Osmium, the densest of all metal elements, is a precious metal found in the platinum group. While we are still learning how to properly use this precious metal, others are wondering it’s value and investing opportunities.
In this article we will discover what osmium is, it’s history, uses and investing pros and cons. We will discover if you should invest in osmium and where and how to do so.
What is Osmium?
When you hear the term ‘precious’ metals you immediately think of gold, silver or platinum. There are others such as palladium, iridium and rhenium. What is osmium? Osmium is a naturally occurring element in the platinum group. It is the densest naturally occurring element in existence; twice as dense as lead.
How Was Osmium Found?
Osmium was found in 1803 along with other elements in the platinum group (iridium and palladium) by Smithson Tennant. Platinum ore was discovered in Columbia in the late 1700s and sent to England. Eventually, Tennant was able to extract and separate the insoluble dark core that, at the time of excavation, was believed to be granite.
Further testing and acid tests proved the distinction of both iridium and osmium. Tennant, who also named iridium after a Greek goddess, named osmium from the Greek osme which means smell, because osmium has a strong odor when oxidizing with the air.
Osmium as an Element
The small blue-grey metal proved difficult to work with due to it’s density, strength and resistance to high and extreme temperatures. However, since the published discovery by Tennant, the element has been tested and used by scientists and geologists for centuries.
Osmuim has an extremely long half-life which is used in meteoric and geologic dating and testing. Along with iridium, osmium is found in high quantities in space rocks. Osmium has been observed to have seven naturally occurring isotopes, one of which is unstable.
The seventh isotope, 186Os, is still characterized as unstable, however when undergoing alpha decay it experiences such a long half-life (140,000 times the age of the universe) that it can be considered stable.
Of the stable isotopes, 187Os is used for geological dating and has been the main catalyst that dates the dinosaur extinction to 66 million years ago.
Where is Osmium?
Osmium is the lowest naturally occurring element in the Earth’s crust. It has a lowly 0.00005 parts per million (50 parts per trillion). Osmium is found as an uncombined (not mixed) element in most alloys. Extraction is not so easy.
Like iridium, osmium is only found in meteoric impact craters and crustal upheavals from below. This leads geologists to believe that osmium may be in higher concentrations closer to the Earth’s core.
Currently osmium is being mined in small parts of the United States and Canada. However, the majority of osmium still comes form the original platinum mines in Columbia as well as the second largest mining effort in Russia.
Because it is so rare, estimates put American production at less than 1 ton per year.
Is Osmium Safe?
In it’s metallic form osmium is harmless. However when osmium is divided on a fine level it reacts with oxygen in the air producing the volatile osmium tetroxide. This tetroxide is known to cause lung, skin and eye damage and is considered highly dangerous.
Osmium tetroxide can quickly and easily penetrate human skin and is toxic at minute levels when ingested, inhaled or with minimal skin contact.
What is the Value of Osmium?
Precious metals, such as osmium have several grading factors for their value. These include rarity, uses and usefulness and availability.
Rarity of Osmium
Naturally occurring osmium is the least abundant element known. With an abundance rate of 50 parts per trillion, the value of metallic osmium increases. As a reare precious metal, this rarity adds to the value and helps hold the levels at a near constant.
As an investment option, osmium’s rarity appears as a good idea. It is stable and counteracts and volatility in a portfolio. However, it is not commonly traded and can be expensive to start in.
Uses and Usefulness of Osmium
The second factor is in osmium’s uses. The more uses it has the more demand there will be for it. As an investment, the precious metal should have a high demand. Mixed with a low supply level the price should continually increase, making it a solid investment option.
When osmium was first discovered member of BASF purchased the world’s supply of metallic osmium. They used osmium as a catalyst in the Haber Process for power plants. However, in 1909 the same group began testing iron and iron ore for the process which succeeded. This eliminated the need for osmium as iron was more abundant and less expensive.
Other uses include metallic tips for fountain pens, record player needles and electrical contacts. Since osmium is so dense and heavy, it has a high resistance to repeated use. However, each time osmium was used for a specific application, a less expensive and more abundant material was found to work just as well or better.
Osmium was also used in the Oslamp which used osmium as a filament. This too, though, was quickly replaced with tungsten, which has the highest melting point of all metals. Other uses for osmium have come and gone being replaced each time with a more economical substitution.
Because of the volatility and toxicity, osmium uses tend to stay in the scientific community. There are currently little to no consumer uses for osmium. However there are current studies that show promise of using osmium tetroxide as a compound base in cancer treatment medications and injections.
Even with it’s promise of initial findings, long term effects, studies and testing have yet to be found. The studies, conducted in Scandinavia, are still in their infancy.
If the cancer treatments turn out to be highly successful, osmium value could skyrocket, which should be noted by investors. However there is no current desire to invest in osmium as it stands.
Value of Osmium
Taking all the factors into consideration, osmium is not a sound investment. Even though it is very rare and has some small promise of an increased value, the long term planning has yet to develop. As it stands, the value of osmium is about 400 USD per troy ounce.
Should You Invest in Osmium?
Precious metals are always a welcomed addition to a portfolio. Physical investing, certificates and purchasing stocks in mining companies are the main options. However, none of these options are truly viable with osmium.
Osmium is not traded worldwide which basically eliminates EFTs and certificate trading. While certificates will hold a value, they will have no trade value and will not be legal tender.
Physical investing would hold the greatest returns but the availability of metallic osmium for purchase is virtually nonexistent. This is not to say it isn’t possible, but it will be difficult to get you hands on the metal. You then must also take into account the toxicity of bullion osmium, that in and of itself is a near impossibility.
This leaves stock trading in mining companies as the only viable option. Currently you can find stock options with MMC Norilsk Nickel (OTC: NILSY), which produced osmium as a by-product, and MMC Norilsk Nickel (OTC: NILSY) which also produced small amounts of osmium as a by product of platinum mining.
Because of the Columbian and Russian ties with osmium mining, there can be cartel-like fluctuations in the price of osmium which are largely inflated and often misleading.
Pros of Osmium
- Planning on the future as a cancer treatment may make the need for osmium skyrocket.
- Rarity of the metal increases value
- Space exploration, satellites and chemistry hold a value for osmium.
Cons of Osmium
- Highly toxic oxidation make bullion a near impossibility.
- No current mass use for osmium is known that can’t be duplicated with less expensive elements.
- Osmium is not traded worldwide and any price points are merely a negotiation starting point.
- Certificates and EFTs are virtually non-existent.
Osmium is the densest naturally occurring element on Earth. It is also the least abundant element with a minuscule availability of 0.00005 parts per million. Even the rarity doesn’t add much to the value of osmium, though, as there are no real practical uses for it commercially.
Osmium isn’t traded worldwide and the mining efforts are largely communist held. These factors will falsely reflect the pricing of osmium and could ruin an otherwise stable portfolio. If you are looking to invest in a precious metal that is not one of the top three (gold, silver, platinum) it is advised that you try iridium or palladium. Osmium and rhenium hold no known real-world current value.
However, if you like to have instability and bet on a dark-horse, osmium may have a future in cancer treatment medications, and if so, the value and need for osmium could result in very high numbers.