China consumes the most chromium out of any nation on Earth. But which countries produce the most chromium? South Africa takes the lead by a long shot.
Chromium is a hard, brittle gray metal with both a high melting point and corrosion resistance.
Those characteristics make it a key element in stainless steel production. In fact, chromium producers sell about 60 percent of their output to the steel industry.
The steel industry consumes chromium somewhat indirectly in that stainless 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 consumer of chromium, as well as the top stainless steel producer globally. However, the Asian nation has no chromium production of its own. China also has limited choices in regards to chromium imports — the US Geological Survey’s most recent report on chromium shows that only five countries produced the metal in 2020.
South Africa is home to the vast majority of the world’s chromite deposits and is the largest ferrochrome and chromite ore producer. Many countries depend on South Africa for chromium imports.
Here’s a brief overview of last year’s five top chromium-producing countries and how they contribute to worldwide chromium production. All in all, global chromium production dropped year-on-year in 2020, reaching a total of 40 million metric tons (MT).
1. South Africa
Mine production: 16 million MT
South Africa produced 16 million MT of chromium in 2020. Although its output was slightly lower than 2019 levels, the nation still beat out the rest of the world’s chromium producers by a wide margin.
Chromium production requires a lot of energy — that’s been a problem in South Africa before, as electrical power supply is sometimes constrained in the country. “Ferrochromium production is electrical-energy intensive, so constrained electrical power supply and rising costs for electricity in South Africa, as well as temporary closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, could also affect ferrochromium production,” explains the US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 6.7 million MT
Last year, Kazakhstan produced 6.7 million MT of chromium, the same output level as 2019. One major chromium operation in the country is the Vokshod mine and plant, owned by Yildirim Group.
Diversified miner Eurasian Resources Group 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: 6.3 million MT
Top chromium-producing country Turkey saw its production of the metal fall dramatically in 2020, reaching 6.3 million MT compared to 10 million MT in 2019.
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 states that Eti Krom is the only high-carbon ferrochrome producer in Turkey.
Mine production: 4 million MT
India’s chromium production came in at 4 million MT in 2020, down slightly from 4.14 million MT in 2019. Little information is available on the Indian chromium space. In a past mineral commodity summary for chromium, the US Geological Survey said that chromium ferroalloys are produced at plants in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha and West Bengal.
Mine production: 2.4 million MT
Finland first made it onto the list of top chromium-producing countries in 2018 with output of 2.2 million MT. In 2020, the Nordic country produced 2.4 million MT.
Finland’s major chromium-producing operation is the Kemi mine, owned by global stainless steel manufacturer Outokumpu (FWB:OUTA). “Much like Kazakhstan and India, Finland’s chromite output has been integrated with domestic ferrochrome production,” according to a report by Roskill. “This stands in contrast to South Africa, where the majority of chromite supply is now consumed by China.”
However, Finnish chromium production is still making its way to China and even India, accounting for 20 to 25 percent of Outokumpu’s ferrochrome output.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.