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David Fickling

Platinum's Lesson for Lithium-Ion Batteries

The history of the catalytic converter promises a hopeful future for materials used in car batteries.
Photographer: Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg

Half a century ago, the commodities industry was in a flap about whether new, less-polluting automotive technologies would cause the world to run out of rare metals.

It wasn't about electric batteries, but catalytic converters. Introduced in the mid-1970s in the U.S. to remove carbon monoxide and toxic hydrocarbons from car exhausts, their most important ingredients were some of the rarest elements on earth: platinum and palladium.