Last Updated: April 28, 2024


Dive into the fascinating world of Rhodium, the rare and precious metal renowned for its exceptional properties and diverse applications. This comprehensive guide illuminates Rhodium’s significance, from its unparalleled ability to reflect and resist corrosion to its pivotal role in catalytic converters and fine jewelry. Discover how Rhodium’s scarcity and high performance make it a sought-after element in various industries, including automotive, jewelry, and chemical sectors. Through real-world examples, you’ll learn about Rhodium’s impact and why it remains a symbol of luxury and innovation in modern technology and design

What is Rhodium?

Rhodium is a rare, silvery-white metallic element that is highly reflective and known for its exceptional resistance to corrosion. With the atomic number 45. Rhodium stands out for its rarity and the high cost associated with its extraction and use. This element is not found as a free metal in nature but is usually obtained as a byproduct of platinum and nickel mining. Rhodium’s primary use is in the automotive industry for manufacturing catalytic converters, which help reduce harmful emissions. Additionally, it is used in the jewelry industry for plating to provide a reflective white surface and enhance durability. Rhodium’s ability to withstand corrosion and its high reflectivity also make it valuable in optical instruments and as a catalyst in certain chemical reactions.

Rhodium Formula

  • Formula: Rh
  • Composition: Consists of a single rhodium atom.
  • Bond Type: In its elemental form, rhodium does not have bonds as it is a pure element. However, rhodium can form covalent or ionic bonds when reacting with other elements.
  • Molecular Structure: As a pure element, rhodium does not form a molecular structure in the same way as compounds like H₂. At room temperature, rhodium is in a metallic state with a face-centered cubic crystalline structure.
  • Electron Sharing: In compounds, rhodium typically shares electrons covalently or transfers electrons ionically, depending on the nature of the other element(s) it is bonding with.
  • Significance: Rhodium is notable for its high melting point (1964°C or 3567°F) and its excellent corrosion resistance, even at high temperatures. It is highly valued for its reflectivity and is used in high-performance reflectors and mirrors.
  • Role in Chemistry: Rhodium plays a crucial role in the automotive industry as a catalyst in the reduction of nitrogen oxides in exhaust gases. It also forms a variety of compounds that are important for catalytic applications in chemical synthesis, making it a key material in catalysis and industrial processes.

Atomic Structure of Rhodium

Atomic Structure of Rhodium

Rhodium, with the chemical symbol Rh and atomic number 45, is a rare, silver-white, hard transition metal that is highly reflective and resistant to corrosion. As a member of the platinum group metals (PGMs) in the periodic table, rhodium shares some characteristics with its neighbors. Understanding the atomic structure of rhodium provides insights into its unique properties and applications. Here’s a detailed overview:

  • Protons and Electrons: Rhodium has 45 protons in its nucleus and, in its neutral state, also has 45 electrons orbiting the nucleus.
  • Neutrons: The most abundant isotope of rhodium, Rh-103, contains 58 neutrons.
  • Electronic Configuration: The electrons in rhodium are arranged in the following shells: 2, 8, 18, 16, 1. Its electronic configuration is [Kr] 4d5s¹, which explains its position in the d-block of the periodic table and its behavior as a transition metal.
  • Valence Electrons: Rhodium typically has 1 electron in its outermost shell, but in chemical compounds, it can use the electrons from its d-orbitals, allowing it to exhibit a variety of oxidation states, usually ranging from +1 to +6.
  • Atomic Radius: Rhodium has an atomic radius of approximately 134 pm (picometers).
  • Ionization Energy: The first ionization energy of rhodium is about 719.7 kJ/mol, indicating the energy required to remove the outermost electron.

