Ranked: The Most Expensive Materials Used in Industrial Manufacturing

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Welcome to the world of industrial manufacturing – where complex designs meet creative engineering. This vast sector is the backbone of modern economies, utilizing cutting-edge technologies to produce goods that we use every day.

In the realm of large-scale manufacturing, materials reign supreme. The quality and characteristics of materials can make or break a product. Just the right material for a specific application can significantly impact product durability, performance, and cost-effectiveness.

Speaking of cost, in mass production, some materials are worth their weight in gold. Literally, from scant earth metals used in electronic components to precious gems embedded in luxury goods, the price of some materials can reach astronomical heights. Be prepared to be amazed and enlightened as we will delve into the world of precious materials.

The Most Expensive Materials Used in Industrial Manufacturing

The Most Expensive Materials Used in Industrial Manufacturing

Diamond

A woman’s best friend is also an industrialist’s prized possession. Diamonds are a true testament to the wonders of the earth. Diamonds are composed of pure carbon under extreme heat and pressure in the earth’s mantle. The process of its creation takes millions of years, resulting in one of the most precious and durable materials on earth. Extracting diamonds is a complex process, requiring skill, patience, and heavy machinery.

Diamond

In addition to use as gemstones, they are also used in industrial manufacturing, particularly in cutting tools and high-tech applications, including semiconductors. Diamond is used to make cutting tools for use in industries such as mining, aerospace, and automotive. These tools are capable of cutting through hard materials such as ceramics, metals, and composites with great precision and efficiency.

In addition to that, the hardness and wear resistance of diamond make it ideal for grinding applications that require tight tolerances and a high degree of accuracy. In certain cases, diamond is also used for polishing purposes such as for metals, ceramics, and glass. Polishing with the help of diamond helps in a smoother finish.  

A single gram of a diamond, the most coveted of gemstones, carries a weighty price tag that ranges from the modest sum of $35,000 to a staggering high of $282,000 [1]. However, for the case of industrial-grade uncut diamonds, the cost can be around $100 to $500 for a single gram (price varies by quality), mainly because they are not processed as such or designed in any specific shape [2]

It is worth noting that the cost of such a minuscule yet immensely valuable piece of geological marvel can vary greatly depending on its size, cut, clarity, and color, which all contribute to the diamond’s overall worth.

Plutonium

Nuclear grade plutonium

Plutonium is a highly radioactive element that is as scant as it is fascinating. This silvery-white metal belongs to the actinide series of elements and is primarily produced through nuclear reactors or nuclear transmutation.

Plutonium is one of a kind due to the vastness of its potential uses. As a matter of fact, Plutonium-239 (one of the isotopes of Plutonium) is used for a variety of purposes ranging from nuclear weapons and reactors to spacecraft fuel and medical devices [3]. Plutonium has even been used as a heat source for spacecraft and remote unmanned vehicles [3].

During the Manhattan Project, which took place during World War II, significant effort was devoted to producing plutonium in major quantities for the first time. This was a crucial part of the project, as the resulting plutonium was used to develop the first atomic bombs.

It is important to note that Plutonium is a highly controlled and regulated substance and not available in the open market, so it’s not possible to accurately know its price. It is believed that one gram of this highly coveted element can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $100,000, depending on its purity and intended use [4]. That’s because Plutonium is not found in nature in significant quantities and requires a complex production process. Its hefty price tag belies the fact that its special qualities make it pivotal in numerous scientific and technical endeavors.

Osmium

Osmium crystals

One of the densest elements on earth, osmium is a metal that may be small in size but packs a heavy punch. This metal is lustrous and hard, and found in the Earth’s crust. It is primarily extracted as a byproduct of platinum mining and small quantities can also be obtained by recycling used osmium-containing materials.

Osmium is found  in three countries mainly, including Russia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe [6]. It is used in specialized and high-tech applications, including high-temperature furnace components, fountain pen tips, specialized alloys for the aerospace industry, medical implants and synthesis of organic compounds. Osmium alloys are valued for their hardness, strength, and resistance to wear and corrosion, but its use is fairly limited due to high cost and scarcity.

It is also used as a catalyst in the chemical industry and in the production of surgical implants. In addition to that, Osmium is also used in the production of specialized laboratory equipment, such as crucibles and electrodes. The main reason for this is the high melting point and resistance to chemicals.

Osmium costs around $2,068 per gram, making it one of the most expensive materials for industrial manufacturing [5]. This makes it more expensive than gold, platinum, and even diamonds. 

Rhodium

Rhodium

Rhodium is a versatile metal with numerous uses in industrial manufacturing. It ranks among exotic and most valuable precious metals. Rhodium is typically produced through a complex process of extraction from its primary ore and is found naturally in small amounts in the Earth’s crust. It is primarily obtained as a byproduct of platinum extraction.

