The history of platinum mining can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt, where platinum – probably without knowledge of its eventual value – was used for writing inlays on little statuettes. Platinum mining would only be introduced to western civilisation in the 17th century – when Spanish conquerors considered it a waste product of gold mining in Columbia.
These conquerors named the mysterious grey-white metal “platina,” meaning little silver.
Today, the automotive industry requires the powerful catalytic properties of platinum for use in exhaust systems as catalytic converters – which pacify harmful gasses (such as carbon monoxide) into less harmful carbon dioxide and water vapour. These various and increasingly important uses for platinum have made the modern demand for platinum mining in South Africa to outstrip the supply.
Platinum can take up to six months to be refined. On average, seven to 12 tonnes ore yields one ounce of high grade platinum. The beneficiation process begins with the underground extraction of platinum-rich ore, which is then ground into workable chunk sizes. The froth flotation method is used to extract the metal by mixing these particles with reagents, and having air pumped through the material. Platinum-containing particles float to the top.
The skimmed-off material is smelted at temperatures exceeding 1 500° C, which enables the separation of the platinum metal from waste products.
Platinum mining in South Africa is supported by the country possessing over 80% of the world’s platinum group metal reserves. Along with Russia, platinum mining in South Africa produces a total of 90% of the world’s platinum demand – which is about 130 tonnes per year (6% of gold production per annum). The Merensky Reef, stretching from southern Zimbabwe through to the Rustenburg and Pretoria regions, is the centre of platinum mining in South Africa, playing host to companies like Rustenburg Platinum Mines and Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mines.
Platinum mining in South Africa regards AMPLATS the industry leader in the mining, marketing, and distribution of the precious mineral. Operating within platinum mining in South Africa, as well as other platinum group metals, AMPLATS produces 40% of the world’s total platinum group metals. Other key platinum mining in South Africa companies include the likes of BHP Billiton and Impala Platinum.
Platinum mining in South Africa is growing as the establishment of projects such as the R7.1 billion Twickenham Expansion Project, 100km south-east of Polokwane, will see the production of 250 000t/m pure platinum.
These types of expansions are set against the already existing large-scale platinum mining in South Africa: such as the well underway Impala Platinum No. 20 Shaft Project, which is geared at producing 185 000 ounces of platinum per year as of 2013 on the Bushveld Complex – which has been mined since 1897.
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