Palladium is a chemical element and along with platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium they have similar chemical properties and form the platinum group metals (PGMs). Palladium, however, has the lowest melting point and is the least dense of the PGMs.
With the ore deposits of PGMs being rare, it is only to be expected that price of these materials and the risk of their supply chain will be high. In particular, the world’s largest palladium miners are South Africa and Russia. As a result, palladium is considered a critical raw material for Europe, being mined outside the EU area, but having a great economical and strategical importance.
For the plating industry and the plating on plastics process, palladium is an extremely expensive element that is being used in Sn-Pd plating baths for the surface activation process. During this pre-treatment step, the nucleation sites are dispersed to ensure the successful competition of the next step, the electroless metal deposition.
The FreeMe project aims to eliminate the use of palladium from the plating on plastics process, ensuring long term sustainability. Specifically, two safe and sustainable by design technologies are being developed, with the first one substituting entirely the Pd activation step, based on the use of biobased sprayable resins that will pre-treat the surface and allow the metallization process to take place. The second technology, is following the traditional steps of pretreatment of the plating on plastics process, substituting the toxic chromium VI from the surface etching step with REACH compliant solutions, while also substituting palladium from the surface activation step with a nickel-based solution.
The simple substitution of such an expensive and critical material is expected to have a great impact on the cost of the materials and process, providing a significant advantage for the PoP industry. The already high prices of palladium were increased, and the supply chain was in great risk, due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, raising concerns to the European market. With the price of palladium to reach more than 60.000 € per kilogram, the replacement with a transition metal such as nickel, which costs roughly 23 € per kilogram, will lead to a reduction of the materials cost.