A rare, silvery white, hard and corrosion-resistant metal, Rhodium is not only one of Palladium’s fellow members of the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs); it, too, happens to be a Nickel co-product. And, as is the case with Palladium, one of Rhodium’s main uses is in catalytic converters to reduce automobile emissions, as well as in industrial catalysts.
Alloyed with Platinum and Palladium, in the process of which it serves as a hardening agent, Rhodium is also used in furnace windings, and thermo-coupling elements, to name but a few industrial applications. The exceptional hardness of plated Rhodium, which is derived by electroplating or evaporation, further lends itself to the metal’s application in optical instruments.
USGS does not track production numbers or net import reliance statistics for Rhodium as a stand-alone metal; however, considering that there is currently only one domestic mining company producing PGMs — and that U.S. import dependence on the two PGMs USGS does track is 90% for Platinum and 58% for Palladium — plus the fact that we import roughly 11,000 kg of Rhodium per year, our import dependence to meet domestic needs is in all likelihood not insignificant.
As is the case with Palladium, new applications for the metal may become game-changers going forward and may drive up demand. One such recent discovery is the unveiling of a chemical process“using the sun’s thermal energy to convert carbon dioxide and water directly into high-energy fuels.” In what may turn out to be a big step towards the chemical storage of solar energy, researchers at the Switzerland-based Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the ETH Zurich have developed a procedure to do so using a new material combination of Cerium Oxide and Rhodium. While this potential application is quite interesting, friends of ARPN will note that a compound comprised of two elements for which the U.S. is significantly import-dependent illustrates once again the constraints on the United States’ ability to capitalize on advanced materials development.
What we have argued elsewhere, applies for Rhodium, too – the revolution in materials science represents a paradigm shift for traditional supply and demand scenarios for the raw materials that fuel it. It’s time for a new comprehensive approach to mineral resource policy that embraces these changes - especially as we move into a potential period of uncertainty on the trade front.