Properties of Rhodium

Properties of Rhodium

Physical Properties of Rhodium

Property Value
Atomic Number 45
Atomic Weight 102.90550
Melting Point 1,966 °C (3,571 °F)
Boiling Point 3,700 °C (6,692 °F)
Density at 20°C 12.41 g/cm³
State at 20 °C Solid
Color Silvery-white metallic
Electrical Conductivity 2.3×10⁶ S/m
Thermal Conductivity 150 W/(m·K)
Heat of Fusion 21.5 kJ/mol
Heat of Vaporization 494 kJ/mol
Atomic Radius 134 pm
Crystal Structure Face-centered cubic (fcc)
Oxidation States -1, 0, +1, +2, +3, +4, +5, +6

Chemical Properties of Rhodium

Oxidation States and Compounds

  1. Oxidation States: Rhodium can exhibit multiple oxidation states, but the most common are +1, +2, and +3. The +3 oxidation state is the most stable and prevalent in rhodium compounds.
  2. Rhodium(III) Chloride (RhCl₃): A common rhodium compound, which serves as a starting material for the synthesis of many other rhodium complexes. 3Rh+1.5Cl₂​→RhCl₃
  3. Complex Formation: Rhodium forms a variety of coordination complexes, which are crucial in catalysis, including the famous Wilkinson’s catalyst, RhCl(PPh₃)₃, used for hydrogenation reactions.


  1. With Oxygen: Rhodium metal does not readily oxidize, even when heated, reflecting its excellent resistance to corrosion and oxidation.
  2. With Acids: Rhodium is resistant to most acids, including aqua regia under certain conditions, but can be dissolved by it when finely divided or in the presence of oxidizing agents.
  3. Catalytic Properties: Rhodium’s most notable chemical property is its catalytic activity. It is used in automotive catalytic converters to reduce harmful emissions by catalyzing the reduction of nitrogen oxides to nitrogen and oxygen, and the oxidation of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide:2NOx​→xO₂​+N₂

Environmental and Industrial Significance

  1. Catalysis: Beyond automotive catalysis, rhodium is used in chemical industry for the production of acetic acid, hydrogenation of carbon monoxide, and in nitric acid production processes.
  2. Resistance to Corrosion: Its corrosion resistance makes it valuable in high-temperature and corrosive environments, used in coatings for optical mirrors and in electrical contacts.

Thermodynamic Properties of Rhodium

Property Value
Melting Point 1964°C (3567°F)
Boiling Point 3695°C (6683°F)
Heat of Fusion 21.5 kJ/mol
Heat of Vaporization 493 kJ/mol
Specific Heat Capacity 24.98 J/(mol·K)

Material Properties of Rhodium

Property Value
Density 12.41 g/cm³
Mohs Hardness 6
Young’s Modulus 380 GPa
Thermal Conductivity 150 W/(m·K)
Electrical Resistivity 4.3 µΩ·m (at 20 °C)

Electromagnetic Properties of Rhodium

Property Value
Electrical Conductivity High; conductivity decreases with temperature increase
Magnetic Susceptibility Weakly paramagnetic at room temperature

Nuclear Properties of Rhodium

Property Value
Natural Isotopes Rh-103 (100% abundance)
Neutron Cross Section 144.8 barns (for Rh-103)
Primary Decay Mode Stable (Rh-103)

Preparation of Rhodium

  • Ore Processing: Rhodium is extracted from platinum or nickel ores where it occurs in small amounts.
  • Initial Separation: The ore is treated with aqua regia to dissolve platinum group metals, including rhodium.
  • Chemical Extraction: Rhodium is separated from other platinum group metals through a series of chemical precipitation and dissolution steps, often involving sodium bisulfite or other reagents.
  • Purification: The rhodium salt is converted to pure rhodium by a process of thermal decomposition or electrolytic deposition.
  • Final Form Production: The purified rhodium is then melted and cast into ingots or formed into powder or sponge, depending on its intended application

Chemical Compounds of Rhodium

Chemical Compounds of Rhodium (1)

