The Practical Element Platinum

platinum element sample

Introduction to the Platinum Element

Platinum is a slivery element with a whole load of attractive chemical and physical properties. Platinum is commonly known for its high price and rare natural occurrence, but platinum is critical for several of the world’s most important industries. Chemists have advanced frontiers in medicine, electronics, and chemistry with platinum’s widespread use. In fact, as testament to its importance, platinum defined the metric system before 2019.

Platinum is a slivery solid at room temperature and found near the middle of the periodic table. It belongs to its namesake group of platinum group elements, also consisting of ruthenium, rhodium, iridium, palladium, and osmium.

Pure, Solid Platinum Metal
Platinum Metal. From Wikimedia Commons

10 Fun Facts About Platinum

  • Platinum is the only metal used in the electronics of pacemakers.
  • Meteors contain a very high amount of platinum.
  • For every 30 grams of gold mined, only one gram of platinum has been mined.
  • Platinum is the least reactive metal.
  • Platinum is very dense. A 2ft cube of platinum weighs more than most elephants.
  • 99.5% of all automobiles made since 1975 have platinum.
  • Platinum and bismuth were first discovered and reported by the Incan empire.
  • London is the hub of platinum investing.
  • Platinum only dissolves in aqua regia (a mixture of sulfuric and nitric acid).
  • Platinum cobalt magnets are some of the most resistive to external magnetic forces.
  • The most common use of platinum is in jewelry, the metal’s most famous use.

The Platinum Element On the Periodic Table

Platinum, and all of the platinum group metals are located in the D-block of the periodic table. With an atomic number 78, platinum has an electron configuration of [Xe]4f145d96s1. This is an exception to the typical electron configuration of platinum, expected to be [Xe]4f145d86s2. However, transferring an electron from the 6s orbital to the 5d orbital proves more stable. Platinum, because it has unpaired electrons and resides in the D block, is a transition metal. Platinum has five stable isotopes (192Pt, 194Pt, 195Pt, 196Pt, and 198Pt), of which, 195Pt is the most abundant stable isotope with a natural occurrence of 33.78%. The average atomic mass of platinum is 195.08 da. Along with most transition metals, platinum has a shiny silver color.

Platinum on the ChemTalk Interactive Periodic Table
Visit Platinum on our Interactive Periodic Table

Platinum’s Chemical Inertness

Platinum’s utility is often related to its chemical inertness. Being the lowest element on the activity series, it does not react with any other ions as a solid metal. Platinum’s inertness makes it useful for applications where failure is not an option. Critical electronics such as pacemakers and satellites use platinum electronics for this reason. This property of platinum is useful as it means that solid platinum catalysts last a long time and measurement devices made from the element will not change much over time. Platinum jewelry is popular not only for its shine, but also for its longevity, a product of its inertness.

Global Demand for Platinum

Platinum is a precious metal, and due to its uses in jewelry and industry, it is in high demand. Every year, 180 thousand kilograms of platinum are refined. However, this corresponds to 36 billion kilograms of ore mined from the earth. Over 80 percent of the worlds platinum is mined and refined in South Africa with Russia being the next largest producer. Due to the limited supply, platinum often reaches soaring costs, with the current price in February 2023 hovering around 32 dollars per gram. Keeping in mind the high density of platinum, this is 32 dollars for a 4mm cube of the metal.

IndustryPercent Used (Amount Used (kg))Estimated Cost (2023)
Automobile Catalytic Converters45% (81000)$2.6 B
Jewelry34% (61200)$2.0 B
Petroleum and Chemical Catalysis9.2% (16600)$540 M
Electronics2.7% (4860)$160 M
Investment1.2% (2160)$71 M
Anti-Cancer Drugs0.05% (90)$3 M
Other Uses8% (14400)$470 M
Industry Share and Cost of Global Annual Platinum

Uses of the Platinum Element

Platinum, despite being rare and expensive, has found a variety of industrial uses, making it a very practical element. Platinum saves many lives, contributes to a clean atmosphere, along with many more important uses.


Platinum is a useful catalyst, making many of the reactions our modern world depends on possible. Most automobiles have a catalytic converter in their exhaust system. Incomplete combustion of fuels results in the formation of toxic gasses such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Catalytic converters have a thin mesh of platinum and other metals which work to catalyze the degradation of these gasses into less harmful ones such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen.

Platinum is also used in the petroleum industry to separate larger, unsaturated hydrocarbons into smaller more useful ones. This is a process called cracking. Platinum compounds are useful in the field of synthetic organic chemistry, where they catalyze reduction, hydrosilylation, and amination.


Several anti-cancer drugs contain platinum. Metal based drugs are very uncommon, and platinum-based drugs even more so. This family of platinum based medications are known as platins, and are very commonly used in the treatment of testicular and ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer. Platins are usually square complexes of the platinum 2+ ion, and coordinate through and amine. When introduced into cells, water displaces the chloride ligands for water ligands. This activated form of the drug then binds highly selectively to DNA. RNA polymerase cannot act on the platin-bound DNA to create mRNA for genes encoding oncoproteins, thus killing cancer cells. Cancer cells have a hallmark of fast growth and proliferation, allowing platins to selective interfere with only the fastest replicating cells. However, some platins accumulate in the brain, causing potential side effects.

