from where you can select the individual app sections. At this point, we are still populating the lists so come back from time to time to check what’s new. Complete information will be available two weeks prior to the conference at the latest.

Use the “Favorites” feature to mix and match papers or events from the conference schedule to plan your day.

You will find two kiosks in the registration areas offering live technical support during registration hours. For questions prior to the conference, please contact Bodo Albrecht at balbrecht@sabinmetal.com

We hope you will like this new conference feature and invite your feedback so we can improve it where necessary for future conferences.

 

Platinum Group Metals: staring down a cliff?

TecDay Road to the Future – Drive TrainOne topic of my annual “Metal Megatrends” paper at the recent IPMI conference in Phoenix was sustainable mobility, and its impacts on metal consumption. In fact, if you read the story of how my column for Kitco News started four years ago (see the “Welcome” page of this blog), we have now reached a point where we can answer the question: “What if all cars in the world were electric?”.

The answer is now online on Kitco News (click here to read).

While my paper (available through the IPMI in a little while) was also critical regarding Tesla executives’ role in trash talking hydrogen it should also be disclosed that I am on the long list of people having pre-ordered a Model 3, and I share the admiration of Elon Musk by those who say he is shaping the world by his visions, perhaps in more significant ways than Steve Jobs ever has.

As a result of adding up all the facts in front of us the only logical conclusion is that the era of the internal combustion engine is coming to an end. There will be a long tail, of course, with cars being passed on from some regions of the world to others, and with heavy duty engines as an unresolved issue. What about collector’s cars? Will a “boutique” style infrastructure emerge where we buy fuel in new ways, or is it back to the pharmacy like in the early days of the automobile?

Last but certainly not least: what will happen to pgm markets in the meantime? Assuming that the fuel cell will eventually gain traction, the loss of platinum on emission control catalysts might be offset by the growth of the FCEV. Palladium, which is already used in some fuel cells, might once again play a role as a substitute. Only for rhodium the direction is unclear in this environment.

That said, the unique properties of precious metals have always made them desirable, if not irreplaceable, in technology applications. I am optimistic that new uses will emerge as technologies advance further.