Rhodium is a highly durable and corrosion-resistant metal that can be used as a coating material for a wide range of industrial applications e.g. the automotive industry. Rhodium coatings are commonly used on exhaust systems of cars which are exposed to high levels of heat and corrosive gases. It is also used as a protective element over car components such as plastics to protect them from wear and tear, and to provide a high-gloss finish.

In addition to that, the exceptional durability, corrosion resistance, and catalytic properties of Rhodium make it ideal for use in catalytic converters for automobiles and high-quality electrical contacts.

Furthermore, rhodium is widely used in the chemical industry for its unique catalytic properties in the production of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Rhodium is also considered  ideal for use in coating optic fibers and optical mirrors, as well as in the production of crucibles, thermocouple elements, and headlight reflectors.

Rhodium’s market price can vary significantly based on supply and demand, but it remains one of the most expensive precious metals in the world. Most recent price check on Rhodium marks it at around $250 per gram, reflecting its rarity and high demand in various industries [7].

Iridium

Iridium

Iridium is yet another interesting and expensive material used in industrial manufacturing. This element has a plethora of industrial applications and is found in meteorites and sparse mineral deposits. It is mainly extracted as a byproduct of platinum mining.

Iridium has several uses because of its physical structure and properties. Its shiny appearance and hardness make it a popular choice in manufacturing high-performance components such as spark plugs, turbine blades, and electrical contacts. Its resistance to heat, wear, and corrosion also makes it an ideal material for aerospace and defense applications.

With its scarcity and high production costs, iridium’s cost has skyrocketed, making it one of the most expensive metals in the world with an approximate cost of $150 per gram or $4600 per troy ounce [8].

Palladium

Palladium

With its silvery-white shine and ability to resist corrosion, palladium is a metal that is used in industrial manufacturing due to its strength and endurance. This metal is scarce and lustrous that occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust. It’s usually found in deposits of nickel and copper, and its extraction process involves various methods, such as smelting, leaching, and electroplating.

Since industrial manufacturing requires a lot of chemical processes, Palladium is used as a catalyst in a variety of chemical reactions, including hydrogenation, dehydrogenation, and oxidation. This precious element has a remarkable ability to absorb hydrogen, making it useful in hydrogen storage for fuel cells. It’s also used in catalytic converters to reduce vehicle emissions. 

Further, it is a vital component in electronics and used in capacitors, contacts, and switches. Dental industry also requires Palladium for creating stronger dental alloys that offer minimal corrosion and tarnishing.

Currently, the approximate cost of Palladium is around $50-$80 per gram, making it more valuable than other precious metals like gold and silver [9].

Gold

Gold

A symbol of wealth and power throughout history, gold remains a timeless metal that never loses its luster. Yet, many don’t know how important this metal is in industrial manufacturing. It takes several thousands to even millions of years for gold to form deep in the earth’s crust. Once discovered, gold can be extracted through a diverse mining process comprising drilling, blasting, and crushing to release the metal from its rock host.

The gold industry is huge with several applications in industrial manufacturing. Since it is an excellent electrical conductor, it is used in the production of electronic components such as circuit boards, connectors, and switches. Gold’s malleability and ductility also make it ideal for use in dentistry, where it is used to create crowns, bridges, and other dental appliances. It is also used in the aerospace industry due to its high reflectivity and thermal stability. It is used as a coating for spacecraft components to protect them from the harsh space environment.

The cost of gold keeps fluctuating and has reached new highs because of high demand and its use as a mode of currency exchange. The approximate cost of one gram of gold is around $65 [10]

Platinum

Platinum crystals

Pure platinum is a rare substance that is typically found as small nuggets and grains associated with ultramafic igneous rocks like chromite and olivine. It is commonly found at sites of bolide impact and exists in high qualities in meteorites. However, natural platinum is mostly impure and associated with minute amounts of other metals such as iron, copper and nickel.

Platinum has several beneficial features including resistance to heat and corrosion. But it is only used in applications for which no other suitable alternative is available because of its rarity. Besides, it is an excellent conductor of electricity and more ductile than gold. Catalytic converters, chemical processing machinery, and electronic components are only some of the products that can benefit from their use in production. 

A major industry where Platinum is used is the fuel industry. The metal is used for refining crude oil to produce gasoline, diesel, and other petroleum products. Platinum catalysts help remove sulfur and other impurities from the crude oil. Glass manufacturing industry also has applications of Platinum since it is used to produce LCD screens, touchscreens, and fiber optic cables.

Furthermore, Platinum has several medicinal applications, including pacemakers, dental implants, and chemotherapy. One gram of platinum is currently worth roughly $32 and one troy ounce of platinum carries a market value of $998 [11]. With its remarkable properties and diverse uses, platinum is a prized possession for investors and industries.

Titanium

Titanium

As strong as steel, yet light as a feather, titanium is known for its incredible strength, durability, and resistance to corrosion. It is primarily found in Australia, South Africa, and Canada, and is extracted through a process called “Kroll Process”. The Kroll Process is an energy-intensive process that produces titanium metal by reducing titanium tetrachloride with magnesium.

