Most Valuable Metals That We Couldn’t Live Without
Our modern 21st-century lives are driven by metals. They can be found in the LEDs, magnets, electric motors, sensors, data storage and many other components upon which modern life relies. They power our mobility and energy generation, which is why there are hundreds of commercial applications for metals, with more uses being discovered each year.
While you are probably familiar with metals such as gold, silver or platinum, they aren’t the most expensive. Most of the costliest metals belong to an obscure group known as the rare earth elements. They're given this name because they are almost always found bound together as a compound, and extracting an individual metal is a complicated, lengthy and expensive process. You can identify a rare earth element from its long, complicated name, such as dysprosium or neodymium. Some are abundant while others are the rarest on the planet.
Rare earth metals are vital for low-emission technologies and power generation, such as electric cars and wind turbines. Global efforts to reduce emissions will continue to drive demand, especially in China, which mines almost all of the rare earth ores. This may lead to increasing prices. However, more exploration and new deposits could stabilize or even lower costs.
Some metals may appear to have relatively low ounce prices, but keep in mind that sales of these metals (or their ores) are usually transacted in kilograms or even tons. These are the most valuable metals in the world.
Price per ounce: $0.30
How Titanium Is Used
Titanium is used in lightweight alloys for aircraft, spacecraft and rockets, and in the manufacturing of laptops, golf clubs and bicycles.
Titanium resists seawater corrosion so it’s used for building ships, submarines, and power and desalination plant pipes.
Titanium is also used for medical implants and in the painting, coating and plastics industries.
What Makes Titanium So Valuable
The prices of Titanium metal and scrap fell significantly during the pandemic as the aerospace industry, which uses about 90 percent of the metal, slumped. Consequently, mining outputs of Titanium also fell, while the price of scrap metal rose.
Titanium is used extensively in the medical field for implants, in the chemicals industry and as a pigment in the paint, plastics and paper industries, which means that demand didn’t disappear.
Titanium derivatives play an important role in the alternative energy field, so both demand and prices are expected to rise in the future.
28. Tellurium (Tie)
Price per ounce:$2
How Tellurium Is Used
Tellurium is used to make thin-film solar photovoltaic cells, in the thermoelectric and consumer electronic industries to make superconductors and for the vulcanization of rubber.
Tellurium is mixed with other metals to increase their strength and hardness or form alloys that are easier to cut.
What Makes Tellurium So Valuable
Tellurium is very rare and usually obtained as a byproduct of copper refining. Annual global production is only about 490 tons. The price of Tellurium has climbed as high as $11.34 per ounce, and the current price is likely to increase with the rapid spread of thin-film solar cell production, especially in China and Europe.
The U.S. Department of Energy expects stocks of Tellurium to fall to “near-critical” levels by 2025. Rising demand in the consumer electronics industry will also push up future prices.
28. Uranium (Tie)
Price per ounce: $2
How Uranium Is Used
Uranium is important for providing fuel for nuclear power plants, nuclear-powered naval submarines and for use in nuclear weapons. Uranium is used to generate heat, which drives steam turbines and hence creates electricity.
The metal is also used in inertial guidance systems as a shielding material and in analytical chemistry.
What Makes Uranium So Valuable
The value of Uranium lies in its military and energy uses. One pound of Uranium can replace 1,500 tons of coal in generating power.
The demand for this radioactive metal is growing, as countries such as the U.S. and China expand their use of nuclear reactors to increase cleaner power generation and move away from fossil fuels.
However, the growing market for renewable energy sources may also mean a future global move away from nuclear power production, and Uranium may eventually only have limited use.
26. Neodymium (Tie)
Price per ounce:$3
How Neodymium Is Used
Neodymium is used for coloring glass in welding goggles and in making lasers and tanning booths.
Neodymium is alloyed with iron and boron to make strong magnets for portable electronic devices, windscreen wipers, wind turbines, microphones, loudspeakers and electronic musical instruments.
