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Platinum Group Metals
by Jonathan Buhalis

The six platinum group metals (PGMs) occur together in nature alongside nickel and copper. They are platinum, palladium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium, and osmium, clustered (in cyan) in the periodic table of elements.

the periodic table, A. Jonathan Buhalis

South Africa is the world's leading platinum producer and the second largest palladium producer after Russia, whose production is concentrated in the Norilsk region.

All of South Africa's production is from the Bushveld Igneous Complex, which hosts the world's largest resource of PGMs. In addition to platinum and palladium, these mines also produce rhodium, ruthenium, iridium, gold, silver, nickel, copper, cobalt, ammonium sulphate, and sulphuric acid as by-products.

Platinum and palladium have the greatest economic importance and are found in the largest quantities. The other four - iridium, rhodium, ruthenium, and osmium - are produced only as co-products of platinum and palladium and are never likely to be mined for their own sake.

It is a capital- and labor-intensive industry, taking up to six months and requiring 7 to 12 tons of ore to produce one troy ounce (31.135 grams) of platinum. Companies are investing heavily in exploration and production facilities to ensure the future supply of these vital metals.

PGM ore is mined underground and less usually in open cast pits. It is blasted out of the ground before being crushed and milled into smaller rock particles, which are mixed with water and reagents and pumped through with air to form a "froth flotation". PGM-rich particles adhere to the bubbles created by this process. They are then removed at the surface, and the remaining material is put through the process a second time.

When dried, the flotation concentrate is smelted at temperatures that may be over 1500 °C, and a mixture of the metals is separated from unwanted minerals such as iron and sulfur, by air blowing through it.

Nickel, copper, and cobalt are separated and refined using electrolytic techniques leaving rich residues that require the separation and purification of the remaining PGMs, as well as gold and silver. This part of the process is an intricate combination of solvent extraction, distillation, and ion exchange techniques.

Finally, the soluble metals, which are extracted using hydrochloric acid and chlorine gas, are obtained: first gold and then palladium and platinum. The insoluble PGMs (rhodium, iridium, ruthenium, and osmium) are the last to be extracted.

Platinum as an investment metal Platinum is a tangible asset, which shares with other precious metal investments the attractive physical properties of being largely unchanging and unchangeable. Like gold and silver, platinum is acceptable as a means of exchange by virtue of its internationally standardized form and purity, and, since it is very dense, it is a compact and readily portable store of wealth.

During the last thirty years a number of different retail investment products have been introduced to meet demand for platinum, which can be bought and kept as a repository of value, often for long periods.

American Eagle platinum coin, A. Jonathan Buhalis

Platinum bars and coins Various refiners in the USA and Europe are or have been producers of small investment bars in platinum up to one kilogram (32 troy oz) in weight. The Royal Canadian Mint, the Perth Mint, and the United States Mint, as well as many other smaller mints, have issued legal tender platinum bullion coins and collectors' coins. Many of these products are in circulation and can be obtained from coin dealers and distributors.

platinum bars and coins, A. Jonathan BuhalisThe public in Japan buys kilogram and smaller platinum ingots produced by the principal Japanese precious metals refiners. Another form of investment in Japan is the accumulation plan, introduced in 1992, which enables investors to buy and accumulate platinum with of a regular sum of money paid monthly into their account.

Size of investment demand Demand for the above forms of physical platinum was at its height in the 1980s, stimulated by a proliferation of new investment products and by concern about the security of supplies of platinum from South Africa, the main producing region, during the period of sanctions against apartheid. In 1988, a total of 630,000 oz of platinum was sold in the form of bars and coins, representing 17 per cent of world platinum demand that year

Platinum Group Metals

Investing in PG Metals

History of Platinum

Investing in Platinum
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