Iridium Prices Explained
Iridium prices continue to make headlines in trading charts, even outperforming bitcoin prices by 67% in 2021.
Find out the price movers of this metal which is rarer than gold.
Why are iridium prices fluctuating?
1. Increased Demand
Demand for iridium increases frequently.
For example, the electronics industry uses more iridium in semiconductors and other components.
The aviation industry increases its iridium consumption by manufacturing jet engines and other parts. Additionally, the medical industry needs metal for pacemakers and other devices.
Furthermore, the shipping industries use iridium to chlorinate the ballast water which stops vessels from transporting aquatic creatures and damaging their ecosystem.
Moreover, like gold and other precious metals, iridium can act as a store of value. Investment demand can influence its price.
2. Limited Supply
Iridium is a rare metal and non-renewable.
Most of the world’s iridium comes from South Africa and Russia. However, production started to decline recently due to the depletion of known reserves and the high cost of extraction.
Additionally, iridium is a byproduct of platinum and nickel mining. Any disruptions in these mining activities can affect the iridium supply.
Furthermore, South Africa’s chaotic political system which causes frequent mining workers to rally and the country’s aging coal power stations largely contribute to the already diminishing global iridium supply, ultimately influencing its prices.
3. Geopolitical Tensions
Geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West drive up iridium prices.
Russia is the second-largest producer of iridium, accounting for 6.7 metric tons of the global supply.
Sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine disrupted its supply of iridium to global markets.
However, it proved to be beneficial for Chinese buyers as the country found another uncompromising market for its commodities.
Which variables impact the price of iridium?
- Increased Demand
- Limited Supply
- Geopolitical Tensions
- Investment Demand
- Regulatory Changes
Where does iridium come from?
Iridium is a very hard, brittle, silvery-white transition metal. It has a melting point of 2410°C, a boiling point of 4130°C3, and is the most corrosion-resistant metal known.
Smithson Tennant discovered it in 1803 and named it after the Greek goddess Iris.
Production Process of Iridium
The production process of iridium is complex and expensive, also, the metal only comes in small quantities.
The first step in the iridium production process is to mine the ore that contains iridium.
Iridium is typically found in nickel and copper ores. Once the ore has been mined, it is crushed and processed to extract the iridium.
The extraction process is complicated and involves a number of steps:
1. Flotation: The ore is mixed with water and chemicals to create a froth. The iridium particles stick to the froth, which is skimmed off the top of the mixture.
2. Smelting: The iridium-rich concentrate is smelted to remove impurities such as other metals and small rock deposits.
3. Refining: The iridium is further refined to remove any remaining impurities.
4. Acid leaching: The iridium-containing material is dissolved in a strong acid such as hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid. This dissolves the iridium and other metals but leaves behind insoluble impurities such as silicates and oxides.
5. Precipitation: Using a suitable reducing agent, the metal is precipitated from the acid solution. This produces a black sludge of iridium metal.
6. Washing and filtration: To remove any remaining impurities, iridium is washed and filtered.
7. Calcination: The sludge is calcined at a high temperature to remove any remaining organic matter and to convert the iridium to its oxide form.
8. Reduction: The iridium oxide is reduced to iridium metal using a reducing agent. This produces a high-purity iridium powder.
After refining, the metal is melted and formed into shapes.
Challenges of Iridium Production
One of the biggest challenges of iridium production is the limited supply of the metal.
Iridium is a rare metal and is only located in a few places around the world. This limited supply drives up the cost of iridium production.
Additionally, its extraction and production are complicated and expensive. The extraction process involves a number of steps that require specialized equipment and expertise.
Iridium Top Applications
1. High-performance spark plugs: Iridium is used in the production of high-performance spark plugs due to its high melting point and electrical conductivity.
2. Crucibles for recrystallization of semiconductors: Its resistance to heat makes it ideal for use in crucibles for recrystallization of semiconductors at high temperatures.
3. Electrodes for the production of chlorine: Iridium is important in the chlor-alkali process as it acts as an electrode for the production of chlorine.
4. Industrial catalysis: Important compounds of iridium like chlorides and iodides are used in industrial catalysis.
5. Aircraft engines: Some long-term components in aircraft engines such as turbofans, turboprops, and turboshafts are made of iridium alloy.
6. Underwater pipes: The iridium-titanium alloy is also used as a material for underwater pipes. These are important in offshore oil drilling companies.
7. Generators: The high melting point of iridium makes it suitable for heat-producing generators. These are useful during winter months.
8. Spacecraft fuel encapsulation: Iridium was utilized in encapsulating fuel in the Pioneer, Galileo, Voyager, and Viking spacecraft.
Overall, this 40 times rarer than gold metal comes from South Africa, Russia, Canada, and the United States.
What is the future price of iridium?
Trading platforms have one prediction for iridium metals; it will still increase in the coming years due to its rarity, complex production, and important role in technological practices.
In the coming years, these are the future movers of iridium prices:
Rising demand: Demand for iridium is on the rise from various industries, including the electronics industry, aviation industry, and medical industry.
Catalyst: Iridium is a primal factor in electrolysis to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. This initiative continuously gains massive traction as the world pins its hopes on green hydrogen as a clean solution to climate change.
Thus, investors will expect a profitable iridium price ranging from $4,500 – $5,100 per ounce in 2030.