Platinum Group Elements

Yanis Miezitis (yanis.miezitis@ga.gov.au)

The platinum group elements (PGE) comprise platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), iridium (Ir), osmium (Os), rhodium (Rh) and ruthenium (Ru). The elements of most commercial significance are platinum, palladium and, to a lesser degree, rhodium. The PGE properties of commercial importance are their resistance to corrosion and oxidation, high-melting points, electrical conductivity and catalytic activity in the chemical, electrical, electronic, glass and motor vehicle industries. The emerging commercial importance of PGEs is in applications associated with the motor vehicle industry resulting from increasing global emission controls, development of lead-free petrol and efforts to improve fuel efficiency. Other applications include the use of platinum-rhodium alloys to oxidise ammonia to nitric acid in the production of fertilisers, while platinum is used extensively in jewellery.

According to figures published by Matthey (2012)30, gross demand for platinum increased by 2% to just under 8.1 million ounces (Moz) in 2011, largely because of extensive acquisition by glass and petrochemical industries. The main demand for platinum in 2011 was for autocatalyst applications, which amounted to 3.11 Moz. The gross industrial demand for platinum reached 2.05 Moz, and demand for platinum in the jewellery section totalled 2.48 Moz. Gross demand for palladium increased by 23% to 9.63 Moz in 2011, its highest ever level. Gross demand for palladium from the autocatalyst sector in 2011 reached a record level of 6.03 Moz as a result of higher global production of vehicles and greater use of palladium in light duty diesel emissions control.

Resources

Australia's Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) of PGEs increased from 4.4 tonnes to 4.7 tonnes in 2011.

Western Australia (WA) and the Northern Territory (NT) hold all of Australia's EDR. However, the EDR of PGEs in individual deposits within State and Territory jurisdictions is often unrecorded resulting in the overall distribution of the PGE EDR being unknown.

In 2011, Paramarginal Resources increased from 132.6 tonnes to 135.3 tonnes while the Submarginal Resources remained the same at 35.3 tonnes. The Paramarginal Resources are shared mostly between WA (88.6%) and New South Wales (NSW) (11.2%), while most of the Submarginal Resources are in WA.

Inferred Resources increased by 2.7 tonnes to 148.2 tonnes with WA having most of these resources (87.5%) followed by NSW (10.1%).

Total Identified Resources of PGEs, which represents EDR plus Paramarginal, Submarginal and Inferred Resources, total about 323 tonnes. Of this amount, deposits that have only PGE resources account for about 60% of the total resources, although all of Australia's production is as a by-product from PGE resources associated with nickel sulphide deposits in WA.

Accessible EDR

Currently, 400 kilograms (kg) of the published PGE EDR is accessible for mining while the balance of 4.3 tonnes occurs within national parks. The reason for the low Accessible EDR figure for PGEs is that PGE resources are generally not reported by companies.

JORC Reserves

About 2.5% of Accessible Economic Demonstrated Resources (AEDR) of PGEs comprises Joint Ore Reserve Committee (JORC) Code reserve. The remaining 97.5% of EDR represents resources assessed by Geoscience Australia from the Measured and Indicated categories of industry-reported mineral resources, as defined under the JORC Code and other classification systems used by companies not listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. The reason for the low reserve figure is that many companies don't report the PGE content in nickel reserves.

Exploration

Expenditure for PGEs is not reported separately and much of the PGE resources are associated with nickel deposits. Areas of activity in 2011 where PGEs were a significant component of exploration targets included regions of the Yilgarn in WA's eastern goldfields, the East Kimberley and West Pilbara as well as the West Musgrave in the border region of WA, the NT and South Australia (SA).

Production

Australia's PGE production (platinum and palladium) in 2011 was very minor by world standards amounting to 441 kg. This production is exclusively from nickel sulphide deposits hosted by Archean komatiitic rocks in the Yilgarn Craton of WA.

