Platinum (Pt) is an extremely rare substance, far less abundant than gold. It is found only in a few commercially viable deposits on the earth. Most platinum is mined in three major producing regions in South Africa, Russia, and North America. South Africa is by far the largest producer supplying about 2/3 of the total world production. Russia is the next-largest producer, supplying about ¼ of world production. The rest of the platinum supply comes from North America and a few other small producers.
South Africa has been blessed with some of the richest mineral deposits in the world. They produce large quantities of precious metals, gems, and industrial minerals. South Africa’s platinum deposits are concentrated in an area known as the Bushveld Igneous Complex, one of the largest metal-bearing intrusions in the world. Platinum group metals (PGM) are recovered from the Merensky reef that extends along the entire eastern length of the Bushveld. Several mining firms extract ores from this region, the largest being Anglo Platinum, Impala Platinum, and Lonmin Platinum.
Platinum production in Russia dates back to the 19th century when alluvial deposits in the Ural Mountains were heavily mined. These historical deposits are now mostly depleted but new richer sources have been discovered in northern Siberia. Siberian PGM production is concentrated in the Noril'sk-Tainakh complex, a set of underground veins that are part of massive copper-nickel deposits in the complex. Russian production suffered during the transition period before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. New investment in modern plant and equipment could dramatically boost output, possibly exceeding South Africa. Russia is a wildcard on the supply side of platinum production.
North America boasts three large PGM ore deposits. The Stillwater Complex in southern Montana is contains the only commercially exploitable PGM deposit within the United States. The JM-Reef formation within the Stillwater complex produces a high-grade ore. Exploitation of the Stillwater deposit began in 1987. Stillwater Mining Company holds claim to most of the richest properties. The other two North American deposits lie within Ontario, Canada. The Sudbury Mine in southern Ontario produces PGMs as a by-product of nickel mining. The Lac des Iles region north of Thunder Bay produces mostly PGM with some base metals. All of the North American deposits are primarily palladium sources with platinum being a relatively small percentage of the metal production.
Global geological surveys indicate that there are many unexploited platinum resources around the world. Promising areas for new exploration are Zimbabwe, Zambia, Indonesia, Australia, and Chile. Also, expansion of base metal production often leads to greater PGM production because many base metal deposits contain extractable amounts of platinum group and other precious metals. Higher metal prices could encourage exploitation of these regions, greatly increasing global production.