As people across the UK and other parts of the world celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee this June, many will be asking what platinum is. While most people may assume that platinum is just used in jewellery, it does so much more than that. So Johnson Matthey, a global leader in sustainable technologies, has revealed the top seven facts about this important metal for the Platinum Jubilee, one for every decade of the Queen’s reign.
Johnson Matthey (JM) has nearly 200 years’ experience working with platinum group metals (PGMs). These are a group of precious metals, including platinum and five others*, which are clustered together on the periodic table and share similar properties. It is estimated that 25% of all goods manufactured today either contain PGMs or if they don’t, PGMs played a key role in their manufacture (Source: International Platinum Association). And JM has expertise in making these metals and their special properties into a host of products, many of which directly contribute to making the world cleaner and healthier.
So, as well as celebrating her reign, Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee is an opportunity to celebrate platinum, its exciting properties and all the ways it improves life for an ordinary person.
For instance, did you know:
Fact 1: Platinum is very rare
Platinum is about 20 times rarer than gold. All the platinum ever mined would only cover your ankles in one Olympic sized swimming pool, while all the gold produced would fill three Olympic sized pools (Source: World Platinum Investment Council).
Fact 2: Platinum can be recycled
Given its rarity, it’s very important that we recycle platinum so it can be used again and again. JM is the world’s largest recycler of platinum group metals. JM’s PGM refineries take material from production scraps or end-of-life components and recycle it to produce 99.95% pure metal.
Fact 3: Platinum is tough
Not much touches platinum. It is very unreactive and resistant to corrosion. It’s so tough and stable, in fact, that the standard metal bar that traditionally once defined a kilogram – made by JM in 1879 and housed at the Paris Institute for Weights and Measures – is made from an alloy of 90% platinum.
Fact 4: Platinum has helped control the emissions of vehicles since the 1970s
Platinum is an important catalyst, meaning it can be used to speed up chemical reactions without actually being consumed in them. When cities like Los Angeles, California, and Tokyo, Japan, found themselves shrouded in a haze of harmful pollution known as smog, JM harnessed the catalytic properties of platinum to make the first commercial automotive catalyst in 1974. Now, our catalysts stop around 20 million tonnes of pollutants from entering the atmosphere every year and play a major role in improving urban air quality.
Fact 5: Platinum helps us get food on the table
Platinum is also used as a catalyst in the production of nitric acid. This nitric acid is then used to make fertilisers which help us grow a wide range of crops around the world. So platinum also plays a role in ensuring everyone has food on the table.
Fact 6: Platinum is fighting cancer
In the mid-sixties, a professor accidently discovered that platinum electrodes caused cells to behave in a way that would be useful in cancer drug applications. JM supplied the platinum for this research. This ground-breaking work in the early 70s led to the first ever platinum-based anticancer drug, cisplatin. Since then, JM scientists went on to develop a second generation of the drug, known as carboplatin. Now, around half of cancer chemotherapy patients use drugs containing platinum.
Fact 7: Platinum will play a critical role in a net zero future
Platinum has played an important role historically in helping power the latest inventions and helping people live healthier lives. And it will play just as important role in the future. Platinum is a key component of the catalysts inside electrolysers that produce green hydrogen from renewable electricity and water. This hydrogen is a truly fossil-free energy source, that can be used to power fuel cell vehicles, for heating and industrial uses. So platinum will play a critical role in the future as the world decarbonises to achieve net zero.
John Gordon, Managing Director, Johnson Matthey explains, “Platinum group metals are at the heart of what we do at JM. Through our catalysts, we have harnessed the power of platinum to help people breathe easier and live longer, healthier lives. And we’re recycling that platinum so it can continue having that impact now and into the future.”
*PGMs also include palladium, rhodium, iridium, ruthenium and osmium.