What Makes Neodymium So Valuable
Neodymium is one of the most abundant of the rare earth metals, so the price is lower than many of the others in the same family. However, the metal must still be extracted from ores in a lengthy and expensive process.
Neodymium is important making wind turbine generators and the drive motors and batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles. As the use of such machines proliferates in a low-emission energy future, the price of neodymium is likely to increase.
26. Tungsten (Tie)
Price per ounce: $3
How Tungsten Is Used
Tungsten has the highest melting poin of any metal and high tensile strength and is often alloyed with other metals to make them stronger.
Tungsten is widely used in metal-working, mining and petroleum industries, and by the military for armor-piercing bullets and missiles.
Tungsten is also used for high-heat applications, such as industrial furnaces, welding and spacecraft.
What Makes Tungsten So Valuable
Tungsten’s high melting point and tensile strength make it invaluable in alloys with other metals to increase their heat resistance and strength. Some Tungsten alloys are almost as hard as diamonds.
However, Tungsten is a rare metal, usually found combined with other elements, and must be extracted using a lengthy chemical process.
China controls about 80 percent of the world’s supply of tungsten and is expected to increase its use of the metal for infrastructure, 5G networks and security projects, which will drive up the global price.
24. Europium (Tie)
Price per ounce:$8
How Europium Is Used
Europium glows red under UV light, so it’s used in making Euro banknotes to prevent forgeries, added to low-energy light bulbs so that the white color appears warmer, and used in optical displays, TV screens and lasers.
Europium also absorbs neutrons well and is used in nuclear reactor control rods.
What Makes Europium So Valuable
Europium is one of the rarest metals in nature and is found in tiny amounts combined with other elements as ores. It’s another one where the extraction process is lengthy and expensive. This soft metal is highly reactive with oxygen in the air, which also makes it difficult to store.
Europium is only found in about five places around the world, and most of the ores are mined in China, where rare earth metal prices are often controlled. The annual global production of Europium metal is around 270 metric tons a year.
24. Gallium (Tie)
Price per ounce: $8
How Gallium Is Used
Gallium is close to liquid at room temperature and has a high boiling point, so it’s often used for high-temperature thermometers.
The metal is used in superconductors, transistors, 5G networks, Blu-ray technology, mobile phones, solar panels, LEDs and pressure sensors for switches.
What Makes Gallium So Valuable
Gallium is only found in trace amounts, often in coal or bauxite, and is mostly obtained as a byproduct of zinc refining or by processing flue dust after burning coal.
Gallium is valuable as a substitute for silicon in the electronics industry, and becasue it easily alloys with most metals, it’s also used to make low-melting alloys.
Demand for (and the price of) Gallium is expected to rise sharply in coming years as 5G networks expand and solar technology and mobile devices proliferate.
Price per ounce: $10
How Indium Is Used
Indium has semiconducting properties, which makes it useful in the manufacturing of televisions, computer screens, mobile phones and touchscreen devices.
It's valuable for making electronic parts for aircraft and submarines to withstand pressure and temperature extremes.
Indium is also used for solar cells and mirrored finishes.
What Makes Indium So Valuable
Indium is one of the scarcest minerals on Earth and is usually found combined with zinc, iron, lead or copper ores. The metal is usually a byproduct of zinc refining, and the annual global output of Indium is small, around 800 tons a year.
Indium is valuable to the electronics industry, as the metal conducts electricity, bonds well to glass and is transparent. The price has risen as high as $13.91 per ounce and is expected to increase in the future with the growing demand for solar cells and touchscreen devices.
Price per ounce: $14
How Dysprosium Is Used
Dysprosium is important in making magnets for motors and generators in wind turbines and electric vehicles, as the metal resists being demagnetized at high temperatures.
Dysprosium is also used in making nuclear power control rods, lasers and data storage components.
What Makes Dysprosium So Valuable
Dysprosium’s magnetic and heat-resistant properties can’t readily be replaced by other metals. As low-emission technologies proliferate, more Dysprosium will be required for high-performance motors, wind turbines and electric vehicles.
