Chrome and chromite
A comprehensive market guide for chrome and chromite
Chromite, or iron chromium oxide (FeCr2O4), is the mineral source of chromium. In its purest form, chromite comprises chromium (Cr2O3) at 68% and iron oxide (FeO) at 32%.
High-purity chromite deposits are rare, due to the natural replacement of chromium and ferrous iron by other elements.
The majority of the world’s identified economic chromite reserves are located in southern Africa (South Africa and Zimbabwe), Turkey, Kazakhstan, Oman, India and the Philippines.
Most deposits contain a range of chromite grades, including:
- Metallurgical grade (high chromium chromite, minimum 40% Cr2O3)
- Chemical grade (high iron chromite, 46% Cr2O3)
- Foundry grade (low silica chromite, 45% Cr2O3)
- Refractory grade (high aluminium chromite, 46% Cr2O3)
Global chromite production was estimated to be 41 million tonnes in 2021, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), while global reserves of chromite are thought to exceed 12 billion tonnes.
Most chromite is consumed in the production of ferro-chrome (of which 12.7 million tonnes was manufactured globally in 2020, according to the USGS).
Ferro-chrome is used to make steel alloys, and mainly stainless steel (75%), of which 56.3 million tonnes was produced in 2021, according to the International Stainless Steel Forum. It is also used in engineering and alloy steels (20%) and other steels (5%).
Chromite is also used directly in industrial foundry sands and refractory applications, and is converted into sodium dichromate for refinement into other chemicals and chromium metal.
Early in 2022, sources in the foundry and chemical grade chromite markets said prices should have been on the way up, based on the spike in both demand and prices seen in the metallurgical market, but were slow to respond. However, in light of ongoing logistical challenges in South Africa, alongside Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to rising global oil prices, chromite prices have since begun to catch up.
South Africa is the world’s leading chromite producer, mining 18 million tonnes in 2021, according to the USGS.
Most of South Africa’s chromite mines are located in the northeast of the country, in Mpumalanga Province and Northwest Province, tapping reserves that form part of the Bushveld Igneous Complex.
The second largest producers in 2021 were Turkey and Kazakhstan, at 7 million tonnes each, followed by India at 3 million tonnes, and Finland at 2.3 million tonnes. Remaining producing countries mined a combined total of 4.1 million tonnes.
Global chromite production has almost doubled in the past decade, largely driven by capacity expansions in South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as mines (re)opening in places such as North America, in response to price spikes in 2016/17 and rising demand for ferro-chrome and stainless steel.
Demand in non-metallurgical chromite markets has been weak to flat for much of the last decade, with requirements largely covered by long-term contracts. Consumption in these markets has been either steady or slowing down, while production has increased.
|Year||Chromite production (tonnes)|
Chromite production by country
|Country||Chromite production 2019 (tonnes)|
China is leading chromium-consuming country, importing chromite to support its ferrochrome and downstream stainless steel industries, which accounted for 64% and 57% of global output, respectively, in 2019.
The majority of China’s chromite imports are sourced from South Africa (which supplied 79% of Chinese chromite imports in 2019), Turkey, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.
China also imports chrome ore from India, although in 2020 it was reported that India’s government proposed a ban on exports to China due to concerns about depleting Indian chromite reserves.
South Africa is the second largest ferrochrome producer after China (producing 3.6m tonnes of ferrochrome in 2019), consuming a significant proportion of its own domestically-produced chromite.
Other major importers of chromite for metallurgical and non-metallurgical applications include Japan, the EU and the US, all of which have large steelmaking industries.
In 2019, weak international prices for foundry-grade chromite led to increased shipments of South African wet bulk foundry-grade material to China, as a more economic alternative to domestic sourcing of coarse metallurgical-grade material, which is then processed into products usable by local foundries.
According to estimates by the International Chromium Development Association (ICDA) and industry sources, 95% of global chrome ore production is metallurgical grade material (although some of this is used in non-metallurgical applications, such as foundry sands).
Under 2% of global production is foundry grade, while slightly more than 2% is chemical grade and less than 1% of chromite produced is refractory grade material.
Largest chromite-producing companies
Leading metallurgical chromite producers include:
TNC Kazchrome JSC (Kazakhstan)
Samancor (South Africa)
Yilmaden Holding (Turkey)
Assmang Proprietary Limited
Tata Steel (India)
Merafe Resources (South Africa)
ASA Metals (South Africa)
Odisha Mining Corporation (India)
Leading non-metallurgical chromite producers include:
Assmang – (South Africa)
Dedeman Madencilik – (Turkey)
Eti Krom – (Turkey)
Oman Chromite – (Oman)
Rand York Minerals – (South Africa)
Samancor – (South Africa)
Glencore – (UK – operating in South Africa)
Tharisa Plc – (Cyprus – operating in South Africa and Zimbabwe)
Over 95% of chromium consumption goes into metallurgical applications, with the remaining 5% going into non-metallurgical markets (see above).
Stainless steel production accounts for around 78% of metallurgical chromium demand (via ferrochrome).
Niche chromium chemical and refined metal markets make up around 3% of global chromium consumption, with foundry grade chromite accounting for about 2% of the market and 1% used in refractories.
Chemical grade chromite is used in leather tanning, metal finishing, wood preservatives, light-stable and corrosion-inhibiting pigments, paints, coloured glass and ceramic glazes.
Foundry grade chromite is used to make foundry sand, which is in turn is used to produce manganese, carbon and alloy steel castings and non-ferrous metal castings.
Refractory grade chromite is used to manufacture refractory bricks used in converters and furnaces for platinum, copper and lead production, and some secondary steelmaking processes.
Sources: USGS, ICDA, Industrial Minerals archives, industry sources