Titanium is used in a variety of manufacturing applications, from the aerospace and automotive industries to medical implants. Its unique properties make it ideal for use in jet engines and missile casings as well as other aircraft components. Titanium has proven mass benefit in the pharma industry where it is used in joint replacements prosthetics (especially hip joints) and tooth implants. The main reason for this is the metal’s high strength-to-weight ratio. Sports industry also uses Titanium in different applications, such as in bicycle frames, pro tennis rackets, and golf clubs.

Surprisingly, the current cost of one gram of titanium is lower compared to other metals in the list. It costs about $0.01 for one gram of Titanium or USD 1.5 per kg [12]. Its relative affordability, combined with its remarkable properties, makes it a favorite in industrial manufacturing.

Interesting Facts

Following are few of the most interesting facts about materials used in industrial manufacturing. 

  • In the year 1905,  the Cullinan diamond was discovered. Surprisingly, it possessed a staggering weight of 3,106 carats and was cut into 100 smaller pieces before being used [13].
  • Platinum takes the spotlight as one of the heaviest metals out there because a mere six-inch cube of platinum carries the same weight as your average human being [14]. For this reason, it is often used in electric components to ensure long life. 
  • Gold prices are high but surely, the shortage is not to be blamed here. One super thin wire of gold, about 5 microns thick, could actually wrap around our entire planet a mind-blowing 11.2 million times [15]
  • Osmium has a high melting point of 3,033 degrees [16]. This makes it useful for industrial manufacturing because it creates specialized high-temperature furnaces, crucibles, and electrodes as well. Besides,  Osmium’s low vapor pressure in Osmium helps in certain manufacturing processes, such as thin-film deposition and vacuum systems [16].
  • The element Plutonium, is named after the dwarf planet “Pluto”. Another interesting fact about this element is that it belongs to the actinide element group and this makes it a type of transition metal [17].

Conclusion

The world of industrial manufacturing is constantly evolving with new and exciting materials being developed and utilized. Most of the items we use today in our everyday lives are somehow related to these expensive metals. The future of materials science holds great promise as researchers push the boundaries of what is possible with new materials. 

As these advancements continue to emerge, we can expect to see an even greater impact of expensive materials in industrial manufacturing. Chances are that we can benefit from improved durability and strength to enhanced functionality and performance. It is truly an exciting time for the world of materials science and industrial manufacturing, and we can’t wait to see what amazing innovations the future holds!

References

  1. Naturally Colored. (2023.). Diamond Prices (May 2023) – how much is your diamond worth? (really). Retrieved from https://www.naturallycolored.com/buying-guide/diamond-prices  
  2. Neil, C.F. (2022) Raw uncut diamond price list: Rough diamond prices guide, Diamond 101. Available at: https://diamond101.com/raw-uncut-diamond-price-list/ (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018) CDC radiation emergencies, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/emergencies/isotopes/plutonium.htm (Accessed: 11 May 2023).  
  4. U.S Department of Energy. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2020/11/f80/2021%20CRM%20Price%20List%20Draft%20V1_Nov%202020.pdf (Accessed: 11 May 2023)
  5. Price & Market (2023) Osmium. Available at: https://www.osmium-preis.com/en/ (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  6. Minerals Education Coalition (2018) Osmium | Price and Market. Available at: https://mineralseducationcoalition.org/elements/osmium/ (Accessed: 11 May 2023).
  7. Money Metals (2023) Rhodium Spot Prices Live Price Chart USD. Available at: https://www.moneymetals.com/rhodium-price (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  8. Statista (2023) Average iridium price worldwide from 2000 to 2022. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1046369/iridium-price/ (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  9. Monex (2023) Palladium Prices. Available at: https://www.monex.com/palladium-prices/ (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  10. Chards (2023) Daily gold price per gram in US dollars. Available at: https://www.chards.co.uk/gold-price/daily-gold-price-per-gram-us-dollars (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  11. Statista (2023) Platinum price 2016-2023, Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/254519/average-platinum-price/ (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  12. Trading Economics (2023) Titanium – 2023 Data – 2017-2022 Historical – 2024 Forecast – Price – Quote – Chart. Available at: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/titanium (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  13. Cape Town Diamond Museum (2017) The cullinan diamond: A history: CT diamond museum, Cape Town Diamond Museum. Available at: https://www.capetowndiamondmuseum.org/blog/2017/01/worlds-largest-diamond-the-cullinan/ (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  14. World Platinum Investment Council (no date) Platinum facts, World Platinum Investment Council – About Us – Platinum Facts. Available at: https://platinuminvestment.com/about/platinum-facts (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  15. World Gold Council (2017) Facts About Gold, World Gold Council. Available at: https://www.gold.org/about-gold/gold-facts (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  16. LiveScience (2020) Facts about Osmium, LiveScience. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/39142-osmium.html (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 
  17. Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. (2019) 21 interesting plutonium facts, ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/facts-about-plutonium-608917 (Accessed: 11 May 2023). 

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