The products and their uses

Northam’s primary products are the three main platinum group metals (PGMs) – platinum, palladium and rhodium. The primary consumers of these metals are the motor manufacturing industry, the jewellery industry, and other industrial sectors.

In the automotive sector, PGMs are used in exhaust systems, specifically in autocatalysts, which help to reduce the noxious and greenhouse gases which are released into the atmosphere. Platinum jewellery has traditionally had huge appeal in Asia; the global jewellery sector accounted for uptake of approximately 23% of platinum demand in 2016. Other industrial uses range from chemical and electrical applications to glass manufacture.

PGMs are traded on international markets where the metal prices are determined by global supply and demand, and are US dollar-denominated. The metal is sold in sponge or ingot form to customers in the US, Europe and the Far East.

PGMs have recently also attracted investment appeal, with the launch of Exchange Traded Funds, which gives investors exposure to physical metal holdings.

It is estimated that one-fifth of everything we use either contains platinum or requires platinum in its manufacture.

A myriad of uses

Motor manufacturing

Platinum coated auto-catalysts help control the harmful emissions a vehicle produces. Today, over 95% of all new vehicles come with catalytic converters. Platinum is also used in spark plugs.

Platinum is present in automotive airbag coatings. Silicone protects the nylon bag from an explosion. The platinum-cured systems are long-lasting and stable and they can be folded up for years without erosion.

Proton exchange membrane fuel cells which contain platinum catalysts are used to power automobiles. They are also used to generate power for buildings. Fuel cells generate power quickly and silently with the help of oxygen and hydrogen. They emit only pure water as a by-product and do not lead to air and noise pollution.

Jewellery

Platinum is ideal for use in jewellery. It is ductile and malleable with a silvery sheen. Pure platinum is slightly harder than pure iron and is therefore resistant to wear. It is the least reactive precious metal and is known for its resistance to corrosion and tarnishing. Moreover, it does not oxidise at any temperature. Palladium, ruthenium and iridium are commonly alloyed with platinum to make jewellery. Even the thinnest sections of platinum are strong and sturdy. They permanently retain their shapes, and provide the best and safest setting for diamonds.

Investment

Platinum bullion, coins, bars, and ingots are traded or collected. Platinum is present in expensive watches.

Industry

Platinum is used in the manufacture of specialty silicones (highly durable, waterproof, and electrically insulating materials). Water repellent coatings, high consistency rubbers, and liquid silicone rubbers require platinum catalysts. Such silicons can be found in high voltage cable covers, construction sealants, furniture polishes, cleaning products, aero and automotive engine seals and gaskets, medical devices, and even in lipsticks and shampoos.

The electrodes inside of glass are usually sealed with platinum, because its thermal coefficient of expansion is almost equal to that of glass.

Platinum-based catalysts are used to manufacture nitric acid for fertilisers and explosives.

In its powdered form, platinum black, it is often used as a catalyst in chemical reactions. Platinum black is also used in self-lighting gas lamps, ovens, and stove burners.

Platinum is:

  • mixed with cobalt to produce a strong permanent magnet
  • used in electrical contacts and electrical resistance wires
  • present in resistance thermometers, which are widely used to measure industrial temperatures
  • used in turbine engines
  • used by the petroleum, glass, and aircraft industries, including coating missile nose cones and jet engine fuel nozzles

Medical

Platinum compounds, mostly cisplatin, are used in chemotherapy medication to treat certain types of cancer.

Platinum is used in dental prostheses and various medical and surgical equipment. In laboratories, platinum pans and supports are used in thermogravimetric analysis.

Platinum works as a catalyst in the manufacturing processes of silicone rubber and gel components of several types of medical implants, such as breast implants, joint replacement prosthetics, artificial lumbar discs and vascular access ports.

Silicons are used in medical elastomers. They stick only to dry skin and so do not damage a wound. They allow air and moisture to pass through them.

A platinum-osmium alloy is used in implants such as pacemakers and replacement valves.

Electronics

Computer hard disks contain platinum in the magnetic layers. Hard disk drives are present in televisions, games consoles, and other home entertainment systems. Use of platinum has helped reduce the disk size and has led to improved data-storing capacity.

Platinum is present in optical fibers and liquid crystal display glass, especially in laptops.

Platinum crucibles are used to make semiconductor crystals for lasers.

Platinum in used in cell phone circuits and in fuel cells which can replace batteries.