Palladium Mining

When most people think about mining, they probably think about a guy in a mine with a pickaxe hammering away all day for a few nuggets of gold. Although this is still a useful process for many parts of the world, it simply doesn’t work for difficult to extract minerals such as palladium. Palladium mining is actually a very intricate process because of the fact that palladium is so spread out under the surface and in the mines. Although there is a lot of palladium in various parts of the world, most of it lies in North America and South Africa. There are also deposits in Russia and South America.

Palladium mining uses mostly mechanical extraction methods, which both simplify the process and make it much easier to get down in the lower portions of the Earth’s crust. As the reserves in the upper portions become depleted, miners have to dig deeper and deeper to find more palladium. Most palladium is intermixed and bonded with other metals, such as gold, platinum, copper, and zinc. This means that not only do you have to find a way to extract the metal from the earth, but you also have to find a way to separate it from the rest of the metals.

This process is further complicated by the fact that traditional refining methods separate like metals together, so an extra step is involved in refining something like palladium from it’s sister metal platinum. There are also areas of the mines that are very narrow and traditional mechanical methods won’t work. In this case, they have to use cut and fill mining to extract the ore from the rock beds and walls. There are also machines called slushers that are used to mine on slopes where other machines cannot reach. The slushers use a scraping method to scrap metal and ore from the walls of the area.

One of the largest palladium mines in the United States is Stillwater mine in Montana, which accounts for a large portion of America’s palladium and nickel-copper extraction. In their case, roughly 80% of their palladium extraction is machine extraction and the rest of the methods are more traditional cut and fill extraction. What is amazing to me is that even in the days of amazing technology, we still have very crude ways of extracting precious metals from the crust of the Earth. This goes to show why precious metals are both so rare and so valuable.

Palladium mining has been around for decades, but most people don’t even think about the processes required to extract precious metals. People are used to seeing metal everywhere they go, but if they knew just how amazing the process of extraction and refining was, they might feel a little bit differently about their jewelry and electronics. If you are interested in palladium mining, I highly recommend visiting the Stillwater mine in Montana to get a closer look at how it is done at the operational level. I bet you will be more than impressed.

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