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Ruthenium

What Is Ruthenium?

Ruthenium is a rare metallic chemical element belonging to the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) and is considered a transitional metal. It is extremely hard but very brittle and has a white to dull silvery-gray appearance. Like the other metals in the PGMs group, it is inert to most chemicals.

Ruthenium tends to occur in platinum ores but can also be obtained as a by-product of nickel mining. It has been suggested that ruthenium can be obtained from used nuclear fuel but the extraction process is very costly and difficult to maintain. Therefore, further procession has ceased. It is corrosion resistant but when pure ruthenium is exposed to air and high temperatures it will oxidize rapidly.

What Is Ruthenium Used For?

Ruthenium is primarily used as an alloying agent. It is often added to palladium and platinum to strengthen them. Uses include electrical contacts, jewellery and fountain pens. When added to titanium it becomes a 100 times more resistant to corrosion.

Ruthenium has been used in jet engine turbines, in solar energy products, water purification systems and in some microchips used in hard disk drives. Ruthenium has even been used in radiotherapy for eye tumours and is being explored as an aid to cancer treatment.

However, when handling ruthenium directly it can stain the skin and certain compounds and oxides are toxic and could possibly be carcinogenic. At all times, ruthenium should be handled with great care.

Where Is Ruthenium Mined?

Most of the world’s ruthenium is mined in Russia and South America but it is also mined as a by-product of nickel, copper and other PGMs in South Africa, North America and Canada.

Conclusion

Ruthenium is a rare, hard and white metallic element found in platinum ores - a member of the Platinum Group Metals. It is a transitional metal used to harden platinum and palladium used in jewellery and alloys for electrical contacts. It is mined in small tonnages in a few countries but Russia and South America are the largest producers.

If you would like to learn more about minerals and mining visit our Mining and Metals page.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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