Of the five most expensive precious metals; Rhodium, Palladium, Gold, Iridium and Platinum… Africa is the world’s largest producer of Rhodium, Platinum & Iridium.
Part of the platinum group metals (PGM), rhodium is a silvery-white chemical element coveted for its hard corrosion-resistant properties. Since the beginning of the year, the price of the metal, which is mined as a by-product of platinum and palladium, has surged by nearly 114%.
Rhodium is a platinum-group metal. In 2019, the supply of rhodium in South Africa amounted to 624 thousand ounces, making South Africa the world’s largest rhodium producer
Part of the platinum group metals, the precious metal is widely used across automotive, medical and electronics industries, along with jewellery production and as an investment in the form of coins and bars.
Platinum is usually found alongside other metals, notably palladium and rhodium, in addition to base metals such as copper, nickel, and chrome.
As the metal is rarely found in isolation, a complex series of physical and chemical processes are employed for its extraction, processing and purification.
The African continent has dominated the world’s platinum production over the years with South Africa leading the way.
South Africa is the world’s largest producer of platinum, processing 110mt in 2018. The country’s reserves of platinum group metals (PGMs) stands at 63,000mt.
Owing to various factors such as job losses and mine-shaft closures, the country witnessed a sharp fall in production last year compared to the 143mt recovered in 2017. In August 2018, Impala Platinum, one of the leading platinum miners in the world, announced plans to close five shafts at the Impala Rustenburg mine. A significant decline in the US$ platinum price along with sustained high mining-cost inflation was cited as the reason for the restructuring.
South Africa is home to the Bushveld Complex, which is considered to be the largest resource for PGMs in the world.
Some of the prominent platinum producing mines in the country are the Impala Rustenburg mine, Mogalakwena mine, Marikana mine, Bathopele mine, Khomanani mine, and others.
Zimbabwe stands third among the top platinum producing countries in the world, with a production of 14mt in 2018. The African country recorded similar numbers for its platinum production in 2017. Zimbabwe’s reserves of PGMs are 1,200mt.
The country’s major platinum mines are the Mimosa mine, Ngezi mine, and the Unki mine.
The Mimosa mine is located in the Midlands Province and is owned by Mimosa Investments, a JV between Implats and Aquarius Platinum. The Ngezi mine is one of the largest resources of platinum in Southern Africa. This Zimbabwean platinum mine is owned by Zimplats and Impala Platinum.
Iridium is one of the rarest metals in the Earth’s crust, with annual production of just three tonnes. Iridium is nearly as dense as the densest metal osmium and is the most corrosion-resistant metal element, resistant to air, water, salts and acids.
Because of its hardness, iridium is difficult to fabricate into usable parts, but the same characteristics that make it difficult to work with also make it a valuable additive for strengthening alloys. Though it is also a catalytic metal, because of its high melting point and resistance to corrosion, iridium is the preferred material for crucibles. Like other PGMs, iridium is mined as a by-product of nickel, and like other PGMs, iridium’s biggest deposits are in South Africa and Russia. Given its rarity in the earth’s crust, it tends to form a small portion of a PGM miner’s portfolio.