Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Platinum Mining, Specifically

I got a comment on the gold mining post from a friend asking about Platinum mining. Since I purchased a platinum engagement ring for my fiancée, she needed to get a platinum wedding band (if any) of one ring would mar the other. She's getting two platinum rings, then, and I may be getting one as well, so it's definitely something I should look into. I planned on researching it eventually, but no time like the present, right?

As I said in the previous post, Wikipedia cannot be considered a consistently reliable source. It is, however, an excellent place to start. It didn't come up in today's first search, though. In fact, when I asked google about "platinum mining", the first place they sent me was to a page on UNCTAD's InfoComm. UNCTAD is the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Generally, I assume the United Nations is going to offer fairly unbiased, researched, and intelligent information. If you disagree, check your own preferred sources and let me know what you learn.

InfoComm actually offers a beautifully clear and concise chart illustrating the refining process. In the text, they offer information about primary mine locations (South Africa and Russia are the two primary sources), mining companies (Amplats is the "industry leader"), quantity (producing one ounce of platinum requires 7 - 12 tonnes [metric tons] of ore), and supply (estimates are less than a year), and finally recycling.

The first thing you need to know is that Platinum is part of PGM, or Platinum Metals Group. Platinum, Palladium, and Rhodium all go hand-in-hand. The primary commercial use of platinum, surprisingly, is automobile catalytic converters. HowStuffWorks is happy to explain how that works. As for quantity, this is the best info I could find, "It is estimated that the average catalytic converter on the market contains 1.5 g of PGM." (They even cite their source!)

There are many more uses, including the production of things that aren't made of platinum at all. According to Wikipedia, it's a catalyst in the production of silocone (squeegees and spatulas) as well as medical implants (breasts, joints, and so on). It is also used in certain forms of chemotherapy, which is both good and bad. They've got a map of platinum production sites, too.

Ok, let's talk about the ambiguous bad stuff now.
First, there is the environmental damage caused by mining. From what I've gathered in the last half-hour, platinum is most often extracted in nickel and copper mining operations, most requently conducted in underground mines (as opposed to pit mines). Can the extraction of platinum be justified, since they're already mining for the copper and nickel? Well, that's your call.

Then we have the refining process, which according to GoldAndSilverMines.com, is "among the most complex and challenging of metal separations." Read their page for more information on the subject. You can see what kinds of chemicals are used in the separation process. Ammonium chloride seems to be the primary bath, and I'll let you do your own research on the dangers of that. All I know is I sure wouldn't want to breathe the vapors.

Points to think about:
How long would it take you to dig up 7 tonnes (15,432 lbs) of rock?
How much energy does that require?
What is done with the "waste"?
How many chemicals are used?
What is done with the chemical waste?
How much is a platinum ring Really worth?

I can't answer any of this for you, but I've definitely convinced myself that I don't need a platinum ring. We've been watching ebay, actually, and the rings have been going for way more than we want to pay. We are only watching used rings, the older the better, and they're getting bought up at alarming rates.

Good luck with your own research and decision.


janineb said...

thank you Terry! Certainly very eye opening. I love my rings, but if I were to do it all over again, I would look at used rings as well. good luck in your search! What are you thinking for yourself these days?

bunnybride said...
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