World Ranking

Based on figures published by the United States Geological Survey and the latest Australian resource figures, world economic resources of PGEs was down from 71 000 tonnes in 2010 to 66 000 tonnes in 2011. Australia's share of world EDR was less than 0.1% in 2011. South Africa has most of the world's EDR with 63 000 tonnes (95%), followed by Russia with 1100 tonnes (1.7%) and the USA with 900 tonnes (1.4%).

The world's supply of PGEs in 2011 was dominated by South Africa (72% Pt, 38% Pd) and Russia (14% Pt, 41% Pd), with minor contributions from Canada, Zimbabwe, the USA and Colombia.

Industry Developments

Platinum Group Elements as the Major commodity

About two thirds of Australia's Identified Resources of PGEs are in the following deposits, which have PGEs as the major commodity.

Munni Munni (WA): Published Measured, Indicated and Inferred Resources of 23.6 million tonnes (Mt) at 1.5 grams per tonne (g/t) Pd, 1.1 g/t Pt, 0.1 g/t Rh, 0.2 g/t gold (Au), 0.09% nickel (Ni), and 0.15% copper (Cu). In its 2012 Annual Report, the owner of the deposit, Platina Resources Ltd, reported that the project was on hold.

Panton (WA): Measured, Indicated and Inferred Resources total 14.3 Mt at 2.19 g/t Pt, 2.39 g/t Pd, 0.31 g/t Au, 0.27% Ni, and 0.07% Cu. On 20 March 2012, Platinum Australia Ltd announced the results of a review of the Panton project, reporting that it would generate a nett present value (NPV) on base case assumptions of US$15 million with an initial capital cost of US$172 million. The operating costs was estimated to be US$830 an ounce of Pt+Pd+Au concentrate produced with an average annual production rate of 83 000 ounces. On 21 May 2012, Panoramic Resources Ltd announced that it had purchased the Panton PGE deposit from Platinum Australia Ltd.

Fifield (NSW): Platina Resources Ltd31 announced Indicated and Inferred Resources totalling 12.7 Mt at 0.7 g/t Pt for its Owendale North, Cincinnati and Milverton deposits at Fifield. The company also published a scandium (Sc) resource of 10.1 Mt at 340 g/t Sc. Historical production from Fifield amounts to about 640 kg of PGEs. On 11 September 201232, Platina Resources announced results of a scoping study which indicated an economic and technical viability of a combined platinum and scandium mining operation supporting an average mining rate of 6.9 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) for three years. After three years the scandium-bearing stockpile laterite will continue to be processed at a rate of:

  • 0.9 tonnes of platinum being produced per annum for three years,
  • 40 tonnes of scandium oxide produced per annum for 41 years.

For the scoping study, capital expenditure was estimated to be $222 million, and annual operating costs of $62 million for the first three years, reverting to approximately $42 million once platinum processing ceases.

Weld Range – Parks Reef (WA): A published Inferred Resource amounted to 14.76 Mt at 1.1 g/t Pt+Pd+Au which occurs in a truncated lateritic profile overlying low-grade primary PGE mineralisation in ultramafic rocks33. The Weld Range PGE deposit is adjacent to the very large Weld Range lateritic nickel-cobalt deposit which has an Inferred Resource of 330 Mt at 0.75% Ni and 0.06% Co. An Inferred Resource of 63.5 Mt at 5.2% chromium (Cr), 38% iron (Fe) and 0.38% Ni at a cut-off grade of 4% Cr also occurs within the Weld Range nickel cobalt deposit. A scoping study was released by Weld Range Metals Ltd in August 2010 which concluded that Stage 1 of the project is technically and economically feasible using processing equipment and technology currently used by the steel industry. Dragon Mining noted in its 2012 Annual Report that on 21 September the National Native Title Tribunal determined that four mining licence applications over the Weld Range deposit should not be granted by the WA State government. The State government and the company have lodged appeals with the Federal Court with respect to the National Native Title Tribunal determination.

Platinum Group Elements as the Minor commodity

PGE resources are present also in deposits where other commodities are dominant, mainly komatiitic nickel-cobalt sulphide deposits as well as lateritic nickel deposits. They include the following deposits.

