Platinum is the with the chemical symbol Pt and an atomic number of 78 on the periodic table. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina del Pinto, which is literally translated into “little silver of the Pinto River”. It is a dense, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal. It is one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust and also its least reactive metal. Platinum occurs in some nickel and copper ores along with some native deposits, mostly in South Africa, which accounts for 80% of the world production.
Platinum occurs naturally in the alluvial sands of various rivers, though there is little evidence of its use by ancient people. The first European reference to platinum appears in 1557 in the writings of the Italian humanist Julius Caesar Scaliger as a description of an unknown noble metal found between Darién and Mexico, “which no fire nor any Spanish artifice has yet been able to liquefy”.
In 1786, Charles III of Spain provided a library and laboratory to Pierre-François Chabaneau to aid in his research of platinum. Chabaneau succeeded in removing various impurities from the ore, including gold, mercury, lead, copper, and iron. This led him to believe he was working with a single metal, but in truth the ore still contained the yet-undiscovered platinum group metals. This led to inconsistent results in his experiments. At times, the platinum seemed malleable, but when it was alloyed with iridium, it would be much more brittle. Sometimes the metal was entirely incombustible, but when alloyed with osmium, it would volatilize. After several months, Chabaneau succeeded in producing 23 kilograms of pure, malleable platinum by hammering and compressing the sponge form while white-hot. Chabeneau realized the infusibility of platinum would lend value to objects made of it, and so started a business with Joaquín Cabezas producing platinum ingots and utensils. This started what is known as the “platinum age” in Spain.
The Making of Platinum
Platinum, along with the rest of the platinum metals, is obtained commercially as a by-product from nickel and copper mining and processing. During electrorefining of copper, noble metals such as silver, gold and the platinum group metals as well as selenium and tellurium settle to the bottom of the cell as anode mud, which forms the starting point for the extraction of the platinum group metals.
If pure platinum is found in placer deposits or other ores, it is isolated from them by various methods of subtracting impurities. Because platinum is significantly denser than many of its impurities, the lighter impurities can be removed by simply floating them away in a liquid. Platinum is also nonmagnetic, while nickel and iron are both magnetic. These two impurities are thus removed by running an electromagnet over the mixture. Because platinum has a higher melting point than most other substances, many impurities can be burned or melted away without melting the platinum. Finally, platinum is resistant to hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, while other substances are readily attacked by them. Metal impurities can be removed by stirring the mixture in either of the two acids and recovering the remaining platinum.
One suitable method for purification for the raw platinum, which contains platinum, gold, and the other platinum group metals, is to process it with aqua regia, in which palladium, gold and platinum are dissolved, while osmium, iridium, ruthenium and rhodium stay unreacted. The gold is precipitated by the addition of iron chloride and after filtering off the gold, the platinum is precipitated as ammonium chloroplatinate by the addition of ammonium chloride. Ammonium chloroplatinate can be converted to the metal by heating.
The most common use of platinum is as a catalyst in chemical reactions. It has been employed in this application since the early 19th century, when platinum powder was used to catalyze the ignition of hydrogen. Its most important application is in automobiles as a catalytic converter, which allows the complete combustion of low concentrations of unburned hydrocarbons from the exhaust into carbon dioxide and water vapor. Platinum is also used in the petroleum industry as a catalyst in the reforming of straight run naphthas into higher-octane gasoline.
Platinum is a precious metal commodity. Coins, bars, and ingots are traded or collected. Platinum is used in jewelry, usually as a 90–95% pure alloy. The price of platinum, like other industrial commodities, is more changeable than that of gold. In 2008, the price of platinum dropped from $2,252 to $774 per ounce, a 60% loss. In the 18th century, platinum’s rarity made King Louis XV of France declare it the only metal fit for a king.
Platinum is used as an alloying agent for various metal products, including fine wires, noncorrosive laboratory containers, dental prostheses, medical instruments, electrical contacts and thermocouples. Platinum-cobalt, an alloy of roughly three parts platinum and one part cobalt, is used to make relatively strong permanent magnets. Platinum-based anodes are used in ships, pipelines, and steel piers.
Platinum trading takes place on both the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and the Tokyo Commodity Exchange (TOCOM). In contrary to many other metals, Platinum is thus not available on the London Metal Exchange (LME).
A benchmark price for this metal is set twice a day in London, called the “London Platinum Quotation”. This price is set by the London Platinum and Palladium Market (LPPM), which bases its price on the direct trading activities on their platform.
The price of platinum is discovered through the supply and demand of this metal. Although platinum is considered a precious metal, its price is influenced mainly by its demand in the automobile industry. Therefore monitoring expectations for this industry can prove a significant indicator for future platinum prices.
The supply also plays a major role in its price discovery as a large quantity of the metal is produced in South-Africa, where it is produced cheaper in contrast to the dollar in which it is eventually priced.
NYMEX Platinum Futures Contract
A Platinum Futures Contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) has the following specifications:
|Contract Size||50 troy ounces|
|Price Quotation||U.S. Dollars and Cents per troy ounce|
|Contract Months||January, April, July, and October.|
|Tick Size||$0.10 per troy ounce|