Platinum-Group Elements

Angular platinum nugget (~1 by 3 mm), Fifield, central New South Wales. Reproduced with permission from Rimfire Pacific Mining NL.

Angular platinum nugget
(~1 by 3 mm), Fifield, central
New South Wales.
© Reproduced with permission
from Rimfire Pacific Mining NL

Platinum-tipped spark plugs last several times longer than those made from other more common metals. Reproduced with permission from Johnson Matthey Platinum 2006.

Platinum-tipped spark plugs last
several times longer than those
made from other more common
metals.
© Reproduced with permission
from Johnson Matthey Platinum
2006

The platinum-group elements (PGEs) is a group of six elements—platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), rhodium (Rh), iridium (Ir), osmium (Os), and ruthenium, (Ru)—that each of which is among the rarest and most precious of metals. The elements of most commercial significance are platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

Platinum-Group Element Properties and Uses

The PGEs have unique physical and chemical properties that make them critical to many emerging technologies. For example, osmium, iridium, and platinum are the densest metals known and have some of the highest melting points (1550 to 3030 °C) of all metallic elements. They also are hard-wearing, highly reflective, brittle, malleable, electrically and thermally conductive and have unique catalytic characteristics.

The PGEs are regarded as strategic metals because of their specialised applications in the automotive, agriculture, chemical, petroleum, electrical, electronic, dental, medical, and aerospace industries. They also have important uses in environmentally-related technologies, such as catalytic converters and fuel cells.

Platinum-Group Element Production and Exports

Australia’s contribution makes up only a small part of the global PGE industry with all production of about 700 kilograms a year being a by-product of mining nickel sulphide deposits in the Yilgarn Craton in Western Australia.

South Africa dominates world production of PGEs followed by Russia with minor contributions from Canada, Zimbabwe, the USA, and Colombia while Australia’s annual production of palladium and platinum equates to less than 0.2 per cent of global supply.

Platinum-Group Element Resources and World Ranking

Australia’s Economic Demonstrated Resources of PGEs is around 5 tonne in Western Australia and the Northern Territory although the Total Identified Resources of PGEs amounts to about 300 tonnes.

Australia’s resources and reserves of PGEs are summarised annually in Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.

Geoscience Australia produces maps of Australia’s operating mines, mineral deposits, endowment, and processing centres in the Australian Mines Atlas.

Platinum-Group Element Exploration and Discovery

Processing alluvial wash in a sluice to concentrate ‘osmiridium’ nuggets, Adamsfield, western Tasmania (photo circa 1920s). Reproduced with permission from Bacon (1992). Notes on the history of mining and exploration at Adamsfield. Mineral Resources Tasmania Report 1992/20, 33 pp.

Processing alluvial wash in a sluice
to concentrate ‘osmiridium’ nuggets,
Adamsfield, western Tasmania
(photo circa 1920s).
© Reproduced with
permission from Bacon (1992).
Notes on the history of mining and
exploration at Adamsfield. Mineral
Resources Tasmania Report 1992/20,
33 pp

The Australian PGE industry is characterised by three major periods of mining activities and production, 1894 to 1913, 1925 to 1932, and 1980 to the present. Production has been dominated by alluvial platinum deposits in New South Wales, 'osmiridium' deposits in western Tasmania, and hard-rock nickel-sulphide deposits of the Kambalda district in Western Australia. These three districts have accounted for more than 99 per cent of PGEs production in Australia.

Exploration over the past few decades has failed to define an economic resource of PGEs in Australia. Exploration has focussed on Precambrian layered mafic-ultramafic intrusions in the Archean cratonic and Proterozoic orogenic zones of western and central Australia. Other settings explored include hydrothermal, laterite and carbonaceous sedimentary sequences. Phanerozoic Alaskan-type and tectonically emplaced mafic-ultramafic intrusions of eastern Australia have recorded local high grades of PGEs in hard-rock and alluvial environments, but they generally have small tonnages.

Highlights of mineral exploration, including platinum, are reviewed annually in Australian Mineral Exploration Review and Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.

The most recent products related to PGEs and nickel is available in Geoscience Australia’s New Products from Geoscience Australia to assist nickel and platinum explorers: 2008.

Geoscience Australia Programs

Geoscience Australia’s series of ‘Magmatic Events’ web-based map sheets summarise the continental extent and age relationships of Proterozoic and Archean mafic and ultramafic rocks and associated mineral deposits throughout Australia. These maps and associated GA Records (2008/15, 2009/41, 2009/44) provide a national framework for investigating under-explored and potentially mineralised environments.

Other previous GA programs (some archived) have investigated the PGE and nickel potential of Precambrian mafic-ultramafic rocks in the Pilbara Craton (Hoatson et al., 1992; Hoatson & Sun, 2002), Halls Creek Orogen (Hoatson & Blake, 2000), Arunta Region (Hoatson et al., 2005), and Gawler Craton (Hoatson et al., 2005). National-wide PGE reviews include Hoatson (1984, 1990, 1998), Hoatson & Glaser (1989), and Hoatson et al. (2006).

Topic contact: minerals@ga.gov.au Last updated: October 4, 2013