China produces most of the global supply of this rare metal, and many people are concerned that China may keep a tight hold over sales or limit supplies, driving up the price.
However, as demand increases, many countries, including the U.S., are exploring or mining potential new deposits in Australia, Greenland, Japan and Brazil.
Price per ounce: $23
How Silver Is USed
Silver is used to make mirrored surfaces and in the manufacturing of solar panels, electrical components (such as switches and fuses), automobiles, jewelry, and in both manufacturing and chemical industries.
Silver is also kept in bullion and bars as a value store and investment, similar to gold.
What Makes Silver So Valuable
Silver has the highest thermal (heat) and electrical conductivity, and it’s the best reflector of light of any metal. As a result, silver is widely used across a range of industries, and demand is expected to increase in coming years.
As the number of electric vehicles, which use more silver than conventional ones, and touchscreen devices continue to rise, industries will need more silver for manufacturing. Global silver production stands at around 25,000 tons, and recent mine closures due to the pandemic caused the price to rise.
Price per ounce:$24
How Beryllium Is Used
Beryllium is often mixed in alloys with other metals, such as copper or nickel, to make gyroscopes and electrical components and tools.
Different Beryllium alloys are used to make structural materials for air and spacecraft, including the space shuttle and communication satellites.
Beryllium is also used in nuclear reactors to moderate nuclear reactions.
What Makes Beryllium So Valuable
Beryllium is one of the lightest metals, has a high melting point and conducts heat and electricity well, yet at the same time it’s nonmagnetic. For these reasons, Beryllium is often mixed with other metals to improve their electrical and thermal conductivity while keeping the alloy lightweight.
Beryllium is important in the aerospace and space industries for use in structural components that are subjected to extremes of force and temperature. Beryllium is also found in crystalline form as the gemstones emerald and aquamarine.
Price per ounce: $26
How Copper Is Used
Copper is an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity, and very malleable, so it’s easy to stretch into wires.
Copper is widely used in electrical systems, for wiring and motors. It’s also used as an alloy for coinage and weapons manufacturing, and to make brass and bronze.
What Makes Copper So Valuable
Copper is widely used in a number of commercial areas, including electrical wiring, construction (roofing and plumbing) and industrial machinery. Although copper is plentiful globally, with large deposits situated in six different countries including the U.S., steady demand for the metal keeps the price strong.
Copper is also widely used in agriculture to make pesticides and algicides (to purify water) as well as being important as a testing agent in the chemical industry. Copper cuts the amount needed of more expensive metals, such as silver and gold, in making coins.
Price per ounce: $36
How Rhenium Is USed
Rhenium is used in the aerospace industry, in jet engines for high-temperature components, in the healthcare industry, for medical devices and X-ray machines and as a catalyst for reactions in chemical industries.
It’s also added to tungsten and molybdenum alloys to strengthen them.
What Makes Rhenium So Valuable
Rhenium is one of the rarest metals in the Earth’s crust. It has desirable physical properties, such as a high density and high melting point, which make it a good material to use in jet or gas turbine engines.
Rhenium isn’t found alone or even as part of a compound. Instead, it’s extracted from dust left over after molybdenum smelting or as a byproduct of copper mining, making the process lengthy and expensive. The total global amount of Rhenium produced annually is small, only about 50 tons.
In the past, the price has been as high as $340 per ounce.
Price per ounce: $37
How Terbium Is Used
Terbium is one of the rarest of the rare earth metals.
Terbium isn’t widely used, but it is important in the manufacturing of semiconductor electronics, such as integrated circuits for computer memory, heat-resistant fuel cells, in radio transistors and loudspeakers, and in TV screens, X-ray machines and energy-efficient light bulbs.
What Makes Terbium So Valuable
Terbium isn’t widely used, so the combination of its scarcity in the Earth’s crust and a lengthy and expensive extraction process from ores mean that the current price is relatively high.
However, Terbium is important for making fuel cells that can operate at high temperatures, and this technology will become more vital in the future as the world switches to low-emission energy production.
Currently, the main regions of Terbium mining and production are in China, and Chinese government controls may push up the price in the future.
