Chromium is a steely-gray, hard and brittle metal that resists tarnishing and has a high melting point. Those characteristics make it key element in steel production; in fact, about 60 percent of chromium demand comes from the steel industry.
The steel industry consumes chromium somewhat indirectly in that steel production requires ferrochrome, an alloy of chromium and iron that contains 50 to 70 percent chromium by weight. Essentially, chromium is used to produce ferrochrome, which is then used to make steel.
China is the world’s top producer of ferrochrome, as well as the world’s top stainless steel producer. However, it produces no chromium at all. It also has very few choices in where to get all the chromium it requires — according to the US Geological Survey’s most recent report on chromium, only four countries produced the metal in 2015.
Here’s a look a brief overview of those four chromium producers and how they contribute to worldwide chromium production. All in all, global output of the metal increased last year, rising to 31,000 MT from 26,400 MT in 2014.
1. South Africa
Mine production: 15,000 MT
South Africa produced 15,000 MT of chromium in 2015, beating out the rest of the world’s chromium producers by a wide margin. Its output increased last year compared to 2014, when it put out just 12,000 MT of chromium.
Interestingly, South Africa used to be the world’s largest producer of ferrochrome as well as the top chromium producer; however, it lost that title in 2012 to China. The US Geological Survey states that part of the reason China was able to beat out South Africa is that ferrochrome production requires a lot of energy — that’s a problem in South Africa, where supply of electrical power can be constrained.
Mine production: 3,800 MT
Last year, Kazakhstan produced 3,800 MT of chromium, up only slightly from its 2014 output of 3,700 MT. One major chromium operation in the country is the Vokshod mine and plant, owned by Yildirim Group. The operation’s annual chrome ore production capacity currently stands at 1.3 million tons.
Eurasian Natural Resources is also a big presence in Kazakhstan’s chromium space. The company’s ferroalloys division includes Kazchrome, which in turn is made up of four operating companies: the Donskoy ore mining and processing plant; the Aktobe ferroalloys plant; the Aksu ferroalloys plant; and the Kazmarganets mining enterprise.
Mine production: 3,600 MT
Turkey saw a fairly big leap in chromium production in 2015, putting out 3,600 MT; that’s up from 2,600 MT in 2014. Yildirim Group is also a major player in the Turkish chromium industry through Eti Krom, which it acquired in 2004. Eti Krom is the world’s biggest hard lumpy marketable chrome ore producer, and is the only chrome ore supplier in Turkey that can extract chromium throughout the entire year. Yildirim Group also states that Eti Krom is the only high-carbon ferrochrome producer in Turkey.
Mine production: 3,500 MT
Finally, India produced 3,500 MT of chromium in 2015, down slightly from the 3,540 MT it put out in 2014. Little information is available on the Indian chromium space, but in its most recent mineral commodity summary for chromium, the US Geological Survey provides a little color — it states that during the 2012/2013 fiscal year 25 mines produced chromite ore in India, with leading miners including Balashore Alloys and Indial Metal & Ferro Alloys.
Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.