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In this blog explaining how money works as a response to the debate about the USA's proposal to mint a trillion dollar platinum coin, the author quotes two estimates. One is the amount of platinum ever mined; the other is the amount required to make a trillion dollars if the value equalled the current price of platinum.

The author is making the point that money's value isn't intrinsic via an comic, exaggerated metaphor. But his estimate of world platinum production feels ridiculously low at 16 tonnes (this would fit into a cube less that 1 meter (about 3 feet) on each side).

So is his estimate even approximately right? How much platinum have we mined since the element was discovered about 200 years ago?

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+1, matt, excellent question, congratulations! –  Carlo_R. Jan 11 '13 at 18:14

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

TL;DR:

  • "minted" was a misprint. It was supposed to be "mined" in the original claim.

  • Original claim used incorrect "ever" weight of 16 tonnes ever mined, should be 9490 tonnes if we can trust the non-proven fact of "fits into 25ft^3 cube".

  • Yearly production is ~150-200 tonnes (confirmed)

  • Thus, 16 tons is ~600 times too small compared to real #

  • But even if we take the real #, we have 2x less than necessary Platinum ever produced to create such a $1T coin (~20,000 tons needed at today's spot price).


Wait, did you mean "minted" or "mined/produced"? Your question mentions both words. No the world didn't produce 16 tons of platinum, but much more. See below for details.

BTW, the "16 ton" figure you cited was from that blog's copy of ZeroHedge's graph, and the graph had "16 tons" as "All Platinum ever MINED", not "minted".

So, let's look at the production of Platinum worldwide.

UPDATE: For extra credit, I think I dug up where they got 16 tons from at ZeroHedge (thanks to commenters there):

All of the Platinum ever mined would barely fill a 25 cubic foot (7.6 cubic meter) box. The block would weigh over 16 tons. (src http://www.gold-traders.co.uk/blog/interesting-facts-about-platinum/ )

Their calculations are all wrong though: such a box (if the size is true, which I don't have a good proof of) would have a volume of 442 cubic meters; with Platinum density being 21.45 g/cm3, we get the box weight at 9490 tonnes, not 16.


An authoritative source seems to be the following publication by USGS:

Platinum-Group Metals—World Supply and Demand By David R. Wilburn and Donald I. Bleiwas ; U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2004

  • Russian Platinum production is ~30 tonnes in 2001 (Figure 3)
  • South Africa at ~125 tonnes.
  • Canada at 9 tonnes
  • US at ~3 tonnes.

TOTAL: 167 tonnes of Platinum produced worldwide in 2001.

Another source was found by following a link in comments to that ZeroHedge post, listing 180 tons as average annual production (6Mil oz).

So, the estimate of world's platinum mining at 16 tonnes ever is definitely wrong, since we produced 10 times that in just 2001, and pretty much on the same level in the years since.


Now, with the Platinum price per kilo being ~$50,000 (src), we get 20,000 tons required to have $1 Trillion worth of Platinum. I can very well buy that we haven't mined enough in the history of humankind, even if 16 tons is a gross underestimate - we have non-authoritatively pegged the "ever" # at 9490 tonnes, 2 times less than needed.


As an example, just ONE source (Russia's Norilsk) had:

Peak production at the Norilsk-Talnakh mines was reached in the late 1980s, at around 4 million oz of palladium and 1 million oz of platinum annually. The decline and fall of the Soviet Union led to a period of falling output, with reductions in essential investment biting deep into productive capability. However, since the late 1990s, Norilsk Nickel has succeeded in reversing this decline, and in 2005 the company reported production of 751,000 oz of platinum...

Side note: 751k oz = 23.5 tons as per Google :)

The company plans to increase ore throughput by over 20 per cent to 26 million tonnes annually by 2015.

Src: http://www.platinum.matthey.com/production/russia/

This tracks pretty closely with USGS #s as far as orders of magnitude.


Please note that Wiki indicates:

245 tonnes of platinum sold in 2010 (src: Loferski, P. J. (October 2011). "2010 Minerals Yearbook; Platinum-group metals" (PDF). USGS Mineral Resources Program. Retrieved 2012-07-17)

... but that includes resale/recycle of what was produced previously.

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This and if some element occurs at low incidence in a ore mined for the purposes of extracting something else it may not be economically viable to refine the low incidence stuff even though it is, in principle, valuable. Plantinum likey occurs in some incidence in ores for other heavy transistion metals. –  dmckee Jan 11 '13 at 18:29
    
the use of tons and tonnes makes me wonder if long and short tons are getting mixed, the difference is small enough to not really change the answer, but it makes me wonder. –  Ryathal Jan 11 '13 at 19:46
    
@Ryathal - Are you referring to my answer in general, or to the reason why someone ended up with "16 tons"? if the former, I am using metric tons everywhere, even if I misspelled as tonnes –  DVK Jan 11 '13 at 19:57
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One wonders if the "16 tons" value wasn't a reference, conscious or not, to the lyric "...and deeper in debt." cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/classic-country/… –  Larry OBrien Jan 11 '13 at 20:38
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@Carlo_R. I belive it depends on their place on the periodic table. Rare Earths and Transistion Metals. Those designation are somewhat archaic at this point, but they persist and I learned them decades ago... –  dmckee Jan 11 '13 at 23:31

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