Wednesday 24th May 2017

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Posts tagged ‘iridium’

Infographic: Platinum and its uses, from fuel to food, medicine to money

May 15th, 2017

Posted with permission of BullionVault | May 15, 2017

Platinum Week starts in London today, the key annual gathering of industry players and analysts, meeting in the platinum market’s key global hub.

To mark this series of platinum industry meetings, seminars and events, BullionVault’s latest infographic looks at the incredible uses of this unique and increasingly vital precious metal.

Heavier and more hard-wearing than gold, tiny quantities of platinum today help make anti-cancer drugs as well as the electrodes on your car’s spark plugs.

Most dramatically, platinum’s unique catalytic properties help create enough fertilizer to keep the world fed, as well as turning crude oil into gasoline and aviation fuel, plus cleaning toxic exhaust emissions from diesel engines around the world.

Discover where this invaluable metal comes from, what it is used for, and how it supports key aspects of modern life in this new platinum infographic.

Incredible platinum uses

 

Diesel autocats

The biggest single use of platinum each year, automotive catalytic converters reduce toxic emissions from combustion engines. Over 41% of all platinum used in 2016 went to cut emissions in diesel autocats. The global push to reduce diesel emissions further will likely see platinum use grow. As the giant economies of China and India upgrade their regulations, adopting the Euro 5 standards and moving towards new Euro 6 rules, some analysts predict the global catalytic converter market could grow 47% in the five years to 2021 to a value over $55 billion.

Jewelry

Platinum engagement rings, wedding bands, necklaces and bracelets account for over a third of the metal’s use each year, almost as much as autocats. Most popular in China, platinum jewelry is generally purer than its gold counterpart because the metal is denser (21.5 grams per cubic centimetre versus 19.3 g/cm3) and more hard-wearing. An identically shaped wedding ring made from platinum will weigh 40% more than that made of 18-carat gold. So although bullion platinum prices are currently cheaper than gold per ounce, this high purity adds to the retail price, as do the extra costs of working this significantly harder metal with its higher melting point (1758°C versus 1064°C).

Fibreglass

Platinum’s high melting point and resistance to abrasion or corrosion makes it ideal for handling very hot substances, most notably molten glass. Platinum tools are used both to channel the liquid and to create the hair-like strands making fibreglass, now used for everything from printed circuit boards to kayaks, home insulation to water pipes in sewage systems. “Fiberization” is the term for extruding molten glass from a “bushing”—a platinum alloy container with tiny holes or jets for drawing out the fibres. Bushings are recycled once they are worn or have lost sufficient platinum to require replacement.

Fertilizers

Without the synthetic fertilizers developed 100 years ago, the Earth could feed perhaps only half as many people as are alive today. Platinum catalysts are vital to making nitric acid, 90% of which goes to produce the 190 million tonnes of fertilizer nutrients used each year. The first stage of making nitric acid means oxidizing ammonia gas with air to form nitric oxide. To achieve high conversion efficiencies above 95%, this is normally carried out at pressure over precious-metal catalyst gauzes made of platinum with one-tenth rhodium.

Petrol

Platinum is vital to the world’s supply of petroleum. Without it, oil refineries couldn’t produce enough fuel to meet demand. Coated onto catalysts made from silica or alumina, platinum aids the chemical process of turning low-octane naphtha into gasoline, diesel, gasoil and jet-engine fuel, cracking large molecules of hydrocarbons into smaller, reformed structures. The developed-world’s OECD economies go through 32 million barrels of these liquids per day.

Spark plugs

Traditionally made with a copper electrode due to its superior conductivity, spark plugs using a harder element such as platinum are a popular choice for all but the highest-performance petrol engines. Because copper is one of the softest metals, platinum spark plugs can last roughly 50% longer, giving around 45,000 miles of driving. Each electrode is tiny; just one kilo of platinum could make enough for 46,000 spark plugs.

Medical implants

The least reactive of all metals, platinum and gold cause no irritation to human skin or flesh. But platinum is harder-wearing, making it best for the connections and wires in implants such as pacemakers, protecting against corrosion by acids inside the body. Estimates say more than five tonnes of platinum go into biomedical devices worldwide each year, around 80% for proven treatments (such as pacemakers and guidewires to fit catheters) and the rest in newer devices for neuromodulation (to help control pain and neurological dysfunction) and stents (mesh tubes to widen arteries and improve blood flow).

