What you need to know:
- Palladium has risen to be the latest and brightest star for both precious metal and commodity traders.
- Palladium is part of a family of metals known as the “noble metals” because they resist corrosion and oxidation.
- These rare earth metals convert as much as 90 per cent of the harmful gases in automobile exhaust.
- The rare earth metals in catalytic converters are a sort of sieve that cleans the exhaust fumes into manageable levels.
- It is a rare earth element that is found in smoke systems can be used to make explosives and fetch a hefty price.
- The racket is not only exposing Kenyans to noxious vehicle exhaust fumes but allowing criminals easy access to explosives-making material.
Detectives have intensified investigations into a syndicate suspected of stealing valuable rare metals in vehicle exhaust pipes that can be used for making explosives, the Sunday Nation has learnt. The network that involves mechanics, car dealers and shadowy foreign wealthy buyers is said to extract the metals from catalytic converters in the exhaust systems. These can then be used in the manufacture of infra-red detectors used by the military and in making explosives.
What is Palladium?
This lustrous white metal is a key component in catalytic converters for automobile exhausts and its supply hasn’t been able to keep up with demand. Approximately 85% of palladium is used in car exhausts but also palladium is used in smaller quantities in electronics, jewelry, collectable coins and dentistry.
Palladium (traded by the symbol PALL) has risen to be the latest and brightest star for both precious metal and commodity traders. Over the last three years, it’s tripled its price to its all-time highest price, even exceeding gold prices at a seven year high. During the last three years, no commonly traded precious metal or commodity has had this kind of movement and trading potential in either a bullish (upward) or bearish (downward) direction.
One reason for a current palladium shortage is that palladium isn’t mined for directly but rather is sourced as a byproduct of mining for other metals like nickel and platinum which means suppliers cannot as quickly adjust to price changes. There are also not the central bank stockpiles of palladium as there is with gold and silver bullion. There is also much less individually owned palladium than gold, silver or even platinum in coins or jewelry or in the scrap market used by jewelers or pawn shops. Most secondary supplies of palladium (other than from mining other materials) comes from scrapped catalytic converters.
The criminals have been targeting high-end cars and commercial trucks taken by their owners for repairs. Most Kenyans might be unknowingly driving vehicles whose catalytic converters, meant to reduce noxious fumes, have been removed by unscrupulous mechanics, thus polluting the environment.
Some of the people involved in the illegal trade have revealed that the lucrative prices for the rare earth metals found in the devices, including rhodium, palladium, cerium and platinum, are irresistible.
The racket, police sources told the Sunday Nation in confidence, is not only exposing Kenyans to noxious vehicle exhaust fumes but allowing criminals easy access to explosives-making material.
These rare earth metals convert as much as 90 per cent of the harmful gases in automobile exhaust, including hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, into less noxious substances such as nitrogen , carbon dioxide and water vapour. The rare earth metals in catalytic converters are a sort of sieve that cleans the exhaust fumes into manageable levels.
Sources intimated that the buyers, who include a man of European origin and a Chinese based in Eastleigh, have been mopping up all the rare metals. The metals can also be recycled for use in jewellery, dentistry and electronics.
Anti-Motor Vehicle Theft Unit (Flying Squad) boss Musa Yego, however, said that his team has not specifically received reports of the theft or trading in motor vehicle parts.
“We are more involved in curbing motor vehicle theft. We haven’t come across such cases but you can inquire from divisional or regional police bosses” Mr Yego said. Police spokesman Charles Owino did not respond to our enquiries on the issues.
This is despite mechanics, who spoke to the Sunday Nation in confidence, reporting that many of their colleagues in Kariokor, Park Road and Pangani in Nairobi were recently arrested over the criminal activities.
Those involved in the theft are targeting vehicles taken to garages and insurance salvage yards. Most of the written off vehicles are most susceptible.
Four wheel drive vehicles like Toyota Land Cruisers, Mitsubishi Pajeros, BMWs, Volkswagens, ML and G class Mercedes Benz are mostly targeted because their road clearance makes their exhaust systems easier to access.
While the thieves might make about Sh10,000 from a catalytic converter, it can cost a vehicle owner as much as Sh50,000 to replace it. Apart from catalytic converters, rare earth metals are also used in polishing jewellery, production of high capacity computer hard drives, refining of petroleum into finished products like petrol, diesel, kerosene among others, manufacture of thermocouples that measure temperature in glass, steel, and infrared detectors used by the military.
Cerium, palladium and rhodium, which are classified as platinum metals, are used in fertilisers and explosives as sieves for the catalytic conversion of ammonia to nitric acid and fabrication of silicone used in aerospace.
They can also be used in medicine as anti-cancer drugs, glass making equipment and in dentistry.
According to online sources, rhodium which is sold at $4,200 per ounce (Sh148,150 per kilogramme) is a silver-white metal alloying agent with high reflectivity of light used in hardening platinum. It is not easily corroded or tarnished by atmosphere at room temperature.
When added to platinum in small amounts, Rhodium forms alloys that are harder and lose weight at high temperatures even more lower than pure platinum.
These alloys are commonly used for laboratory furnace crucibles, spark plug electrodes and catalysts in very hot chemical environments, including automobile catalytic converters.
Another rare metal is palladium which retails at $47,525.23 (Sh4,752,500) per kilogramme but could go higher in the black market.
Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, describes it as lustrous silver-white metal among the platinum group of metals that have similar chemical properties with the lowest melting point. It is mostly used in catalytic converters.
Cerium, which sells for $34,500 (Sh3,450,000) per kilogramme is among the most abundant rare earth metals.
Small particles of cerium can ignite if scratched by a knife or sharp metal and can be used as flint in cigarette and gas lighters.
Kama ulipeleka hii gari 🚘garage hapa South B shopping center kindly check if the Muffler(Black gold) is there ‼️sources say the exhaust was removed jana🙆‼️.@KenyanTraffic @road_driving @ntsa_kenya @PRSA_Roadsafety @Safeway @motoristsoffice @AccidentAlert_K @Ma3Route pic.twitter.com/7Gc0xfyCAD
— SIKIKA ROAD SAFETY (@sikikasafety) October 1, 2020