Rosie (WA): South Boulder Mines Ltd announced an updated total Indicated and Inferred Resource of 1.94 Mt at 1.7% Ni, 0.4% Cu, 0.8 g/t Pt and 1.1 g/t Pd34.

Radio Hill nickel mine (WA): Fox Resources Ltd reported that remaining Indicated and Inferred Resources of palladium amounted to 1.275 Mt at 0.493 g/t. In mid 2010, the company announced updated Indicated and Inferred Resources of 4.22 Mt at 0.65% Ni and 0.76% Cu for its Radio Hill mine. An Indicated and Inferred Resource of 5.78 Mt at 0.54% Ni and 0.67% Cu was reported also for the nearby Sholl B2 deposit, but no details were given for palladium content. The mine is on care and maintenance while the company is investigating options for heap leaching nickel and copper. On 15 November 2011, the company announced it had signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Jiangxi Jiangli Sci-Tech Co. Ltd regarding the development of the Radio Hill and Sholl nickel-copper bacterial heap leaching project in the Pilbara region of WA. Under the proposed agreement contemplated by the MOU, Jiangli, a Chinese cooperative, is to provide $30 million to Fox for the initial phase of the project and other associated project activities required at Radio Hill Mine. As part of the agreement, Fox will provide Jiangli with all the nickel and copper sulphide concentrates produced from its Radio Hill and Sholl projects over their initial nine year mine life.

Waterloo nickel mine (WA): The resources for this deposit were reported last in 2004 as 653 000 tonnes at 2.795% Ni, 0.194% Cu and 0.858 g/t PGE. Recorded production amounts to 185 000 tonnes at 2.76% Ni in 2007 and 57 818 tonnes Ni in 2006 but there are no details on production of PGEs. The mine's owner, OJSC MMC Norilsk Nickel, placed the mine on care and maintenance in November 2008 because of prevailing low nickel prices and reduced world demand.

Nyngan lateritic nickel-cobalt-scandium-platinum deposit (NSW): Jervois Mining Limited reported in June 2005 a resource of 16 Mt at 0.87% Ni and 0.06% Co of which there is 3 Mt at 290 parts per million (ppm) Sc and 0.22 g/t Pt. The scandium-rich portion of this deposit was updated in June 2009 as Measured Resources of 2.718 Mt at 274 ppm Sc and Indicated Resources of 9.294 Mt at 258 ppm Sc.

The Horn nickel sulphide deposit (WA): In April 2008, Breakaway Resources Limited reported a small Inferred Resource for The Horn nickel deposit of 600 000 tonnes at 1.39% Ni, 0.3% Cu and 0.5 g/t Pd+Pt. In early 2009, the company reported that massive and matrix nickel sulphide mineralisation at The Horn deposit had been drilled over a 500 metre (m) strike length and remained open along strike. Geological mapping undertaken during the March quarter of 2009 confirmed the presence of nickeliferous gossans within a structurally bound, high magnesium oxide (MgO) ultramafic unit immediately south of the known mineralisation. The Revolution prospect35, located immediately north of Breakaway's The Horn nickel deposit includes PGE-bearing disseminated nickel mineralisation (12 m at 0.96% Ni, 311 ppm Cu and 424 parts per billion (ppb) Pt+Pd from 192 m and 4 m at 1.14%Ni, 1003 ppm Cu and 749 ppb Pt+Pd from 209 m in drill hole LWDD0809).

Yarawindah Brook (WA): An Inferred Resource of 2.9 Mt at 0.79 g/t PGE was announced by Washington Resources Ltd in March 2006. The deposit was acquired by Northern Minerals Ltd in 2010.

Bamboo Creek tailings (WA): Haoma Mining NL announced on 5 October 2012 that assay results of samples of trial concentrates produced from its recently designed Bamboo Creek pilot plant by the Elazac Process were suitable for commercial extraction of gold and PGEs (platinum and palladium). The company reported that commercial production was planned to commence in the near future.

Binti Gossan and Binti South (WA): Emu Nickel NL reported in its 2011 Annual Report that a drilling program at Binti Gossan and Binti South had intersected significant nickel, cobalt and PGE values with some of the best downhole intersections including 0.30 m at 7.55% Ni, 0.35% Co, 1015 ppb Pt and 1726 ppb Pd.

