Palladium is a precious metal that is more valuable than gold, and its price has skyrocketed over the last couple of years. In 2018, it was worth nearly $1,000 an ounce. Now, a single ounce is worth nearly $3,000. But as its value has risen, devices that use palladium have become magnets for thieves.
The metal is primarily used inside of a catalytic converter, a device that converts harmful emissions such as carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide into less harmful ones before being released into the atmosphere. Since their adoption into the automobile industry in the 1970s, catalytic converters have led to a significant drop in carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide emissions. And the more palladium they use, the more efficient they are at combating these emissions — making them the perfect target for thieves.
Over the years, catalytic converter theft has drastically risen due to the increasing value of palladium. According to a study of reported thefts, on average, 108 catalytic converters were stolen per month in 2018. That number rose to 282 monthly thefts in 2019 and 1,203 thefts per month in 2020.
With more and more manufacturers trying to reduce their impact on the environment and as stricter emissions regulations come into effect in places like Europe and China, the demand for palladium will only continue to escalate.
Verge Science spoke with a chemical engineer and one of the leading recyclers of catalytic converters in the country to find out what makes palladium so valuable — and what it would take to find new alternatives for this precious resource. Watch our latest video to see what we discovered.