Southern Africa hosts about 90% of the world’s chromite reserves and resources. South Africa has reserves of 3.1Bnt and estimated resources of 5.5Bnt. Chrome ore is generally mined as a primary product although in South Africa, increasing volumes of chromite concentrates are recovered from tailings of PGM operations. Five countries produce more than 1Mtpy of chromite. As of 2015, South Africa accounted for 55% of world output. Kazakhstan (14%), India (10%), Tukey (5%) and Finland (3%) are also major producers.
In 2015, 92% of chromite consumption was in metallurgical applications. Stainless steel alone represents more than two-thirds of total chromite consumption. Chemicals represented 6% of consumption, with foundries (2%) and refractories (1%) accounting for the remainder. Trends in stainless steel production are, therefore, the main determinant of levels of both chromite and ferrochrome demand.
Some 80% of ferrochrome is consumed in the production of stainless steel, where it imparts corrosion and oxidation resistance, and enhances hardenability, creep and impact resistance. World consumption of high-carbon ferrochrome and charge chrome totalled 10,789kt in 2015 and increased at nearly 6%py between 2008 and 2015. World consumption of medium- and low-carbon ferrochrome increased at 2%py over the same period, reaching 777kt.
World consumption of chromium chemicals is estimated at 672kt sodium dichromate equivalent in 2015. Worldwide, the largest markets are leather tanning and metal finishing, although the pattern of consumption varies between regions depending on regional environmental regulations and the size of end-markets. Consumption of chromite in foundry sands has steadily declined since 2012 and is estimated to have been 600kt in 2015. Refractories are the smallest end-use sector for chromite, accounting for around 200kt.
Although a transition in the Chinese economy has led to a slowdown in global crude steel consumption, higher-levels of per capita income are shifting demand towards higher-value products and construction projects that typically involve more use of advanced steels. Roskill projects that total output of stainless steel will grow at 4% to 2026 and will continue to drive demand for chromite and ferrochrome. However, trends in scrap usage are expected to become an important factor towards the end of the forecast period. In 2015, around 30% of the chromium units in stainless steel were derived from scrap. This will rise to nearly 45% by 2026 as scrap usage rates increase in China and other emerging economies, potentially reducing demand for virgin chromite.
The outlook for chromium chemicals demand growth is positive. Consumption of chromium chemicals in leather tanning, chromic acid use in plating, and chromic acid in used in industrial wood preservation) is forecast to increase, although a decline is expected in the use of chromium pigments. Demand for chromite foundry sands is expected to grow slightly over the period to 2026, while the use of chromite in refractories is forecast to marginally decline.