Chromium is a chemical element with the atomic number 24. It’s a hard, brittle metal valued for its hardness and resistance to corrosion. The discovery that steel’s corrosion resistance could be increased by adding chromium was a major advancement in steel manufacture. These steel alloys are known as stainless steel, which accounts for the majority of the commercial use of metallic chromium. Electroplating with chrome, commonly known as chrome plating, is the other major use of chromium.
Together, these two applications account for about 85 percent of global chromium production. The chemical, foundry and refractory industries account for the remainder of chromium’s commercial use.
The production of chromium has generally climbed steadily since commercial demand began during the 1920s. Growth was particularly strong from 2000 to 2010, but the market has been more volatile since then. Increased demand for chrome plating is expected to drive the production of chromium ore for the near future.
The total production of chromium ore was 44 million metric tons (mt) in 2019. The concentration of chromium ore in the Earth’s crust is highly dependent on a specific series of geological processes. As a result, just a few countries account for the great majority of chromium production. Together, South Africa, Turkey, Kazakhstan, India and Finland produce almost 90 percent of the world’s chromium.
South Africa has historically dominated chromium production, despite its relatively small size. It produced 17 million mt of chromium ore in 2019, or about 39 percent of the world’s total. South Africa has produced proportionately even more chromium in the past, accounting for nearly half the world’s production in 2013. However, South Africa’s mining operations are comparatively mature, while other major producers have developed their operations significantly during the last decade.
Turkey produced 10 million mt of chromium ore in 2019, accounting for about 23 percent of the world’s production.
Kazakhstan produced 6.7 million mt of chromium ore in 2019, accounting for about 15 percent of the world’s production.
India produced 4.1 million mt of chromium ore in 2019, accounting for about 9.3 percent of the world’s production.
Finland produced 2.2 million mt of chromium ore in 2019, accounting for about 5 percent of the world’s production.
Together, all other countries in the world produced 4 million mt of chromium ore in 2019, accounting for about 9.1 percent of the world’s production.