Platins are also very small molecules, making them circulate entirely in the blood stream. However, injection is the only route of administration as the stomach acid breaks down the molecules.

Reference Standards and Scientific Measurement

Measurement reference standards use platinum due to its desirable inertness. Up until 2019, the entire metric system was based on the element platinum. Because platinum doesn’t react, significantly change mass or size over time. The international prototype kilogram (IPK) is a precision-manufactured cylinder of platinum and iridium alloy protected with a vacuum at the SI headquarters in Paris. This piece of platinum defined the exact mass of the kilogram from 1889 until 2019. The SI has since redefined the definition of the kilogram based off of Planck’s constant, the transition frequency of cesium, and the speed of light. However, some mass balances still use platinum references for calibration.

International Prototype Kilogram
International Prototype Kilogram. From Wikimedia Commons

Platinum is still used scientifically in the form of lab ware. Platinum is a common material of choice for making crucibles. Because platinum is highly inert, it will not react with the sample nor the air on heating, and has a very high melting point.

Platinum Crucible
Platinum Crucible. From Millipore Sigma

Discovery of the Platinum Element

The first samples of refined platinum date back to early indigenous tribes in Ecuador, however the first widespread user of the metal was the Incan Empire. During the Spanish conquests, platinum was first recorded as a metal of very high melting temperature near Panama. Later, Spanish explorers saw native groups refining the metal. Unfortunately, these Spanish groups, led by Antonio de Ulloa, exploited these communities to mine for silver; they began to discard the platinum as an impurity despite its unharnessed value. However, Pierre-Francois Chabaneau, a French-Spanish scientist, discovered its remarkable properties many years later.

Extraction of Platinum

In modern times, platinum is now mostly concentrated in South Africa and Russia, where it is usually found as oxides or colloids within the soil, and does not subsequently form any known minerals. This is because it largely originates from platinum-rich meteorites during the formation of the planet. Chemical treatment of the ores removes any organic waste, copper, iron, and nickel based minerals. These heavy metal ores are then heated until molten, and placed in an electrolytic cell where they are reduced to the solid metal. By exploiting the density and magnetic characteristics of platinum, the metal contaminants are extracted from the top of the mixture with a magnet while platinum sinks to the bottom. The purest a typical refinement can achieve is 95%, but other methods less feasible on the industrial scale have achieved purity closer to 98%.

Platinum Chemistry

Platinum Compounds

Platinum is a transition metal and coordinates with ligands to form a transition metal complex. Complexes most commonly adopts a square planar coordination geometry, but can also coordinate in a tetrahedral or octahedral shape.

Platinum can also coordinate with alkene, alkynes, and even fullerenes, a property which is rare among the transition metals. Many platinum complexes feature this ability, especially metalorganic catalysts (see Karstedt’s catalyst in the catalysis section).

Platinum Oxidation States

Platinum has three natural oxidation states (check out our nifty experiment on the oxidation states of vanadium); Platinum (II) is the most common oxidation state, and common platinum compounds such as catalysts and cis-platin contain it. Because Pt (IV) is more elusive, it is often an intermediate in platinum chemistry of other compounds. Pt (0) also exists, but it is generally unstable and features a Pt-Pt bond in a bimetallic compound.

Platinum reacts with most common oxidizing and reducing agents, however, milder organic reagents are better when working with platinum because several oxidation states are fragile.

Physical Properties of Platinum

Platinum is a slivery, relatively soft metal which has great manufacturability due to its softness (malleability). Platinum is most commonly manufactured into thin wire to create a catalytic mesh for chemical reactors or catalytic converters on automobiles. When manufactured like this, Platinum has a really high surface area to volume ratio, increasing the catalysis without using much of the precious metal.

  • Atomic Symbol: Pt
  • Classification: Transition Metal
  • Melting Temperature: 1768C
  • Boiling Temperature: 3825C
  • Density: 21.45 Grams per Milliliter
  • Appearance: Slivery, Highly Reflective, Square and Hexagonal Edges
  • Crystal Structure: Face-Centered-Cubic
  • Heat Capacity: 0.134 J/g/C
  • Natural Abundance: 0.000001% in Earth’s Crust
  • Electronegativity: 2.28 (Pauling Electronegativity Scale)
  • Ionization Energies: 864 kJ/mol (1st)
  • Toxicity: Mildly toxic, salts can accumulate in organs such as the lungs, liver and brain. Some platinum compounds are biologically active. Platinum metal is often biologically inert.

How and Where to Buy Platinum Element

Platinum is not typically available to the public. The most accessible platinum products for the public usually are jewelry, but platinum’s high price often makes purchasing it in this manner unfeasible.

For industrial and research purposes, rare earth metal supply companies can supply the element in several different forms. These companies refine platinum into alloys, leaf (very thin sheets), and thin wire meshes. Companies usually then place industrial orders for large amounts of platinum with very specific specifications for their uses.