Platinum benefits from higher demand in glass industry

The World Platinum Investment Council’s (WPIC’s) latest forecast anticipates a 69% growth in demand for platinum from the glass industry, rising to 658 000 oz this year, compared with 391 000 oz in 2020.

As a proportion of overall industrial demand for platinum, glass is set to contribute 9% this year, compared with 6% in 2020.

The forecast is supported by two quarters of data that show strong year-on-year gains already this year.

While some of this is attributable to the sector playing post-pandemic “catch-up”, with some capacity build-out planned for 2020 falling into 2021, there are clear signs that this year’s stellar growth is reflective of an industry that is itself experiencing strong demand, especially in China, the WPIC notes.

In fact, in 2020, many plans to increase liquid crystal display (LCD) furnace capacity and glass fibre production lines remained in place, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If anything, the crisis has created supply shortages which have, in turn, boosted prices of certain glass-related end-products, all of which has encouraged manufacturers to add to capacity.

“China, in particular, is expected to see a substantial increase in its LCD substrate and fibreglass capacity this year in response to growing demand,” the council explains.

LCD substrates are used for screens in electronic products such as televisions, laptop computers, games consoles and smart phones. Fibreglass composites are needed across a range of industries – for example in the automotive, construction, telecommunications and wind power sectors.

The precious metal is an essential high-temperature material in the production of glass, owing to its high melting point (1 769 °C) and excellent oxidation resistance, corrosion resistance and chemical stability.

Platinum does not require coating protection when used at high temperatures.

Platinum is often used in the linings of vessels that contain, channel and form molten glass. It is also used to coat equipment such as ceramic stirrers and bowls that are used to mix the molten glass to ensure a consistent composition, especially when a high-quality end-product is required.

The use of platinum alloys – typically platinum and its sister platinum group metal rhodium – brings many benefits to glass manufacturers by enabling increased output, reduced downtime and minimising impurities in the glass.

The latter aspect is crucial for LCD glass, which needs to be of high quality with minimal defects.

In addition to the expansion of furnace and manufacturing capacity leading to increased platinum demand, chemicals company Johnson Matthey believes manufacturers have also been taking steps this year and last to reduce the rhodium content in the alloys used in glass-making equipment, owing to its high cost.

According to Johnson Matthey, rhodium consumption by the glass industry declined by 89% in 2020 as manufacturers switched to solutions with a higher platinum content.

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