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Discussion of risks of platinum resources based on a function orientated criticality assessment - shown by cytostatic drugs and automotive catalytic converters

Environmental Sciences EuropeBridging Science and Regulation at the Regional and European Level201123:26

  • Received: 14 February 2011
  • Accepted: 13 July 2011
  • Published:



The purpose of the study is the enhancement of criticality assessments for resources in order to address function specific factors like dissipation, recycling, bio-activity and toxicity. The developed methodology is applied to platinum-containing cytostatic drugs and automotive catalytic converters.


The study is methodically based on an analysis of resource specific factors like exploration rates, reserves-to-production ratio and regional distribution of exploration areas as well as on the investigation of product/functional depending factors like recycling rates, dissipation rates, bio-diversity and toxicity. Taking into account that economic and ecological risks may occur at any stage of the supply, consumption and dissipation processes, the whole life cycles of the two analyzed products (cytostatic drugs and automotive catalytic converters) are considered. As an approach to reduce potential economic and ecological risks the study is especially focused on recycling strategies.


In order to get a better understanding of platinum as an essential resource for the development of our society the history and the cultural impact of the term "resource" are introduced.

Results & Discussion

The availability of platinum is crucial for several products of our modern society. Areas of application are e.g. jewellery, automotive catalytic converters, investments (coins, bars), computers, mobile devices, fertilizers and cytostatic drugs. Economic risks are caused by limited sources and dynamic demand of new application areas like fuel cells and drugs. Platinum-containing drugs are used for the treatment of several kinds of cancer such as testicular, breast, colon and prostate. Currently the pharmaceutical industry requires 6,9 tons per year (3 percent of the total demand of platinum). Due to the improvement of medical standards and the ageing society, especially in developing countries, the demand of platinum-containing drugs will rise significantly. The dissipation of toxic soluble salts and the lack of advanced waste-water treatment and recycling systems is a problem of the usage of platinum-containing drugs. Compared with cytostatic drugs (14.6 kg/a for Germany) the dissipation of platinum particles of mobile catalytic converters is much higher (5-20 tons/a only in North America, Europe and Japan; 184,2 kg/a in Germany). On the other hand the emission of platinum nano-particles of automotive catalytic converters seems less critical. Furthermore advanced recycling technologies are already available for them.


The evaluation of resources has to consider resource specific and functional depending factors. In order to reduce economic and ecological risks of the dissipation of platinum salts in cytostatic drugs three principle options can be identified: the development of ecologically compatible and cost-effective substitutes, efficient recycling systems and future-oriented sanitary-systems as well as waste-water treatment facilities, which are able to separate platinum salts. Concerning the dissipation of platinum particles of mobile converters relevant research questions are the identification of adequate substitutes as well as the extension of recycling capacities.

Recommendations and perspectives

The study demonstrates a research gap concerning substitutes for automotive catalytic converters as well as for platinum-containing cytostatic drugs. The development and implementation of recycling concepts, technologies and capacities to reuse platinum as a secondary resource is an essential issue. As a consequence the economic and ecological risks can be reduced by increasing the resource efficiency. Special research has to be done concerning the development of future-oriented sanitary-systems and waste-water treatment facilities in order to separate platinum in waste water. Furthermore, if the future demand of new products like fuel cells is considered, a resource conflict concerning the potential functional applications will be evident. In order to address these challenges the criticality assessment has to be enhanced by ethic and social factors.

  • Criticality Assessment
  • Dissipation
  • Recycling
  • Platinum
  • Cytostatic Drugs
  • Automotive Catalytic Converter