For a metal whose annual global production is a mere 192 tons, platinum is found in, and critical to the production of, many everyday items.
The largest use, accounting for about 40% of demand, is the jewelry industry where it is primarily used in the alloy that makes white gold. It is estimated that over 40% of wedding rings sold in the US contain some platinum. The USA, China, Japan, and India are the largest markets for platinum jewelry.
Platinum’s corrosion resistance and high-temperature stability make it ideal as a catalyst in chemical reactions. Catalysts speed up chemical reactions without themselves being chemically altered in the process.
Platinum’s main application in this sector, accounting for about 37% of total demand for the metal, is in catalytic converters for automobiles. Catalytic converters reduce harmful chemicals from exhaust emissions by initiating reactions that turn over 90% of hydrocarbons (carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen) into other, less harmful, compounds.
Platinum is also used to catalyze nitric acid and gasoline; increasing the octane levels in fuel. In the electronics industry, platinum crucibles are used to make semiconductor crystals for lasers, while alloys are used to make magnetic disks for computer hard drives and switch contacts in automotive controls.
Demand from the medical industry is growing as platinum can be used for both its conductive properties in pacemakers’ electrodes, as well as aural and retinal implants, and for its anti-cancer properties in drugs (e.g. carboplatin and cisplatin).
Below is a list of some of the many other applications for platinum:
With rhodium, used to make high-temperature thermocouples
To make optically pure, flat glass for TVs, LCDs, and monitors
To make threads of glass for fiber optics
In alloys used to form the tips of automotive and aeronautic spark plugs
As a substitute for gold in electronic connections
In coatings for ceramic capacitors in electronic devices
In high-temperature alloys for jet fuel nozzles and missile nose cones
In dental implants
To make high-quality flutes
In smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
To manufacture silicones
In coatings for razors
Wood, Ian. 2004. Platinum. Benchmark Books (New York).
The International Platinum Group Metals Association (IPA).
USGS: Platinum Group Metals.