Forms & Grades Handled
Ruthenium metal sponge powder (Ru 99.9% min)
Ruthenium metal pellets (Ru 99.9% min)
This unknown of the platinum group metals was discovered in 1808 by J A Sniadecki at the University of Vilno, and rediscovered in 1828 in Russia by GW Osann of the University of Tartu.
Ruthenium is one of the platinum group metals and occurs native as an alloy with other PGM’s, osmiridium / platinoid ruthenium and also in some sulphide ores. The typical concentrations of ruthenium are significantly lower than the Pt concentrations, with relative values of 10:1 (Pt:Ru). It’s abundance on the earths crust is therefore approximately 0.001 ppm.
It is mined in South Africa, Russia, Canada, USA and Zimbabwe with S.Africa and Russia the two main sources. Most of the ruthenium produced comes from Merensky and UG2 reef of the Bushveld Igenous Complex in S. Africa with a relation of Pt:Ru, 7:1 ~ 5-10 g/t. However in areas like the Stillwater mine (USA) the ores are richer with 25 g/t.
It has a grayish / silvery appearance and is very hard and brittle. It is unaffected by air, water and acids, but dissolves in most molten alkalis. It forms a volatile RuO4 which can decompose explosively as well as forming ruthenates and chlorides.
After mining, the PGM elements can be separated by electrolysis followed by chemical separation, ion-exchange and solvent extraction to give pure Ru. The metal is obtained from its compounds by hydrogen reduction.
Relative Atomic Mass
With 90% of all global Ruthenium supply dependent on South Africa, a politically unstable region, the supply risk of Ruthenium is substantial. With Ruthenium’s contribution to PGM miners’ revenue a mere 2%, it is of low significance to the producers, compared to the more valuable PGMs Rhodium and Palladium.
However, Ruthenium is far from being of low significance in the growing industries which are driving its demand upwards. Total global demand is approximately 30-35mt per year, with approximately 35% consumed by the electrical sector, 30% by the chemical catalyst sector and 18% by the electrochemical sector.
Our role in the ruthenium market first developed from our existing business as a supplier of rhenium for complex nickel base super alloys. The next generation of these alloys (4th generation) for the first time adds ruthenium alongside rhenium and emerged from a NASA sponsored programme to find the optimum ratio amongst elements for high pressure turbine blades. It was discovered that a ratio of approx. Re 6% and Ru 3% could raise operating temperatures by approx. 50 degrees C. Read more about this in our blog post here. However, the commercialisation of Ruthenium containing aerospace alloys was curbed due to rising Ruthenium demand from the electronics sector for Hard Disk Drive (HDD) pixie dust which caused the price to sky-rocket between 2004 - 2007.
It has been many years since the Ruthenium price fell along with the dot com bubble bursting, but Ruthenium containing HDDs still consume around 7% of global Ruthenium production. They are now primarily used in large commercial data storage, and currently outperform competing non-Ru-containing technologies in performance and cost. Demand for cloud data storage is set to grow exponentially with the uptake of data-intensive 5G and Industry 4.0 technologies, which is expected to boost Ruthenium demand. HDD capacity per drive is expected to grow, supporting Ruthenium usage, as Ruthenium helps with device miniaturisation by allowing the magnetic domain to take up less disk surface area, delivering higher areal densities than hard disks made from base metals. Ruthenium is also beneficial in orientating the magnetic grains in HDDs and reduces the interference between the hard disk layers.
Moreover, the emergence of Industry 4.0 technologies such as artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles are expected to be key drivers of Ruthenium demand for the next generation semiconductor memory: spin-transfer torque magneto-resistive random-access memory (STT-MRAM).
As of now, the most significant demand for Ruthenium metal from the electronics sector is for thick-film chip resistors, the majority of which are destined for the automotive sector and consumer electronics. Despite falling car sales, increasingly sophisticated electronics in cars is driving higher demand for thick-film chip resistors.
Ruthenium is the cheapest of all PGMs, and so is favoured in chemical catalyst applications. Ruthenium catalysts are employed in the production of caprolactam and adipic acid feedstocks for nylon and polyester production in China. Demand for these materials is robust and is expected grow in parallel with China’s growing domestic economy.
In the electrochemical sector, Ruthenium and Iridium coated electrodes are used to produce diluted bleach via electrochlorination. This has applications in water purification such as the treatment of contaminated ship ballast water, swimming pool chlorination and marine sewage treatment, as well as uses in the production of PVC and hydrogen peroxide. For instance, a third of global ballast water treatment systems use Ruthenium-containing electrochlorination systems, and due to its higher efficiency, it is the favoured method over competing water treatment technologies, such as ultraviolet, disinfectant and ultrasound. Due to stringent environmental regulations by the International Maritime Organisation introduced in 2019, stipulating that all vessels weighing more than 400 tons be fitted with a ballast water treatment system by 2024, in the next few years 40,000 vessels will be requiring new ballast water treatment systems to continue operating. The Ruthenium demand from these applications is growing, especially as electrodes degrade over time and will require Ruthenium top-ups.
Another key area of growth in the electrochemical sector is the chlor-alkali industry, where 14% of global Ruthenium production is used to produce chlorine and caustic soda. The biggest consumer of caustic soda is by alumina refineries. Other downstream products of caustic soda include epoxy resin, super absorbent polymers, semiconductors etc.
A rapidly developing application which is soon expected to increase demand for Ruthenium is PEM hydrogen fuel-cell electrodes, which are used in hydrogen powertrains and power generation. The addition of Ruthenium in Platinum catalysts is essential to maintain their longevity. Ruthenium prevents catalyst poisoning by trace carbon monoxide in hydrogen fuel. With government-backed investments in hydrogen power infrastructure projects in the US, Europe and Asia coming online in the next decade, finally accelerating the development of hydrogen power, Ruthenium demand from this sector is expected to grow significantly.