Price per ounce: $39
How Tantalum Is Used
Tantalum’s main use is to make electronic components, such as capacitors for mobile phones, and parts for vacuum furnaces. As the metal is resistant to corrosion and chemicals, it’s used in surgical implants and chemical-processing equipment.
Tantalum is used for aircraft, missile and nuclear reactor parts and alloyed with other metals to add strength and a higher melting point.
What Makes Tantalum So Valuable
Tantalum isn’t usually traded in its pure form but in ores that must be processed to extract the metal. Increasing global demand from the electronics, aerospace and power industries is expected to drive up the price of Tantalum in the future.
In addition, there is only about a 50-year supply of tantalum ores left in mines around the world, which will also drive up the price and force more recycling of this rare metal.
Price per ounce: $85
How Germanium Is USed
Germanium is a semiconductor material that is important in the manufacturing of electronics. As Germanium doesn’t absorb infrared light, it’s also an important component in infrared spectroscopes and detectors.
The metal is also used in microscope and camera lenses, since it has a high refractive index.
What Makes Germanium So Valuable
Germanium is very rare and usually found in zinc ore. The mineral is commercially extracted from flue dust left over after zinc ores have been smelted, a lengthy and expensive process.
Germanium is slowly being replaced as a semiconductor by other metals; however, industry is continually finding new uses for the rare metal, so its price remains relatively high.
Germanium is nontoxic to humans but toxic to some bacteria, so it may have a future use as a chemotherapeutic agent.
Price per ounce: $155
How Scandium Is Used
Scandium is currently mostly used in research but has many potential future applications, including in components for jets and in lightweight sporting equipment.
Scandium is used to make efficient lights for low-light level filming, such as nighttime or indoors.
A radioactive isotope of Scandium is used in oil refining to detect leaks in underground pipes.
What Makes Scandium So Valuable
While Scandium is widely distributed, and found in over 800 different minerals, it’s only present in trace amounts. Most of the metal is obtained by processing mining waste. Scandium is almost as light as aluminum but with a much higher melting point.
Alloys of aluminum and scandium have been used in fighter planes, high-end bicycles and baseball bats. Scandium has potential uses in the aerospace industry; however, commercial uses of the metal may be limited due to its scarcity and high cost.
Price per ounce: $263
How Thallium Is Used
Thallium has limited uses, as the element is highly toxic. The electronics industry uses most available thallium to make photoelectric cells and a special highly refractive glass for lenses.
An alloy of mercury and thallium is used to make low-temperature thermometers.
What Makes Thallium So Valuable
Thallium is obtained as a byproduct of lead and zinc smelting or extracted from a few ores. Because this metal is difficult to work with and costly, thallium has few commercial applications.
However, Thallium may have a role to play in making superconductors in the future. This could eventually lead to more supply and a lower cost.
Thallium is also important in medicine to test heart health. Radioactive isotopes of the element are injected into a patient’s bloodstream to gauge their physical response to a stress test.
Price per ounce: $400
How Osmium Is Used
Osmium is usually alloyed with other metals to make products that are hard and long-lasting, such as electrical contacts or ball bearings, or those exposed to extreme temperatures, such as space mirrors.
What Makes Osmium So Valuable
Osmium is the second-rarest metal on Earth and about 1,000 times rarer than gold. Osmium is recovered as a side effect of processing nickel and copper.
In the U.S., the total amount of Osmium produced each year is only around 165 pounds. It can be used in extreme temperature conditions, such as outer space, as it has the fourth-highest melting point of any metal.
Osmium’s price has been stable for years but would be higher if more industrial uses could be found for the extremely dense, highly reflective metal.
Price per ounce: $750
How Ruthenium Is Used
Ruthenium is used in the electronics, renewable energy and electrical industries. It’s also used to catalyze reactions in the chemicals industry. Ruthenium is used to make solar cells and produce green hydrogen.
In the electronics industry, the metal is a key ingredient in making hard-disc drives and computer memory.
