Last Updated on 9 months by The Mintly Team
Platinum metal is a chemical element with the symbol Pt and atomic number 78. It is a dense, malleable, ductile, highly unreactive, precious, silverish-white transition metal. Its name originates from Spanish Platina, a diminutive of Plata “silver”.
The Many Applications Of Platinum Metal
Although over half of all platinum metal production is used to make jewelry, it is increasingly being used in the medical, electronic, automobile, defense, and aerospace industries. It is also a key catalyst in many industrial processes.
Today those features make platinum invaluable to a huge range of industrial processes and products, from fertilizers to fiberglass, anti-cancer drugs to thermocouples in furnaces and kilns.
Platinum as Autocatalysts
Platinum is employed as a catalyst in many industrial processes.
- It is used to make detergents, fertilizers, plastics, explosives, and many types of acids.
- Platinum-iridium crucibles are used in industrial processes to make semiconductor crystals that produce laser light.
- Used to make high-quality glass for television tubes and flat-screen computer monitors.
Platinum in the Medical & Biomedical industry
Platinum has a wide range of applications in the medical field because it is chemically inert and a good conductor of electricity. Stents, catheters, guidewires, neuromodulators, defibrillators, and all pacemakers use platinum components because, like gold, it doesn’t react with the chemicals in human tissue but it is much harder-wearing than the yellow metal.
- It is used in electronic medical implants including pacemakers and hearing aids.
- Platinum electrodes are also being tested in clinical trials aimed at helping the victims of Parkinson’s disease.
- Surgically implanted stents are used to treat heart disease, and dental fittings are often made of platinum-iridium wire mesh.
- Drugs containing platinum are used to treat certain cancers. Platinum’s anti-cancer potential was first discovered in the early 1960s, with commercial production of cisplatin drugs starting the following decade.
Electrical and electronic use
- The late 20th Century’s revolution in digital data storage was enabled by platinum, coated onto the platters used in hard disc drives.
- Demand peaked in 2000, with ‘thrifting’ by technology manufacturers then coinciding with a slowdown in new HDD shipments.
- Platinum alloys often substitute for gold in electronic equipment. Today, the largest single application of platinum in the electronic industry is for the magnetic coating of computer hard drives.
- Platinum-cobalt alloys are slightly magnetic. Today more than 90% of all computer hard drives are coated with this alloy, which enables the disks to store larger amounts of information.
Again acting as a catalyst to boost the speed and efficiency of chemical reactions, platinum is essential in producing many key industrial, agricultural, and household chemicals.
- The greatest chemical demand for platinum comes from creating specialty silicones according to technology specialists Johnson Matthey.
- Platinum compounds are used in everything from sealants to electrical wire insulation, and lubricants to kitchen utensils.
- Petroleum refining – The most consistent industrial use of platinum over the last four decades is the oil refining industry uses the metal as a catalyst for ‘cracking’ low-grade fuel into more efficient forms including gasoline, diesel, and jet-engine fuel.
- Glass manufacturing – Holding and channeling molten glass requires tools that can both withstand temperatures of 1700°C and also avoid corroding or reacting with the silicates and other materials used. Fiberglass is produced by drawing the glass through a platinum sieve called a ‘bushing’.
Platinum alloys play an important role in the defense and aerospace industries because they are incorporated into jet and rocket engines, which work in extremely hot and corrosive conditions caused by burning fuels. Platinum alloys are also used to coat the nosecones of missiles.
- Platinum’s single heaviest use currently comes from the auto sector, where the metal is used to reduce harmful emissions, most notably from diesel engines.
- The small rocket motors that maneuver satellites into place are also made of platinum alloys.
- Used in the electronics of the engine, braking, and airbag deployment systems.
- Platinum alloys resist spark and heat damage, thus used to coat the tops of spark plugs.
- Platinum is a key component of the catalytic converters used to control automobile emissions.
- Placed in the exhaust system of a truck or car, a very fine coating of platinum speeds up the reaction of oxygen with both deadly carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbons (so-called greenhouse gases), turning them into less harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) and water, and also reducing the output of sulfur particles.
- Platinum-based coatings protect jet-engine blades (temperatures reach 2000°C); found on the tip of high-performance spark plugs, and fuel-cell technology is a fast-growing alternative to gasoline and diesel combustion engines.
Other Industrial uses of Platinum
- Platinum’s resistance to both corrosion and very high heat makes it ideal for a huge range of industrial sensors, from thermocouples in furnaces to exhaust-gas control systems and CO detectors in homes and offices, as well as high-spec laboratory equipment.
- Hydrogen is mixed with oxygen and passed over a platinum catalyst, speeding their chemical reaction and producing pure water plus electricity.
- Pure platinum is also used to make quality flutes. Though expensive, the density of the metal gives the flutes a distinctive tone.
- Platinum for jewelry
This interactive chart from BullionVault shows how platinum’s industrial use has changed and grown since 1980.
Using historic platinum data from refining and technology specialists Johnson Matthey, the infographic tracks demand for each year (in metric tonnes) against the annual average platinum price in US Dollars.
Outside of autocatalysts, each category of industrial use listed here saw demand in 2019 beat its previous half-decade average. But the Covid Crisis starting in March 2020 then crushed economic activity worldwide, driving autocat demand for the platinum rate to its lowest since the mid-1980s and hitting nearly every other source of industrial demand except electrical and electronics.
Now 2021 will see industrial platinum demand rise across every sector on Johnson Matthey’s forecasts, with autocat demand (still the largest of all platinum uses) rising 40% year on year.
Electrics and electronics use, net of the sector’s recycling flows will reach the greatest since 2007 while glass-making will match its record demand of 2011.
Most exciting, the growing ‘hydrogen economy’ needs increasing quantities of platinum to help create green electricity as a competitor and complement to battery-electric technologies.
Mintly, the hiring marketplace for the jewelry, gems, and precious metals industry, aids in hiring for platinum metal jewelry stores and factories.