Jack's Hills (WA): Victory Mines Ltd reported on 12 November 201236 that gossan samples collected at the Jack's Hills prospect returned analytical results of up to 13.9% Cu, 87.1 ppm Ag, 0.77% Ni, 0.24 ppm Au, 1.12 ppm Pt and 1.20 ppm Pd. Historical drill hole samples from a drilling program in 2007 returned values of up to 3.7% Cu, 1.14 g/t Au, 0.48% Ni, 0.73 g/t Pt and 14.4 g/t Ag37.

Other PGE deposits with recorded resources which have had historic interest but did not record exploration or assessment activity during 2011 include:

Nebo-Babel nickel-copper-PGE deposit (WA): An article in The West Australian newspaper, dated 10 February 2007, reported that the Nebo-Babel nickel-copper-PGE deposit discovered by Western Mining Corporation in mid-2000 has a preliminary resource of 393 Mt grading 0.3% Ni, 0.3% Cu and 0.18 g/t PGE. The deposit was later acquired by BHP Billiton Limited as a result of its takeover of Western Mining Corporation in mid-2005.

Syerston lateritic nickel-cobalt-platinum deposit (NSW): In April 2000, Black Range NL announced a total platinum resource of Measured, Indicated and Inferred Resources of 108.3 Mt at 0.21 g/t Pt which occurs partly within the Syerston nickel-cobalt deposit. In a preliminary prospectus, Ivanplats Limited announced on 10 September 2012 that an internal study in 2005 indicated that, because of increasing capital and operating costs, development of the Syerston deposit was not economically attractive. However, Ivanplats announced that it was monitoring technological advances which could make Syerston commercially viable.

Coronation Hill (NT): It was reported in 1990 that the Coronation Hill deposit had an Inferred Resource of 6.69 Mt at 6.42 g/t Au, 1.01 g/t Pd and 0.3 g/t Pt. The deposit occurs within the Kakadu National Park and is inaccessible for mining.

Adamsfield38 (Tasmania): The deposit it is located 70 km west of Hobart within the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. A small near surface Inferred Resource amounts to 14 500 tonnes of ore at 6.5 g/t Ir, 7.3 g/t Os and 0.13 g/t Pt using a cut off grade of 1 g/t Os+Ir.

Thomson River (Victoria): In 1981, CRA Exploration Pty Ltd estimated resources as 40 000 tonnes averaging 3.2 g/t Pt, 3.6 g/t Pd, 2.7% Cu, 9.5 g/t Ag and 2.5 g/t Au. Intermittent mining since the discovery of the deposit in about 1864 produced around 13 200 tonnes of ore, from which only about 10 kg of platinum was extracted.

Endnotes

30 Mathey, J, 2012. Platinum 2012. Johnson Matthey Public Limited Company. Precious Metals Marketing [External site link pdf [PDF 5.1MB].

31 Platina Resources Ltd, 2012. Project update: Owendale platinum and scandium resource, NSW, Australia. Announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange, 26 April, 2012.12 pp.

32 Platina Resources Ltd, 2012. Platina Resources delivers positive scoping study for Owendale project. Announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange, 6pp.

33 Parks, J, 1998. Weld Range platinum group element deposit. In: Geology of Australian and Papua New Guinean Mineral Deposits (eds: Berkman, D.A. & Mackenzie, D.H.), The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne, 279–286.

34 South Boulder Mines Ltd, 2012. September Quarter operations report. 30pp.

35 Breakaway Resources Limited, 2011. Activity report for the quarter ended 31 December 2010. ASX Release 28 January 2011, 12 pp.

36 Victory Mines Ltd, 2012. Clara Hills rock chip sampling and RC drilling program completed. Announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange, 12 November 2012, 2pp.

37 Victory Mines Ltd, 2012. Prospectus, 144pp.

38 Shree Minerals Limited, 2009. Shree Minerals Limited Prospectus. 160 pp.