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The trade war between the US and China raised concerns about global metal trade, where both sides used multiple measures in their fight. China is the leading producer of rare earth metals, and it used its status in the trade negotiation against the US, its leading buyer.
The rare elements are difficult to process and get in the desired concentration in the ores, and some have radioactive properties, which require assorted procedures for storing and processing. China continues to control 85 to 95 per cent of the production and supply of such metals.
There are multiple uses for some elements used in cell phones, portable computers, cameras, pollution control equipment, etc.
The common precious metals are rare in the Earth's crust, including iridium, palladium, gold, platinum, Rhodium, Osmium, ruthenium, tellurium and rhenium.
Californium 252 is one of the rarest – artificial elements, which sells for $30,000,000 a gram. Only 8 gm of the ultra-expensive element can be found on the Earth – while it can last in the Earth's environment for not more than five years.
In natural metals, gold, iridium, and palladium can be found in the price range of over $1300 to $1400 an ounce; platinum value (per ounce) is $860.95, silver (per ounce) is around $22, and Osmium is worth over $400 a troy ounce.
The platinum group metals are chemically similar to each other, and they are widely used in many everyday applications. They are often found in mineral deposits in automatic catalytic converters, investments, jewellery and advanced electronics.
Gold and platinum are used in fields like jewellery due to their high lustrous and resistance properties and in medical devices, dentistry, aeronautics and weaponry. These are known for hardness and low reactivity.
Iridium has a super high melting point, is one of the densest rare metals, and is corrosion-resistant. It is widely used in automobiles and medicine fields.
Osmium is the most stable and can be found in mines along with copper-nickel and iridium. Osmium can be a byproduct of the mines and was earlier used in fountain pen nibs and record players due to its electrical properties. Iridium is rare on Earth but can be abundant in the universe; hence, it is linked to extraterrestrial impacts responsible for bringing the metal into the Earth's atmosphere.
Palladium is widely used as a catalytic converter. Ruthenium is used to harden platinum/ palladium alloys as it is highly resistant to electrical conductions and can be used for plating.
Rhodium was exchange-traded at stock markets, and its price peaked at USD 10,000 per ounce in 2008. It was then one of the most expensive metals on Earth. It is mostly available in a brittle form for physical investment and not as bars of coins.
Tellurium is mostly found with gold, lead or copper. Estimating its reserves is difficult, but it is widely used in producing fibre optic cables and modern telecommunication systems.
The term rare metal comes from the term rare metal crisis and, sometimes, from using 17 rare-earth elements (REE) that are counted as unusual kinds.
Over 200 products across a wide range of applications, high-tech devices, consumer goods, screens, monitors, vehicles, TVs and defence applications like sonar systems, radar, lasers, night guidance and displays are created using rare-earth elements.
In 1993, 38% of the REE was extracted in China, 33% in the US, 12% in Australia and 5% in India and Malaysia.
In the natural world, over 50 per cent of the elements are rare. The elements titanium, manganese and chromium found in abundance in the Earth's crust are also sometimes mentioned as rare.
Precious elements are sometimes considered rare, but gold and silver have been valued since ancient times. Some minerals are part of the vitamin supplement industry.
The term is also related to the automobile and energy-saving cars with a low environmental load, where Rhodium is considered one of the rarest.
With rapid propaganda related to the exploitation of certain natural resources for monetary gains, there has been an increase in the demand for certain rare metals like the ones used in liquid crystal television and hybrid cars.
Certain internal combustion vehicles combine palladium, platinum and Rhodium, and some rare earth oxides serve as fuel additives and glass polishers.
Some rare earth magnets, like iron, boron and neodymium, have excellent magnetic properties and are used in hard disc drives, hybrid cars, MRI and acoustic equipment.
There has been a large influx of speculative money into such rare metal markets. The export restrictions by the countries with resource reserves increase the market demand and price of such metals.
Rhodium trading hit above $13,000 per ounce in March 2020, considered one of the highest as the price surged over 30 per cent.
The metal peaked and crashed quickly in 2008 at over $10,000 per troy ounce (oz). It is trading above the highest of 2008 as the demand for metal increased in the automotive industry.
Metal can be an element, a compound or an alloy with a solid, shiny opaque structure and a good conductor of heat & electricity.
Properties like malleability, fusibility, and ductility identify it. It can be hammered or pressed into sheets without breaking, fused, or melted to be drawn into a thin wire-like structure.
A metallic substance's atomic structure is arranged to get any of the three -.
BCC - Body-centric cubic structure where each atom is positioned at the centre of a cube of the eight others.