Chemotherapy

Tiny quantities of platinum go into many antineoplastic drugs, helping curb the growth of tumours by blocking the DNA in cancer cells. If a drug’s brand name contains the word “platin,” chances are it contains the precious metal. One such drug claims to be particularly effective against testicular cancer, improving the cure rate from 10% to 85%. In total, this form of chemotherapy uses around three-quarters of a tonne of platinum each year.

Legal tender coins

Having discovered platinum mining deposits at the start of the 19th century, Russia has been the only country to mint platinum coins for general circulation, running from 1830 to 1845. Nearly 16 tonnes of coins were minted, but production stopped because of low acceptance, volatility in world metal prices, and high minting costs due to platinum’s high melting point and hardness. No other legal tender platinum coin has yet to be struck, but bloggers and economists say that under U.S. law the Treasury could create a small coin with a face value of $1 trillion, and hand it to the Federal Reserve in exchange for that much cash. Debt-ceiling crisis solved at a stroke!

The International Prototype Kilogram (IPK)

How do you know your kilogram of flour or sugar actually weighs a kilogram? First made in 1889 from platinum alloyed with 10% iridium, the International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK) remains the reference standard to calibrate one-kilo prototypes worldwide. This cylinder measures 39.17 millimetres in both diameter and height, and is stored at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) near Paris. The BIPM now holds five additional copies, with all access strictly controlled and supervised by the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM).

Fuel cells

If you think electric cars are the future of ecological transport, where will the energy for these engines come from? Fuel cell vehicles look like ordinary cars or buses, but mix hydrogen gas with oxygen from the air to create electricity. Aided by a vital platinum catalyst, the only tailpipe emission is pure water. First demonstrated in 1801 by Cornish chemist Humphry Davy, this process became a working fuel cell three decades later under Welsh scientist William Grove. NASA used platinum-catalyst fuel cells between 1961 and 1972 to put electricity and drinking water on the Apollo moon missions. Now a stationary fuel cell with 45 grams of platinum (1.4 troy ounces) has powered 35 homes with three kilowatt hours of electricity per day in a field trial in South Africa, proving that fuel-cell technology offers a viable, economic option for off-grid power.

Posted with permission of BullionVault.

Infographic: The world’s most valuable substances by weight

January 12th, 2016

Text by Jeff Desjardins | Graphic by BullionVault

The world’s most valuable substances by weight

In the field of economics, the laws of supply and demand state that the price of a product and its available supply to the market are interconnected. For example, if a good such as crude oil is produced in excess, the price will drop accordingly.

However, sometimes substances are nearly impossible to produce in the first place—and that means that it can be extremely difficult for the market to respond to increases in demand. The world’s most valuable substances generally fall into this category and this makes their value per gram very high.

White truffles, for instance, only grow for a couple of months of the year, almost exclusively in one part of Italy. They must be foraged by special pigs, and they seem to be worth more every year. The price per gram for white truffles is $5, which means that a pound costs close to $2,000.

Despite this, white truffles barely crack the list of the most valuable substances by weight.

Saffron, a spice that is gathered from the flower of the crocus sativus plant, is another notch higher on the list. To get one pound of dry saffron requires the harvest of 50,000 to 75,000 flowers. There’s only 300 tonnes of production each year, and that annual production is worth around $3 billion.

Higher up on the list of the world’s most valuable substances are some familiar metals. Silver does not make the list, as it is only worth around $0.50 per gram. However, many of the platinum group metals (PGMs) do make the list: platinum, palladium, rhodium and iridium all range between $16 and $27 per gram. Gold also makes the list, and it has traded for more than an ounce of platinum since early 2015. One gram of gold is worth just under $34.

At the top of the list we find a combination of extremely rare metals, radioactive isotopes and gemstones.

The radioactive element californium, first made in 1950, is the most valuable at $27 million per gram. It is one of the few transuranium elements that have practical applications, being used in microscopic amounts for metal detectors and in identifying oil and water layers in oil wells.

Diamonds are near the top of the list as well at $65,000 per gram, though like many other gemstones, the value depends on the specific crystal in question. Many industrial diamonds are relatively cheap, but the rarest and most beautiful stones can be worth millions.

Iranian beluga caviar and crème de la mer are the most expensive non-metals or non-gemstones on the list. Iranian caviar is made from the roe of beluga sturgeons found in the Caspian Sea, and it is valued at about $35 per gram. Crème de la mer was originally created by a physicist for NASA to heal his burns, but it is now sold as a face cream by Estée Lauder for $70 per gram.

