The most precious and expensive metal in the world is not gold but a rare and hard metal called rhodium, a name derived from the Greek ‘rhodon,’ meaning rose-colored.
The value of rhodium is far higher than the price of gold, which is currently at $1,850 per ounce.
Rhodium, which sells for $10,300 per ounce, now holds the distinction of the most costly and rarest metal in the world.
Rhodium is found in platinum or nickel ores with other members of the platinum group metals. It was discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston in one such ore and named for the rose color of one of its chlorine compounds.
Rhodium belongs to the transition metal series and is chemically unreactive with oxygen, classifying it as a noble metal. This unique property makes it a perfect catalyst, resistant to both corrosion and oxidation.
With its exceptional hardness and a melting point of 1,964 degrees Celsius (3,567 degrees Fahrenheit), rhodium shares its position among the platinum group metals, including palladium, osmium, platinum, iridium, and ruthenium.
The element’s major use (consuming about 80 percent of world rhodium production) is as one of the catalysts in the three-way catalytic converters in automobiles. I
t is often also used as plating for white gold and other jewelry. Jewelry and timepieces are plated with rhodium to create a gleaming, robust surface that resists scratching and tarnishing.
Gold is relatively abundant compared to rhodium
Rhodium production primarily takes place in South Africa, Canada, and Russia, often as a byproduct of refining copper and nickel ores containing up to 0.1 percent of this precious metal.
Approximately sixteen tons of rhodium are produced annually, with an estimated reserve of three thousand tons.
In a May 2023 report, Market Research Future (MRFR) estimated that the rhodium market is projected to reach $3.55 billion by 2030 at a rate of 4.39 percent.
It notes that the requirement for rhodium used in catalytic converters for cars is rising due to various government regulations being implemented in different nations to reduce carbon emissions.
Additionally, the industry is witnessing the development of fresh technologies such as 3D printing, additive production, and nanomaterials, creating fresh possibilities for the use of rhodium.
“Since rhodium is a precious and rare metal, demand is anticipated to increase over the next few years as more people discover its many uses,” MRFR notes in its report.
It warns, however, that when compared to other metals, rhodium is too expensive.
“This limits the applications for which it can be used and is expected to restrain market growth,” the report concludes. “The global rhodium market is anticipated to face challenges from scarce resources and growing demand for applications that will pressure its supply.”