What Makes Ruthenium So Valuable
Ruthenium is another super-rare metal and is usually produced as a byproduct of nickel refining, requiring a complex chemical procedure. New uses for the metal are constantly being found, which will drive more demand and a higher price.
As the renewable energy industry expands, ruthenium will be needed to produce green hydrogen energy, solar cells, fuel cells and wastewater treatment systems. Ruthenium is important for improving the corrosion resistance and hardness of other metals, and it isn’t easy to replace.
Price per ounce: $1,025
How Platinum Is Used
Platinum is best known for its use in jewelry. However, half of all platinum is used in the manufacturing of catalytic converters for cars.
The precious metal is used in the chemical industry to catalyze reactions and in the renewable energy field for field cells and to produce hydrogen.
Platinum is also used in chemotherapy drugs and medical devices, such as pacemakers.
What Makes Platinum So Valuable
Platinum has unique and useful catalytic properties that can’t be replaced by other metals. This means that demand for the precious metal is strong and will only continue to increase.
Platinum is valuable in a range of industries, including healthcare, electronics, renewable energy, chemical manufacturing and emission reduction.
Most platinum is only found in one country, South Africa, and supply scarcity and increasing demand are expected to drive up the price in coming years. Most of this demand will be driven by the automobile industry.
Price per ounce: $1,758
How Gold Is Used
Gold has traditionally been a medium of exchange, store of value or the monetary backing behind a national currency.
Gold is widely used in jewelry, usually as an alloy with other metals, but it is also used in aerospace, technology, electronics, medical devices, dental fillings and as an industrial catalyst.
What Makes Gold So Valuable
Gold is unusual among metals in that demand takes two forms: for industry use and as a store of value. This means that either stream can push up the price.
For example, during times of economic uncertainty, the price of gold can spike, as people store it as an investment or a hedge against inflation.
Gold has a range of uses in many industries, which keeps the metal in high demand. Only about 1,500 tons of gold are mined annually, and almost all of it comes from two countries, South Africa and Russia.
Price per ounce: $2,643
How Palladium Is Used
Palladium is used mostly for catalytic converters in cars. It’s used in the electronics industry for ceramic capacitors in laptops and mobile phones.
Palladium also has industrial uses in catalyzing reactions and is used for jewelry, dental fillings and crowns.
What Makes Palladium So Valuable
Palladium is rarely found alone in nature and is usually combined with other minerals. The metal is produced as a byproduct of refining nickel, copper or zinc.
The supply of palladium is considered to be at relatively high risk, as the majority of it is produced in five countries (Russia, South Africa, Canada, United States and Zimbabwe), two of which are not politically stable (South Africa and Zimbabwe), and it’s difficult to substitute other metals for palladium in industrial and manufacturing uses.
Palladium resists corrosion and is often used to make a gold alloy called "white gold."
Price per ounce:$3,398
How Cesium Is USed
Cesium is one of only three metals that are liquid at room temperature. It's used in vacuum tubes, radiation monitoring equipment, photoelectric cells, atomic clocks and optical glass.
Cesium is also used as a drilling fluid and a catalyst in certain organic chemistry reactions.
What Makes Cesium So Valuable
Cesium is a byproduct of lithium production and requires a lengthy and expensive chemical process to extract. Due to Cesium’s high cost, few commercial applications exist. Cesium is used to make atomic clocks, accurate to 5 seconds in 300 years, which are vital for mobile-phone networks and GPS satellites.
Radioactive isotopes (forms) of Cesium have a number of important applications in scientific research, medicine, cancer treatment and food irradiation. The liquid metal may have a new application in ion propulsion systems, which could increase demand and drive exploration for new sources.
Price per ounce: $3,685
How Thulium Is Used
Thulium doesn’t have many commercial applications given the high cost of this rare earth metal. Thulium is used for surgical lasers, medical image stabilization, cathode ray tubes and magnetic refrigeration.
A small portion of treated thulium can be used as a radiation source in portable X-ray equipment.