Graphic by BullionVault / Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Precious, practical and fickle

November 13th, 2013

Platinum’s supply shortage won’t boost its near-term price, a report cautions

by Greg Klein

Forecasts that platinum prices would break free of gold have so far proved premature. True, the metal now attracts strong ETF interest in addition to industrial uses, not to mention jewelry and bullion. Demand is set to hit record levels this year, pushing supply further into deficit. But a comprehensive study of the metal’s 2013 performance finds it “increasingly unresponsive to supply-side concerns.”

Indeed, “after rising above $1,700 in February, platinum was dragged below $1,400 following a sharp fall in the gold price.” That comes from the Platinum 2013 Interim Review released November 12 by Johnson Matthey, self-described as “the world’s leading authority on platinum group metals.” The 40-page report compiled by an 11-person research team tracks the year’s PGM performance in supply, demand and price by jurisdiction and use. While the study finds considerable push and pull from other forces, the vagaries that trouble gold seem to afflict platinum too.

Yet this year’s supply deficit is forecast at 605,000 ounces, compared to 340,000 ounces in 2012, thanks to ETFs and industry. The latter includes automotive catalytic converters as well as chemical, electrical, glass, petroleum and medical/biomedical uses.

Platinum’s supply shortage won’t boost its near-term price, a report cautions

The researchers say an 11.5% increase in industrial demand will come largely from chemical uses while catalyst demand will drop. As for ETFs, “unprecedented offtake” in South Africa, along with ETFs from other regions as well as bars and coins, “will lift investment demand to a record 765,000 ounces.”

Most of that came from “pent-up demand” in SA where the new Absa Capital ETF rose to 660,000 ounces between its April launch and the end of September, Johnson Matthey points out. The rand-denominated, Johannesburg-traded product attracted institutions that face limits on foreign investments, but also anyone who could afford the 1/100th-ounce minimum purchase.

Along with supply concerns, that ETF partly offset the precious metals plunge that started in April. But by the end of September, the report indicates, platinum’s performance often mimicked gold’s rise and fall in response to speculations about the Fed, quantitative easing and the U.S. debt ceiling. The study tracks platinum’s progress to a September 27 low of $1,411. Still, that’s an improvement over $1,323 in June following the spring precious metals crash that coincided with a weakening auto sector in Europe. Platinum began November 13 at $1,436.

The anticipated breakout from gold hasn’t happened. Even so the year’s platinum mine supply forecast comes to 5.74 million ounces (up 1.6% from 2012), plus 2.07 million ounces from recycling, versus 8.42 million ounces of demand (up 4.9%). Commodity price explanations don’t come easily, especially with precious metals. And platinum is considered both precious and industrial, potentially pulled in different directions by opposite forces. Johnson Matthey attributes about 9% of 2013 demand to investment and 32% to jewelry.

Looking ahead, the report sees a third consecutive deficit next year but “this may not be sufficient to support higher platinum prices.” The predicament of South Africa, the world’s leading producer but with dwindling reserves and uncertain labour conditions, might have been expected to push platinum prices further. “But investor fatigue appears to have set in and sporadic strikes in 2013 have had increasingly little influence on the price.”

[A not-yet launched Johannesburg-traded ETF comprises] the biggest uncertainty facing the palladium market next year.—Johnson Matthey’s
Platinum 2013 Interim Review

The report sees palladium ($741 an ounce on November 13) showing a smaller but still significant 2013 deficit of 740,000 ounces. The metal’s mined for catalysts, largely for gas engines, as opposed to diesel motor catalysts that use platinum. Other key consumers are the chemical, dental and electrical industries.

The mine supply forecast shows 6.43 million ounces, down about 1.5% from last year. Recycling brings in another 2.46 million. Demand comes to 9.63 million, down 3.4%. About 7.8% of demand comes from investment and 4% from jewelry.

Both industrial and investor demand have dropped despite “significant inflows into palladium ETFs in the first two months.” But the authors note that Absa Capital has received SA regulatory approval for a Johannesburg-traded palladium ETF, a “wild card” that’s “the biggest uncertainty facing the palladium market next year.” The ETF’s launch date hasn’t been announced.

Rhodium, also used for catalysts and in the chemical, electrical and glass industries, began November 13 at $980. That’s barely above July’s nine-year low of $975, despite demand reaching a six-year high. The report attributes the contradiction to a “large hangover of surplus metal that accumulated between 2008 and 2011.” Today’s small deficits are “entirely due to the movement of market stocks into physically-backed investment products” from a Deutsche Bank rhodium ETF as well as rhodium bars sold in North America and Europe.

