Overview -- Rubidium is a soft, ductile, silvery-white metal that melts at 39.3 ?C. One of the alkali metals, it is positioned in group 1 (or IA) of the periodic table between potassium and cesium. Naturally occurring rubidium is slightly radioactive. Rubidium is an extremely reactive metal--it ignites spontaneously in the presence of air and decomposes water explosively, igniting the liberated hydrogen. Because of its reactivity, the metal and several of its compounds are hazardous materials, and must be stored and transported in isolation from possible reactants. Although rubidium is more abundant in the earth?s crust than copper, lead, or zinc, it forms no minerals of its own, and is, or has been, produced in small quantities as a byproduct of the processing of cesium and lithium ores taken from a few small deposits in Canada, Namibia, and Zambia. In the United States, the metal and its compounds are produced from imported raw materials by at least one company, the Cabot Corporation (Cabot, 2003).
Rubidium is used interchangeably or together with cesium in many uses. Its principal application is in specialty glasses used in fiber optic telecommunication systems. Rubidium?s photoemissive properties have led to its use in night-vision devices, photoelectric cells, and photomultiplier tubes. It has several uses in medical science, such as in positron emission tomographic (PET) imaging, the treatment of epilepsy, and the ultracentrifugal separation of nucleic acids and viruses. A dozen or more other uses are known, which include use as a cocatalyst for several organic reactions and in frequency reference oscillators for telecommunications network synchronization.
The market for rubidium is extremely small, amounting to 1 to 2 metric tons per year (t/yr) in the United States. World resources are vast compared with demand.