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Rush on for white gold

THE Kimberley’s Panton Sill project is set to be Australia’s first platinum mine with backers predicting the valuable ores could be exported by 2003.

Platinum Australia is behind efforts to establish an open-cut, and then underground, platinum group elements (PGE) mine at the site near Halls Creek.

The company hopes to tap into growing demand for what is known as white gold, the platinum metal now worth more than gold, and palladium, which is worth even more.

Both metals are used extensively in catalytic converters.

Platinum Australia general manager John Lewins said the ore would be refined to a PGE concentrate before it was exported to overseas smelters.

And while the exact size and grade of the resource had not yet been finalised, Mr Lewins estimated that if the mine produced 100,000 ounces of PGE concen-trate a year, it could generate A$140 million annually, based on present market prices.

“There is a fairly large market for it... last year demand for platinum was 5.7 million ounces and demand for palladium was 8.4 million ounces,” Mr Lewins said.

The Panton project was first investigated in the late-80s by Pan Continental and was found to have a 2 million tonne resource from which 387,000 ounces of PGE ore could be extracted.

Low platinum and palladium prices and a low recovery rate meant the project did not proceed at the time.

Mr Lewins expected the latest feasibility study, due out in May, to paint a much better picture.

“The resource is significantly larger than was last estimated … and we have identified that there is a lot more tonnes of lower grade material,” Mr Lewins said.

Platinum geology expert Dr Howard Carr said the world’s biggest platinum and palladium producers were South Africa and Russia.

Dr Carr said problems with the Russian Norilsk mine meant alter-nate sources may soon be needed.

He said platinum was used extensively for jewellery through-out Asia but its main use was in the industrial arena in catalytic converters.

Sixty per cent of palladium is used in catalytic converters, but the metal is also used in electronics and dental fillings.

n See also page 11

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