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Seven unexpected uses of Platinum Group Metals (PGMs)

How do platinum group metals (PGMs) impact your everyday life? Probably in ways you wouldn't expect. Kleantha Pillay, head of market development, precious metals, tells us more.

What do you immediately picture when you think of platinum?

Your mind may conjure up images such as expensive jewellery and watches, or, for the car lovers amongst us, a catalytic converter in an automobile.

But there’s so much more to platinum group metals than this.

That’s why, in this blog, we take a look at the applications of PGMs that aren't as common as you might expect.

1. Treating cancer

In certain chemical forms, platinum has the ability to slow or stop the division of living cells. Platinum-based drugs have been developed to treat a wide range of cancers.

The first platinum based chemotherapy drug discovered by researchers was cisplatin, which forty years later continues to have applications in certain types of cancer. In that time, scientists have searched for ways to improve the anti-tumour efficacy of platinum based drugs, reducing the toxicity profile, and strengthening them against resistance.

2. Making cars safer

Platinum-cured silicones are used to coat and protect automotive air bags from their explosive systems. Thanks to the platinum treatment, these air bags remain stable and can be kept folded and packed for long durations without deteriorating.

Additionally, the air bags contain an initiator sensor, which uses a fine platinum wire coated with explosive material to facilitate release of the air bag.

3. Maintaining personal hygiene

Platinum-cured silicone mixtures are used in a range of personal care products from lipsticks and shampoos to contact lenses.

Additionally, the use of silicones in medical elastomers is one that is showing strong growth going forward. For wound healing they have excellent properties, in that they will stick to dry skin, while not sticking to and damaging the wet wound. Silicones are also air and moisture permeable which improves the healing process. 

4. Helping you get from A to B

Platinum acts as an effective and durable catalyst in hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

All FCEVs use a type of fuel cell known as the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM). This low-temperature, quick-start cell runs off pure hydrogen and uses platinum and palladium at its heart, with the FCEV itself emitting only water from its tailpipe. 

Anglo American is a strong supporter of FCEVs and will continue to partner with industry and governments to secure the future of this clean, sustainable solution.

Find out more about our FCEVs.

5. Keeping you warm

When you think of any metallic substance, ‘warmth’ and ‘comfort’ are probably the last words that springs to mind.

However, platinum catalysts are used to make petrochemical feed stocks, the basic raw materials for the manufacture of plastics, synthetic rubber and polyester fibres used to produce clothes and blankets. 

6. Maintaining food’s freshness

PGMs are used in the production of ‘It’s Fresh!’ – an established and unrivalled ethylene-removal technology created for the fresh produce industry by Freshness Food Technologies.

It helps to keep fruit fresher for longer, thanks to a discreet high-tech palladium containing sheet placed in the bottom of packaging. This sheet removes (or absorbs) ethylene – the gas emitted by produce in the ripening process. 

7. Providing power off the grid

Platinum-based fuel cells are proving to be more cost-effective, cleaner and more reliable than alternatives such as diesel generators.

And it’s these fuel cells that are making a real difference across rural areas of South Africa, where two million households are without electricity, of which more than one million are in rural communities. 

Fuel cell mini-grid electrification technology is an attractive, cost-competitive alternative to grid electrification in these remote areas and could accelerate access to electricity. Electricity in homes and schools improves the quality of education, and the ability to pump water for irrigation facilitates farming and income generation.

Platinum is the key for these communities to be able to access the power that is vital to modern living.

Find out more about rural electrification in the Cofimvaba School district.

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