  1. Rhodium(III) Chloride (RhCl₃)
    • Essential in hydroformylation and hydrogenation reactions.
    • Equation:Rh+3₂Cl₂→RhCl₃
  2. Rhodium(II) Acetate (Rh2(O2CCH₃)₄)
    • Catalyst for chiral synthesis processes.
    • Equation: 2Rh+4CH₃COOH→Rh₂(O₂CCH₃)₄
  3. Rhodium(III) Oxide (Rh2O₃)
    • Used in automotive catalytic converters.
    • Equation: 4Rh+3O₂→2Rh₂O₃
  4. Rhodium(IV) Oxide (RhO2)
    • Involved in electrochemistry and catalysis.
    • Equation: 2Rh+2O₂→2RhO₂
  5. Rhodium Hexafluoride (RhF₆)
    • Demonstrates rhodium’s highest oxidation state.
    • Equation: Rh+3F₂→RhF₆
  6. Tris(triphenylphosphine)rhodium(I) Chloride ([RhCl(PPh₃)₃])
      • A key reagent in homogeneous catalysis.
      • Equation: Rh+3PPh₃+Cl₂→[RhCl(PPh₃)₃]

Isotopes of Rhodium

Isotope Natural Abundance (%) Half-Life Notes
Rh-103 100 Stable Only naturally occurring isotope, used in industrial applications
Rh-99 16.1 days Used in medical research
Rh-101 3.3 years Used in scientific studies
Rh-102m 2.9 years Used in nuclear physics experiments
Rh-105 35.36 hours Potential use in cancer treatment

Uses of Rhodium

Uses of Rhodium

  1. Automotive Catalytic Converters: Rhodium is a key component in three-way catalytic converters, reducing harmful emissions from vehicles by converting nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and oxygen, and carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide.
  2. Jewelry: Due to its luster and resistance to tarnishing, rhodium is used to plate jewelry, enhancing durability and appearance.
  3. Electronics: Rhodium’s excellent electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance make it valuable in electrical contacts and connectors.
  4. Chemical Industry: As a catalyst, rhodium facilitates various chemical reactions, including the hydrogenation of carbon monoxide in the production of acetic acid.
  5. Glass Production: Rhodium is used in the production of fiberglass and flat-panel glass displays, improving the melting process and product quality.
  6. Medical Uses: Radioactive isotopes of rhodium, like Rh-105, are under research for potential applications in cancer treatment through targeted radiotherapy

Production of Rhodium

  • Source Material: Rhodium is primarily extracted from platinum or nickel ores, where it exists in small amounts.
  • Initial Extraction: The process begins with the mining of these ores, followed by crushing and grinding to liberate the rhodium-containing minerals.
  • Concentration: Through flotation and other beneficiation techniques, rhodium-bearing materials are concentrated.
  • Chemical Processing: Concentrated material undergoes chemical treatment to separate rhodium from other metals, often involving aqua regia.
  • Purification: Rhodium is purified through a series of chemical reactions, including solvent extraction and ion exchange processes.
  • Final Production: The purified rhodium is then reduced to its metallic form, typically through hydrogen reduction, resulting in high-purity rhodium ready for industrial use.

Applications of Rhodium

  • Automotive Catalysts: Rhodium is a critical component in three-way catalytic converters, reducing harmful emissions from vehicles.
  • Chemical Synthesis: Utilized as a catalyst in various chemical reactions, including the production of nitric acid and hydrogenation processes.
  • Jewelry and Decorative Finishes: Rhodium plating provides a durable, reflective surface on jewelry, enhancing appearance and resistance to tarnish.
  • Electrical and Optical Devices: Applied in the manufacture of electrical contacts, optical mirrors, and headlight reflectors for its reflective and corrosion-resistant properties.
  • Temperature Sensors: Due to its stability and resistance to electrical corrosion, rhodium is used in high-temperature thermocouples.
  • Cancer Treatment: Some rhodium compounds are being explored for use in chemotherapy, targeting cancer cells with minimal side effects.

The presented table and descriptions of Rhodium’s physical properties and chemical compounds showcase the element’s unique attributes and versatility in industrial and scientific applications. Highlighting Rhodium’s remarkable durability, catalytic efficiency, and role in advanced technologies, this summary encapsulates its significance in pushing the boundaries of material science and chemical engineering.

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