A review of the PGM industry, deposit models and exploration practices: Implications for Australia's PGM potential
Australia is prospective for platinum group metal (PGM) mineralisation (in particular primary magmatic reef, primary magmatic by-product, late magmatic and hydrothermal, and alluvial placer type) but its known PGM endowment is negligible compared to that of South Africa, Russia, the USA and Canada. Most Australian PGM projects are operated by mid-cap or junior companies and form part of larger, more diverse project portfolios held by these explorers. Most projects were 'hot' while market conditions were favourable. However, as other metals became 'fashionable' and market conditions for PGM changed, so did the focus of these companies. Pure PGM companies are rare in Australia. The search for and development of PGM-only deposits in Australia are high risk business activities. No new primary PGM deposits have been discovered since the mid to late 1980s and none of the significant deposits that were discovered or evaluated in the 1980s have been mined. This review suggests that at least several A$10 million but more likely several A$100 million were sunk into PGM exploration and development projects but none advanced to the mining stage. The viability of Australian PGM projects is very sensitive to (1) metal prices, (2) the US$/A$ exchange rate, and (3) large capital expenditure requirements relative to the small size of Australian PGM-only deposits. Most PGM-only projects were initiated at times of high PGM prices. However, advanced exploration, feasibility studies and project development always lagged behind the price booms. South Africa, Russia and Canada contain approximately 98% of the known global PGM reserves. This situation has a very negative effect on the Australian PGM industry as the well-endowed nations continue to receive the lion's share of exploration spend and new projects.
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