What Makes Thulium So Valuable
In the past, Thulium has been the most scarce of all the rare earth metals, with only about 50 tons of the element produced annually. However, new sources have recently been discovered, which are likely to increase availability.
Radioactive isotopes (forms) of thallium may be used in the future as an energy source. As with other rare earth metals, China controls nearly all production and could limit global access to thallium in the future if new commercial uses are discovered.
Price per ounce: $3,902
How Rubidium Is Used
Rubidium is mostly used for research. It’s also used to make highly accurate atomic clocks, in the manufacturing of photocells and special types of glass, and to remove oxygen from vacuum tubes.
As rubidium is slightly radioactive, but not toxic, it’s used in medicine to locate tumors in a patient’s body.
What Makes Rubidium So Valuable
Rubidium is a byproduct of lithium extraction. Currently, rubidium is mostly used for research and has a few limited commercial applications, so demand is low and the cost, high.
However, in the future, rubidium may be used in ion engines for spacecraft, vapor turbines, specialized batteries and thermoelectric generators.
While other metals are more efficient in some of these applications, rubidium is the 16th most common element in the Earth’s crust, and this abundance may drive more extraction and lower prices.
Price per ounce: $5,500
How Iridium Is Used
Iridium is used in alloys with other rare metals, such as osmium, because of its hardness, high melting point and resistance to corrosion.
Iridium is crucial in the electronic, telecommunications, chemical and automotive industries as well as in medical devices and ship ballast systems.
What Makes Iridium So Valuable
Iridium is an extremely rare metal and usually extracted as a byproduct of nickel refining. Meteors and asteroids contain higher levels of the metal, and it’s possible that Earth only has iridium due to past meteor strikes.
Iridium is the most corrosion-resistant metal ever discovered. It’s high melting point and low reactivity make it valuable and hard to replace in electrical products, electronics and medical devices, despite the high cost. Demand is expected to increase as 5G technologies and green hydrogen production proliferate globally.
Price per ounce:$6,737
How Lutetium Is Used
As Lutetium is rare and difficult to extract, this rare earth metal is mostly used in research.
It has limited commercial use as a catalyst to crack hydrocarbons in oil refineries and certain types of radioactive particle detectors.
What Makes Lutetium So Valuable
Lutetium is the least abundant of the rare earth metals and the most difficult to extract. However, Lutetium also has tremendous potential benefits: It has the highest density, melting point and hardness of any metal in the rare earth family and is corrosion-resistant.
These properties could make lutetium appealing for extreme temperature and pressure situations, such as in manufacturing spacecraft components.
However, the scarcity, high cost and difficult extraction process may rule out using it even in the future.
How Rhodium Is Used
Rhodium is mostly used for catalytic converters in cars. It’s also used to cover optical fibers, optical mirrors and headlight reflectors.
Rhodium is used in the chemical industry to catalyze reactions and to make electrical contact materials, as it naturally has a low electrical resistance.
What Makes Rhodium So Valuable
Rhodium is extremely rare and commonly found in copper-nickel deposits. The process of refining copper and nickel also produces rhodium; however, the total annual production of rhodium is only about 30 tons a year.
The supply of rhodium is considered to be at relatively high risk, as it’s another one only found in three countries, two of which are not politically stable, and it’s difficult to substitute other metals for rhodium in industrial uses.
How Plutonium Is Used
Plutonium is a radioactive metal used in alloys to make fuel pellets for nuclear power plants and as the explosive material in nuclear weapons.
Plutonium powers thermoelectric generators for the Mars Curiosity Rover and unmanned space probes that travel too far from the sun to use solar panels.
What Makes Plutonium So Valuable
In nature, Plutonium only exists in trace amounts in uranium ores. The largest source of plutonium comes from uranium that has been irradiated in nuclear reactors. Only about 20 tons of plutonium are created annually as a byproduct of the nuclear power industry.
As this highly radioactive metal doesn’t have any use apart from nuclear power or nuclear weapons (and some limited use in scientific research’ and is lethal to humans if not handled properly, it is highly regulated, difficult to obtain and extremely expensive.