Prices for ruthenium and iridium, both used for electrical, chemical and (of course) electro-chemical uses, dropped sharply this year. The report attributes “a long-term imbalance between primary production and consumer offtake.”

Examining supply by jurisdiction, South Africa shows little change in platinum production, a result of depleting deposits and labour unrest. Only Zimbabwe, a country fraught with jurisdictional risk, is likely to increase its platinum output in 2014.

Russia’s platinum production will see a slight decline. Palladium too, because of reduced sales from government stockpiles, “now an insignificant part of the overall palladium supply picture.”

Nor will Canadian production see much change. Lower output from North American Palladium’s TSX:PDL Lac des Iles mine in northwestern Ontario will be offset by increased palladium byproduct from nickel operations at Glencore Xstrata’s Raglan mine in northern Quebec and Vale’s Sudbury operations, the report states.

South of Klondike

May 28th, 2012

Prophecy adds PGEs to its Yukon Nickel-Copper-Gold Project

By Greg Klein

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Long after the Gold Rush that such inspired characters as Sam McGee, Blasphemous Bill and Dangerous Dan McGrew, Yukon is again coming to international prominence as a new gold play matures. In the territory’s southwest, Prophecy Platinum Corp TSXV:NKL is developing one of the world’s largest undeveloped resources of nickel-copper-platinum group elements towards PEA and prefeasibility.

Unlike Russia and South Africa, producers of 85% of world PGE supply, Robert Service’s old stomping ground has settled into a stable, mining-friendly jurisdiction. That bodes well for Prophecy‘s Wellgreen Project and its newly found potential to host a rare PGE resource in addition to nickel, copper and gold.

Prophecy adds PGEs to its Yukon Nickel-Copper-Gold Project

The company has just released 90 additional assays from a 2011 hole which show an average 28% increase in the full spectrum of six PGEs. Results from the hole released September 26, 2011, reported nickel-copper-gold assays in addition to platinum-palladium, but didn’t include results for the other four PGEs. The September assays showed

0.29% nickel, 0.18% copper, 0.34 g/t platinum, 0.33 g/t palladium and 0.05 g/t gold over 457.4 metres
(including 0.36% nickel, 0.3% copper, 0.63 g/t platinum, 0.54 g/t palladium and 0.08 g/t gold over 120.9 metres)
(and including 1.03% nickel, 0.75% copper, 1.33 g/t platinum, 1.64 g/t palladium and 0.17 g/t gold over 17.8 metres)

The hole started 7.1 metres from surface, extending to 263.8 metres. Ninety sample assays from the same hole released May 25 included the missing PGE quartet. Highlights include

0.023 g/t osmium, 0.019 g/t iridium, 0.054 g/t ruthenium and 0.024 g/t rhodium
0.022 g/t osmium, 0.013 g/t iridium, 0.038 g/t ruthenium and 0.018 g/t rhodium
0.023 g/t osmium, 0.021 g/t iridium, 0.055 g/t ruthenium and 0.025 g/t rhodium
0.05 g/t osmium, 0.03 g/t iridium, 0.078 g/t ruthenium and 0.035 g/t rhodium
0.018 g/t osmium, 0.016 g/t iridium, 0.042 g/t ruthenium and 0.02 g/t rhodium

Rhodium, platinum and palladium are the most important of the six PGEs, with some 80% to 85% going into auto-catalyst manufacture. Prophecy cites a 1997 Geological Survey of Canada bulletin stating that only Russia’s Norilsk ores have nickel-copper cores with comparable values of rhodium. As Prophecy Head Geologist Danniel Oosterman says, “A lot of nickel-copper-PGE deposits around the world don’t have appreciable values of PGEs beyond platinum and palladium.”

Assays are pending for an additional 260 samples from the same hole. Meanwhile, drilling continues. About 30% of a 9,000-metre underground program has been completed so far, with results to come. Surface drilling will resume within the next two weeks, with 7,000 metres planned. The plan is to upgrade the July 2011 resource.

As it stands now, the indicated category shows 220 million pounds nickel, 200 million pounds copper, 15.8 million pounds cobalt, 460,000 ounces platinum, 340,000 ounces palladium and 240,000 ounces gold. The inferred category shows 2.4 billion pounds nickel, 2.2 billion pounds copper, 191.3 million pounds cobalt, 4.9 million ounces platinum, 3.9 million ounces palladium and 2.1 million ounces gold. The estimate uses a 0.4% nickel-equivalent cutoff.

Prophecy‘s timeline calls for a preliminary economic assessment for possible release as early as June and a resource update in 1Q 2013, to be followed by prefeasibility.

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