Platinum-group metals (PGMs), including platinum, palladium, rhodium and other metals, are prized for their durability, resistance to corrosion and excellent catalytic properties. These characteristics make PGMs useful in everything from jewelry to electronics.
Today, the automotive industry is the world’s largest consumer of these metals, which are used in catalytic converters for vehicle exhaust systems. Automotive production is expected to climb in coming years, particularly in developing markets, and that is expected to ensure healthy demand for the metals into the future.
But where do platinum and palladium come from? To be sure, the list of the world’s top platinum-producing countries is a short one, as is the list of those putting out strong amounts of palladium.
While the lion’s share of the world’s PGMs are produced in South Africa and Russia, there are a few other countries that chip into platinum and palladium production as well. Here are the five top platinum-producing countries for 2015, according to data from the US Geological Survey.
1. South Africa
Platinum production: 125,000 kilograms
Palladium production: 73,000 kilograms
South Africa is the world’s top platinum-producing country, and holds the largest-known reserves of PGMs globally. With 63 million kilograms of PGMs in reserve, South Africa is equipped to remain a top platinum producer. Currently, the country extracts 78 percent of planet’s platinum, according to the Chamber of Mines of South Africa.
In 2014, a protracted strike cut South African PGMs production by 33,600 kilograms. As a result, the three major platinum producers in the country — Anglo American Platinum (JSE:AMS), Impala Platinum Holdings (JSE:IMP) and Lonmin (LSE:LMI) — lost over $2 billion in revenue, according to The Wall Street Journal.
South Africa ramped its production back up substantially in 2015. Platinum production increased from 94,000 kilograms in 2014 to 125,000 kilograms in 2015. For palladium, production rose from 58,400 kilograms in 2014 to an estimated 73,000 kilograms last year.
Platinum production: 23,000 kilograms
Palladium production: 80,000 kilograms
Despite being the world’s second-biggest platinum producer, Russia’s annual production trails South Africa’s by a large margin. However, Russia is responsible for the majority of the world’s palladium production, and has a significant impact on the global market.
2014 strikes in South Africa didn’t have as dramatic an effect as expected on the platinum price, as companies were able to process existing stocks. However, the political crisis in Ukraine and concerns about economic sanctions against Russia drove the palladium price up that year as buyers feared a supply disruption.
Russian platinum production remained fairly flat in 2015 relative to the year prior. Palladium production decreased from 83,000 to 80,000 kilograms.
Platinum production: 11,000 kilograms
Palladium production: 10,000 kilograms
In 2013, Obert Mpofu, Zimbabwe’s mines minister, introduced new royalty requirements on unrefined PGMs being sent outside the country. These royalties were designed to encourage in-country processing of PGMs.
Zimbabwe continues to pursue the goal of increasing PGMs refining, but remains a difficult operating environment for international organizations looking to benefit from the country’s PGMs reserves. Most recently, Deutsche Welle reported that the government in Zimbabwe is cracking down on foreign companies that have failed to comply with the country’s controversial indigenization law. Companies operating in Zimbabwe are required to “cede at least 51 percent to promote black ownership and correct imbalances from the colonial era,” according to the publication.
Platinum production: 9,000 kilograms
Palladium production: 24,000 kilograms
Canada’s strong palladium production makes it a global player in the PGMs market. The country only holds 310,000 kilograms of known PGMs reserves — less than half the total reserves of other countries on this list — but companies continue to explore for PGMs in Canada in hopes of discovering more deposits. In 2015, Canada upped its palladium production from 20,000 to 24,000 kilograms.
Demand for palladium is on the rise. Palladium is normally used for catalytic converters in gasoline engines, while platinum is used in diesel engines. However palladium has started to replace platinum in catalytic converters for diesel vehicles as well.
5. United States
Platinum production: 3,700 kilograms
Palladium production: 12,500 kilograms
Stillwater Mining Company (NYSE:SWC) is the only producer of PGMs in the US. It owns the Stillwater and East Boulder mines. Together, these mines were responsible for almost $532 million worth of metals production in 2015, as per the US Geological Survey. The company also maintains a smelter, refinery and laboratory in Montana and recovers PGMs from spent catalyst material.
Small quantities of PGMs were also recovered as by-products of copper refining in the US in 2015.