How Is Platinum Mined … History and Practices
How Is Platinum Mined : Platinum in its raw state is very rare and is one of the more costly of the precious metals, a fact that is certainly reflected in the price of platinum jewelry. In addition to jewelry, platinum is used by many industries, including electronics and scientific applications, dentistry and medicine, and as a catalyst in petroleum refining.
Platinum In Nature
Platinum is found in nature primarily in nuggets and grains rather than well-formed crystals, and is usually alloyed with other metals like nickel or copper. Its value in industry is platinum’s ability to resist chemical alteration and high temperatures, and its stable electrical properties. It has some vulnerability, though, since it can be corroded by cyanides, halogens, sulfur and caustic alkalis.
Open Platinum Mine
Top Platinum Producers
How is platinum mined and where? Platinum is mainly mined in Russia, North America and Botswana, with 80% of the world’s supply produced by South Africa, according to the British Geological Survey.
There are six metallic elements called the Platinum Group Metals (pgm) which are platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium. These are all extracted during the mining process. Because of the rarity of pgm and its tendency to combine with other metals, the mining process often yields far more nickel or copper than it does platinum.
In South Africa, the world’s largest producer, platinum is mined in an area called the Bushveld Igneous Complex. This huge ore deposit, estimated to have been formed 2,000 million years ago, spans an area of 370 kilometers. Pgm’s are found in three distinct layers, called reefs, the main sources of which are the Merensky Reef, first opened in 1925, and the Upper Group 2 (UG2) Reef, where mining began in the 1970s.
Platinum Mining Methods
How Is Platinum Mined : Originally pgm was extracted using “the narrow reef method” in which miners use handheld pneumatic drills to create holes in the reef into which explosives can be loaded. After the ore is released through blasting, it is removed using scrapers attached to wenches and transported to the surface.
New mechanical and hybrid platinum mining methods are becoming more popular. One method consists of drilling, either with pneumatic drills or newer specialized drilling equipment, and then cleaning the ore from the mine using low-profile vehicles called LHD (load-haul-dump) machines.
How is platinum mined and where In North America, platinum is produced in Canada and in Montana. The Sudbury Basin in central Ontario mainly produces palladium. The Lac des Iles mine near Thunder Bay in western Ontario is the primary source of Canadian pgm’s and until recently has been mined exclusively using open-pit strip mining methods.
A recently opened underground section uses deeper level extraction methods. In Stillwater, Montana, pgm is extracted from the J-M Reef. 80% of their platinum and palladium-rich ore is mined using a mechanized ramp and fill method, much like the LHD method in South Africa.
In Russia, significant amounts of platinum have been produced from mine sites in far eastern Russia and the Norilsk-Talnakh mine located within the Polar ice cap, using both open-pit strip and underground mining methods. In 1925, platinum was discovered in Zimbabwe in an area called the Great Dyke, which runs roughly north and south for about 550 kilometers through the heart of the country. Within the Great Dyke, the Ngezi is the country’s principle pgm site. Originally an open-pit mine, the owners began going into the deeper shafts in 2003 using electro-hydraulic drill rigs.
How Is Platinum Mined
A 42-metre long road train loaded with Platinum bearing ore
leaving Zimplat’s Ngezi mine for the Selous Metallurgical Complex.
Photos courtesy of Johnson Mathey
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