While platinum is probably most widely known for being used to make jewelry, it also has a broad range of other possible uses.
Below is an overview of how the precious metal is used in autocatalysts and jewelry, as well as how it fits into the industrial and medical sectors.
As Platinum Today explains, an autocatalyst is a “cylinder of circular or elliptical cross section made from ceramic or metal formed into a fine honeycomb and coated with a solution of chemicals and platinum group metals.” When mounted inside a stainless steel canister, autocatalysts are known as catalytic converters.
Catalytic converters are installed in vehicles’ exhaust lines, between the engine and muffler, where they moderate the dangerous qualities of exhaust. Specifically, the autocatalysts they contain convert over 90 percent of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water vapor. They can also convert pollutants from diesel exhaust into carbon dioxide and water vapor, which is immensely helpful in reducing pollution.
Autocatalysts have been used in the United States and Japan since 1974, and are now so common that more than 95 percent of new vehicles sold each year have one. As a result, they are a significant source of platinum demand that is not likely to disappear in the future. Indeed, as pollution rules become more stringent, car companies are looking into the possibility of creating even more efficient autocatalysts, as per Platinum Today.
Platinum has many qualities that make it ideal for use in jewelry, its second-largest source of demand. For instance, it is strong, resists tarnish and can repeatedly be heated and cooled without hardening or oxidizing. When used to make jewelry, is commonly alloyed with other platinum-group metals, as well as copper and cobalt, so that it is easier to work with.
The history of platinum’s use in jewelry is long. More than 2,000 years ago, native people in South America made rings and ornaments of the metal, and Egyptians used platinum for decoration as early as the 7th century BC, Platinum Today notes. Meanwhile, Europeans began to use the metal in jewelry in the 18th century and continue to do so to this day. Currently, China is the single largest market for platinum jewelry.
Platinum’s industrial applications could fill a book all on their own. For example, platinum catalysts are used to manufacture fertilizer ingredients, and the metal is a key component in silicones, hard disks, electronics, dental restoration, glass-manufacturing equipment and sensors in home safety devices, states Platinum Today.
The metal is also useful in constructing hard drives with extremely high storage densities. And, because it is reactive to oxygen, oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide, platinum can be used to detect changes in the amount of those materials in vehicles and buildings. For the same reason, platinum is also used in medical sensors, particularly medical instruments that measure blood gases, to detect oxygen.
Platinum is used in electronic medical devices like those mentioned above, as well as in catheters, stents and neuromodulation devices. It is ideal for these applications because of its durability, conductivity and biocompatibility, Platinum Metals Review explains. The metal is also inert within the body, making it safe for implantation.
To meed other medical needs, platinum can be formed into rods, wires, ribbons, sheets and micromachined parts. Further, it helps fight cancer in the drugs cisplatin and carboplatin, which are widely used to treat testicular cancer, as well as ovarian, breast and lung cancer tumors.
In terms of demand from the medical sector, 175,000 ounces of platinum were used in biomedical devices in 2010. Of that amount, 80 percent went toward established technologies and 20 percent went to newer or experimental equipment. Another 25,000 ounces of the metal were used in anticancer drugs in the same year.