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Stillwater Mining Company (SWC): Mining Palladium and Platinum

Founded in 1992, Stillwater Mining Company engages in the development, extraction, processing, smelting, refining, and marketing of palladium, platinum, and associated metals. Palladium and platinum are precious metals that are part of the platinum group of metals or PGM’s. The other metals that comprise the PGM group are rhodium, ruthenium, osmium, and iridium. Trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), Stillwater Mining Company has a market capitalization of $345.55 million.

Headquartered in Billings, Montana, Stillwater Mining Company is the only United States producer of palladium and platinum. Their Stillwater Mine is near Nye, Montana in the Stillwater Valley. The Company performs their operations in a geological formation know as the Johns-Manville or J-M Reef, located in southern Montana. This area is the only known major source of platinum group metals in America. Stillwater also conducts mining at the East Boulder Mine south of McLeod, Montana. This mine is also on the 28-mile long J-M Reef. Active mining from the J-M Reef produces a high-grade ore containing a palladium/platinum ratio of just over 3:1.

Other major sources for these metals are in Russia and South Africa. In fact, South Africa is where over 80 percent of the world’s platinum rests as well as 30 percent of the world’s palladium. British chemist W. H. Wollaston pioneered techniques for the separation of platinum group metals, techniques considered the basis for modern PGM’s metallurgy. Europeans began to value platinum highly in the mid-eighteenth century. Prestigious jewelers such as Cartier, Faberge, and Tiffany built much of their business on their platinum designs and the allure of this precious metal.

With so much history behind platinum, palladium, and the other PGM’s, Stillwater Mining Company continues to add to the story of these metals. The Company has concentrating plants, which they operate at both mines to upgrade ore into a concentrate form. Stillwater also operates a smelter, refinery, and laboratory at Columbus, Montana. This is to upgrade the concentrate to a platinum group metal rich filter cake. In addition, the Company recycles used catalyst material at the smelter and refinery to recover PGM’s. Platinum group metals are rare precious metals and are used in a variety of ways for auto catalysts (catalytic converters), fuel cells, hydrogen purification, electronics, jewelry, dentistry, medicine, water treatment, coinage, and other uses.

Stillwater had proven and probable ore reserves of approximately 40.0 million tons with an average grade of 0.53 ounce of PGM’s per ton containing approximately 21.2 million ounces of palladium and platinum as of December 31, 2007. The Stillwater Mining Company continues to engage in the hunt for precious PGM’s. They do so to supply diverse manufacturers with their requirements of these metals, which are a part of so many products we use today.

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