FCC - The face-centred cubic where twelve others surround each atom in stacks of layers.
HCP – The hexagonal close-packed structure where twelve others surround the atom in stacks of different layers.
In metallic bonding, the electrons are shared across the solid structure, and extreme covalent bonding can exist. The more the electrons are shared, the stronger the bonding.
The chemical properties of metals are
It is known for higher density and conductivity, where the outer electrons are delocalized.
The atomic structure is made up of a collection of atoms which is embedded in a sea of highly mobile electrons.
It is usually included in cat-ions through electron loss, where it reacts with oxygen in the air and can form oxides.
Elements like iron, nickel, and zinc oxidize to form a passive layer of oxide that can protect the interior.
Mechanically, it has reversible elastic deformation ability. Still, irreversible changes can occur in the structure due to exposure to an extreme temperature, resulting in defects in grain boundaries, screw dislocation, point vacancies and faults.
Rhodium is one of the six platinum group metals (PGM) classified as noble metals as it does not react with oxygen easily and can act as a fantastic catalyst.
It is resistant to corrosion and oxidation. Some of the common characteristics of the PGMs include general non–toxicity, high melting point and resistance to wear corrosion and oxidation.
Rhodium is one of the rarest PGMs, occurring only up to one part per 200 mn in the Earth's crust. It has a low density and higher melting point than platinum. The metal remains unaffected by air or water up to 1112 Fahrenheit (600 degree Celsius).
Comparing the concentration in the Earth's crust
Rhodium is believed to be in concentration 0.001 ppm in the Earth's crusts, whereas silver is 0.075 ppm and gold is 0.004 ppm.
Platinum is present at 0.005 ppm, and palladium is at 0.015 ppm in the Earth's crust. In terms of time, gold may take 475 years, platinum over 380 years, palladium over 125 years, silver 25 years, and Rhodium will take over 1900 years to form the same amount.
The annual platinum production comes from Russia and South Africa. In Russia, it comes as a byproduct of nickel output, and the primary production comes from South Africa.
The low price of platinum resulted in lowering production. Rhodium is extracted as a byproduct of the process, and the decline in platinum also resulted in the shortage of Rhodium, and the price of the metal exploded in 2020.
In February 2020, the price was $12000, the highest in the last 15 years and a month later, the price hovered around $12500 /o.
Rhodium began at $6050 /o in 2020 before surging to over $12,000 /o. Some market analysts state that the price gained 2195 per cent from 2003 to 2008 before declining to the low of the 2008 financial crisis.
Trade features -
It is mostly traded over the counter, and limited vehicles offer or track the space.
It is said to be less liquid, so the price can move rapidly at higher demand, leading to larger jumps in the rate range over panic buying.
Traders find it attractive, but the price is highly volatile, and investing can, sometimes, be very risky.
Rhodium is one of the rarest metals on Earth that witnessed an upsurge in price in 2006 from $500 oz USD to $10,000 oz USD in 2007. At the start of 2008, the prices had fallen back to $1000 oz.
It is used as a catalytic converter as part of the car exhaust system, as it can reduce toxic gas emissions and pollutants.
As per S&P Global Platts, about 80 per cent of the demand for Rhodium and palladium come from the global automotive industry.
The silver-white metallic element rhodium is highly corrosion resistant and reflects light and is often used in mirrors, jewellery and searchlights.
Rhodium can be alloyed with platinum to construct aircraft turbine engines or used in electric connections.
Its trace amount can also be used in the production of nitric acid.
It can be used in catalyst applications with plutonium and palladium to reduce car and auto emissions and pollutants.
About 80 per cent of the metal in South Africa is mined within its borders. Rhodium is considered a rare metal as its annual production is 30 tonnes, and major economies like China and India widely use it in vehicle emission control systems.
The precious metal gold gets an annual production of over 2.5K tonnes. Gold is used as anti-inflation, kept in bank vaults for long-term value and even silver is bought in the form of antiques, jewellery or silverware.
These metals have multiple electronic uses, which can be extracted from electronic scrap, while silver is also used for colour photography and is critical.
In the last week of July 2020, gold hit an all-time high above $1933, and silver was over $23 an ounce for the first time since 2013.
It was at $812.20 an ounce in 2015 / 2016 and reached a new low of $755.570 in 2018. In 2020, the price fell to $562 /ounce, one of the lowest in 18 years since 2002. It is believed that platinum could be a sleeping giant that can gain anytime.
The highest for platinum was recorded in 2008 at $2304 an ounce. Both are very popular plating elements that provide durable, tarnish-resistant premium options.
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