Chromium (symbol Cr) is a steel-gray, hard, and brittle, metallic element that can take on a high polish. Chromium and its compounds are toxic. Discovered in 1797 by Louis Vauquelin, chromium is named after the Greek word for color, khroma. Vauquelin also discovered that an emerald's green color is due to the presence of chromium. Many precious stones owe their color to the presence of chromium compounds.
Chromium is primarily found in chromite ore. The primary use of chromium is to form alloys with iron, nickel, or cobalt. Chromium improves hardness and resistance to corrosion and oxidation in iron, steel, and nonferrous alloys. It is a critical alloying ingredient in the production of stainless steel, making up 10% or more of the final composition. More than half of the chromium consumed is used in metallic products, and about one-third is used in refractories. Chromium is also used as a lustrous decorative plating agent, in pigments, leather processing, plating of metals, and catalysts.
Supply - World production of chromium in 2007 rose +2.0% yr/yr to a record high of 20.000 million metric tons, which was up sharply from the 11-year low of 12.100 million metric tons in 2001. The world's largest producers of chromium in 2005 were South Africa with 38% of world production, Kazakhstan with 18%, India with 18%, and with Turkey and Zimbabwe far behind with 4% each. India has emerged as a major producer of chromium in the past two decades. India's 2007 production level of 3.600 million metric tons was ten times the level of 360,000 metric tons seen 20 years earlier. South Africa's production in 2007 at 7.500 million metric tons was down from the 2004 record high of 7.677 million metric tons, but that is still more than double the levels seen as recently as the early-1990s. Kazakhstan's production in 2007 of 3.600 million was a 16-year high. Zimbabwe's chromium production in 2005 (latest data) was a record high of 819.9 metric tons. U.S. Government stocks of chromium as of Dec 31, 2005 (latest data available) fell 46% yr/yr to a record low of 73.4 metric tons.
Demand - Based on the most recently available data, the metallurgical and chemical industry accounts for 94% of chromium usage in the U.S., with the remaining 6% used by the refractory industry.
Trade - The U.S. relied on imports for a record low of 62% of its chromium consumption in 2007. That is well below the record high of 91% posted back in the 1970s. U.S. chromium imports in 2005 rose +8.3% yr/yr to 353,300 metric tons. U.S. exports of chromium in 2005 rose a sharp +64.9% yr/yr to 57.3 metric tons.