Platinum has become a symbol for exclusivity in our time. The rarity of this precious metal has caused its name to be used in the identification of record setting musical albums, high limit credit cards, special DVD collections and other services or items that people wish to designate as being better than their counterparts. While the metal does not see the wide use that other precious metals, such as gold or silver, Platinum is a versatile metal that has come to be regarded highly in the global culture.
Platinum is a precious transition metal from group 10 of the periodic table with the chemical symbol, Pt, and an atomic number of 78. The color of Platinum is grayish white, often resulting in a mistaken identification as the metal, Silver, a coincidence which led to the metals common name, Platinum, a derivation of the Spanish word, Platina, which is translated to mean ‘Small Silver’.
Platinum has an extremely high melting point of 2041.4 Kelvin and a boiling point of 4098 Kelvin. Platinum also has one of the highest densities of metals found in nature, falling into place at 21.45 g·cm-3 when measured at room temperature. It will not oxidize in air but can become corroded when in the presence of cyanides, halogens and sulfur, as well as certain caustic alkalis. Platinum forms chloroplatinic acid when dissolved in aqua regia but it cannot be dissolved with either hydrochloric or nitric acids.
Platinum occurs naturally in the Ural Mountains, the continent of Africa, the South American country of Columbia and a few of the western states of North America. The metal ore is usually found in the presence of other metals from the Platinum Metals group (Palladiun, Ruthenium, Rhodium, Iridium & Osmium), as well as gold, silver, nickel and copper.
When Platinum was first discovered in South America by the pre-Columbian tribes as a naturally occurring alluvial deposit, it was largely overlooked, although these tribes did find uses for the silvery looking metal in some areas, as artifacts created from a white gold and platinum alloy have been found in the region of modern day Esmeraldas, Ecuador. To understand why the precious metal was not more widely used, we can look to the writings of the Italian, Julius Ceaser Scaliger, who described a then unknown noble metal which no fire had been able to liquefy. The unknown noble metal he referred to was Platinum.
In modern record, two men are credited with the discovery of Platinum. The first was Charles Wood. Wood was a British national and, as a metallurgist, he was naturally intrigued by the samples of Columbian Platinum which he found on the islands of Jamaica during the year 1741. He found the metal to be so interesting that he sent samples to his colleague, William Brownrigg, who then tested and studied the metal for the next nine years before presenting his findings to the British Royal Society in 1750. This report of a previously unknown precious metal with an extremely high melting point and other unique characteristics brought out a surge of interest among European scientists of the day.
The other individual who has been credited with the discovery of Platinum is the Spaniard, Antonio de Ulloa. As a general, explorer, author and astronomer, Ulloa was a highly regarded individual. His scientific achievements earned him an appointment to the French Geodesic Mission, an ambitious project to measure a degree of meridian at the equator. This mission brought Ulloa to Ecuador in the year 1736, where he first encountered Platinum at some point during his eight year stay in the country. On his return trip, Ulloa’s ship was captured by British forces and he became a political prisoner. His charming personality and scientific knowledge quickly earned him favor, however, and even gained him a position on the British Royal Society and safe passage back to his native country.
Following the discovery of Platinum and its introduction to the British Royal Society, the European scientific community was set ablaze with the desire to know more about this new metal. Various individuals studying Platinum’s different attributes worked diligently at unlocking its secrets. In 1772, Carl von Sickingen was the first to succeed in creating a malleable platinum alloy. Twelve years later, in 1784, the first Platinum crucible was invented by Franz Karl Achard, who used Platinum’s known property of fusing with Arsenic to achieve the process.
Nearly 40 years after Ulloa’s return to Spain, Charles III of Spain awarded a complete library and laboratory to Pierre-François Chabaneau to devote to the study of Platinum. Through trial and error, Chabaneau eventually succeed in producing 23 kilograms of pure Platinum in a malleable form. This discovery led to what is now known as the “Platinum Age” of Spain, when Chabaneau and his business partner began manufacturing expensive Platinum ingots and utensils for sale.
To demonstrate that Platinum has yet to tell all of its secrets, in 2007, almost three centuries after Platinum’s original discovery, German scientist, Gerhard Ertl was awarded the Nobel prize for his research into the catalytic oxidation of carbon monoxide over platinum, a discovery which led to the creation of the catalytic converter, a pollution reducing device that is standard on nearly all gasoline and diesel powered vehicles in the world.
The mining and processing of Platinum is a long process which can take up to 6 months to complete. With the rarity of the metal in platinum containing ores, it is necessary to extract and process anywhere from 7 to 12 tonnes of ore to produce one ounce of pure Platinum.
Platinum is gathered by mining, followed by the processes of extraction, concentration and refining. By-products of these processes are Iron, Sulphur, Copper, Nickel, Cobalt, Gold and Palladium.
In addition to mining, Platinum is often recycled from discarded products. The largest source of recyclable Platinum is the catalytic converters used on vehicles and these items can command a hefty price when sold to recycling centers who melt the recyclable Platinum with Iron or Copper. The recycler then leaches the resulting alloy to remove excess metals and impurities before sending the resulting material for further processing by a refiner.
Platinum has been used for a wide variety of purposes by man. While original uses included jewellery, ornamentation and utensils, Platinum has expanded its usefulness far beyond this limited scope.
Due to Platinum’s resistance to high temperatures, it commonly finds application in defense systems such as missile nose cones and military aircraft applications, where durability under extreme temperatures is essential. In civilian applications, Platinum is used in high temperature furnaces, corrosion resistant electronics and for pollution reduction as a major component of catalytic converters.
Medical uses of Platinum include dentistry, drugs to fight cancer, precision instruments and laboratory testing equipment such as Crucibles and Thermocouples. Platinum is also used as a component to alloyed metal to make non-corroding replacement parts for the human body, such as joint replacements.
Platinum is also prized for its investment value. For those seeking to invest in Platinum, it is notable that the value of the metal is prone to extremes. It is considered to be a more volatile investment than gold and can often see an extreme price spread of over $1,500 in a one year period. Since the availability of the metal is extremely limited, local catastrophes or disgruntled workers could create extreme market fluctuations in short periods of time.
Platinum is used in significant amounts as compared to its availability. It has been estimated that, if all mining were stopped today, the world’s currently available Platinum supply would be exhausted in one year or less.
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Tags: PGM, Platinum, PT
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