The International Platinum Group Metals Association is a source of information on all issues concerning platinum group metals (PGMs) and the industry. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Q: What are PGMs?
The platinum group metals comprise platinum, palladium, iridium, rhodium, osmium and ruthenium. They occur together in nature and are produced from the same ore. Physically, chemically and atomically similar, they are grouped together as elements in the periodic table. Read more...
Q: What are the PGMs used for?
While platinum is most usually associated with jewellery, especially bridal rings, it is also an essential element in the manufacture of numerous consumer goods and technologies which we use every day. In addition, it is greatly valued for its contribution in delivering cleaner energy sources.
PGMs are used, for instance:
- in catalytic converters, cutting the polluting emissions from cars;
- in computer hard disk drives to improve data storage capacity and more rapid data access
- in medicine as an element in anti-cancer drugs and in implants
- in the production of some 20% of all consumer goods, from eyeglasses/spectacles to paint
- in fuel cell technologies to produce cleaner energy
Q: Where are they mined?
Mainly in South Africa, Russia, the United States and Canada.
Q: How are they mined?
PGM mining is a capital and labour intensive process, taking up to three months, and requiring 7 to 12 tonnes of ore to produce one troy ounce (31.135 grammes) of platinum.
PGM ore is mined underground and less usually in open 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 the process and float to the surface where they are removed, 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 (2732 °F) and a mixture of the metals is separated from unwanted minerals such as iron and sulphur by air being blown through. A long and complex series of chemical processes is then required to separate the individual PGMs from each other to produce pure metals.
Q: Are there enough platinum reserves to meet current and future demand?
Yes, geological surveys indicate that there are sufficient resources to meet any foreseeable demand.
Q: What are the most important industrial or technological uses of platinum?
They are used in a wide range of applications including jewellery, catalytic converters, computer hard disk drives, anti-cancer drugs, eyeglasses, paint and a host of other things.
In the future PGMs could play a crucial role in:
- fuel cell technology, which could revolutionise clean energy production for cars, homes and businesses;
- in the development of most new technologies seeking to produce less polluting, longer lasting products, ranging from computers to more humble household appliances.
- In medicine, to improve products and drugs for patients.
Q: As technology improves, will platinum be replaced with other less expensive/more prevalent substitutes?
It is hard to envisage the development of suitable platinum substitutes with the same qualities in the foreseeable future. In addition, platinum is a uniquely durable metal, which means that a little goes a very long way and can be recycled almost indefinitely. Read more about the properties of platinum and the other PGMs.
Q: What is a troy ounce?
The troy ounce is the traditional unit of weight for precious metals.
One troy ounce = 31.1035 grams.
32.1507 troy oz = 1 kilogram.
Q: What is the International Platinum Group Metals Association?
The International Platinum Group Metals Association (IPA) is an association of the leading mining and fabrication companies in the global platinum group metals (PGMs) industry. With headquarters in Munich, the IPA provides information on issues relating to PGMs and on their many applications to interested parties around the world.
Q: Who are its members?
Companies involved in the mining, production and fabrication of PGMs.