Ruthenium

Current ruthenium demand formed by the electronic and the chemical industries, however ruthenium came to the fore for the future hydrogen energy and electrical sector as a main raw material for next-generation semiconductors.

Ruthenium Key Features:

Ruthenium (Ru) is a hard, white metal. It does not tarnish at room temperatures, but oxidises in air at about 800°C. Along with rhodium (Rh), palladium (Pd), osmium (Os), iridium (Ir), and platinum (Pt) it forms the platinum group metals (PGM). The metal is not affected by hot or cold acids or aqua regia, but when potassium chlorate is added to the solution, it oxidises explosively. It dissolved in molten alkalis. Ruthenium finds its greatest use in the electronic industry (50%) and the chemical industry (40%), with smaller amounts being used in alloying. In electronics it used to be used mainly for electrical contacts but most of it now goes into chip resistors. In the chemical industry it is used in anodes for chlorine production in electrochemical cells.

Key Applications:

  • Resistors
  • Electrical Contacts
  • Electrochemical Cells
  • Solar cells
  • Catalytis
  • Hard-drives

Key Producers of PGMs:

  • Johnson Matthey
  • American Elements
  • Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo K.K.
  • OXKEM
  • Nordt Engineered Precious Metals
  • Dyesol

Supply Characteristics:

Ruthenium is referred to as a minor precious metal, with osmium, rhodium and iridium and has a relative supply risk of around 7.6 (A score attributed based on risk of supply reduction and demand increase, market concentration and political risk) . There are top 3 ruthenium reserve holders: South Africa, Russia, USA. This element is generally found in ores with the other platinum group metals in the Ural Mountains and in North and South America. A major use of ruthenium is in the production of alloys (which is made by melting and mixing of two or more metals). Ruthenium is added to the alloy mixture and oxygen and other materials resistant mixture is derived. The most commonly employed metals for alloy mixtures, along with ruthenium, include platinum or palladium. The usage of these alloys primarily takes place in electrical contacts and devices that are employed for measuring very high and very low temperatures. Several medical instruments and jewelry are also manufactured using ruthenium alloys.

According to the Statista, in 2020, the global demand for ruthenium amounted to some 980,000 ounces (27,8 tonnes) including 381,000 ounces for the electrical industry. In 2021, the global demand for ruthenium is expected to increase to approximately 1,031,000 ounces (29,2 tonnes).

Last year saw some delays in the purchasing of ruthenium catalysts for catalytic wet air oxidation (CWAO), with demand deferred into 2021. This process is used to treat effluent streams from petrochemical and pharmaceutical plants with high concentrations of aromatics and other organic chemicals. Ruthenium catalysts have been widely adopted for this application, because they provide excellent reactivity and are more environmentally friendly compared to base-metal alternatives. According to the PGM market report May 2021, the demand for ruthenium in the electrochemical sector is projected to further drive its market during 2021. The major factor attributing to this growth includes its strong demand from the chlor-alkali industry, as it is continuously replacing its mercury-based technology with diaphragm or membrane cells.

Price Trends

The future substantial growth in global ruthenium demand will be formed by the electrical sector and hydrogen energy. We assume that ruthenium prices will be more volatile and do not rule out a spurt during 2021-2022, as has happened with rhodium or iridium. In February 2007, the ruthenium price achieved the record historical value of around US$ 870/oz since 2000 and collapsed to US$ 75/oz in February 2009. The price started recovering in October 2017 from US$ 75/oz to US$ 365/oz in March 2021 and to US$ 800/oz in June 2021. It should be noted that COVID pandemic did not have a significant impact on the ruthenium prices which demonstrated a significant growth since March 2020. However, ruthenium price remains undervalued in comparison with other PGMs due to future prospects of ruthenium based catalysts. It possesses appropriate hydrogen bonding energy and reasonable price, and has demonstrated strong potential as an alternative to platinum for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER). Thus, establishing a role for hydrogen in long-term energy strategies will lead to the growth of ruthenium demand further. Hydrogen use today is dominated by industries: oil refining, ammonia production, methanol production and steel production. Virtually all of this hydrogen is supplied using fossil fuels, so there is significant potential for emissions reductions from clean hydrogen in the near future. We assume that the fundamental ruthenium price will be formed in the near future at the level of $600/oz with further growth potential. Applications of ruthenium for hydrogen’s potential will play a crucial role in a clean, secure and affordable energy future.

Forecast:

According to BlueQuark Research & Consulting, the global ruthenium market is expected to witness growth at a somewhat significant rate during the forecast period 2021-2026. The major factors responsible for the global ruthenium market’s growth would be increasing demand in the electrical sector to produce hard disks, thick film chip resistors, and plasma display panels. Demand for hard-drives during times of high crypto mining led to a shortage that influenced the prices of Ruthenium. The demand for ruthenium as a catalyst, especially in the Chlor-alkali process, is anticipated to propel global growth to more extent. Other than these major applications, emerging applications in thin-film solar cells and superalloys will contribute their fair bit. However, ruthenium's rarity and government regulations are restraining factors to this market's growth.

North America is expected to be the largest market for global ruthenium owing to the majority of the production and consumption of the ruthenium taking place in the region. Apart from the chemical and electronic industries' consumption, the medical sector, with the recently developed ruthenium-based cancer therapy, is expected to aid in the domestic consumption of the ruthenium produced. With Russia and Brazil having commercially viable PGM resources, Europe and South America are also expected to serve as attractive markets. The Asia Pacific is expected to witness significant growth due to increasing demand in electronics and semiconductor applications.


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