Investing in Germanium

Germanium is a hard, brittle metalloid that was first used about a half century ago as a semiconductor material in radar units and as the material for the first transistors. Today, it is used as a polymerization catalyst for polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a commercially important plastic; as a component of glass in telecommunications fiber optics; as a lens or window in infrared night-vision devices; and as a semiconductor and substrate in electronic circuitry and solar cells.Because of its small band gap, it reponds efficiently to infrared light and is used in infrared spectroscopes for thermal imaging devices. Germanium oxide has an index of refraction that makes it useful in wide-angle lenses. IBM uses germanium for the avalanche photodetectors in their zEnterprise 196 microprocessor systems.

Domestic Production and Use: The major end uses for germanium, worldwide, were estimated to be fiber-optic systems, 30%; infrared optics, 25%; polymerization catalysts, 25%; electronics and solar electric applications, 15%; and other (phosphors, metallurgy, and chemotherapy), 5%. Domestically, these end uses varied and were estimated to be infrared optics, 50%; fiber-optic systems, 30%; electronics and solar electric applications, 15%; and other (phosphors, metallurgy, and chemotherapy), 5%. Germanium is not used in polymerization catalysts in the United States. The estimated value of germanium metal consumed in 2009, based upon the annual average U.S. producer price, was about $52.7 million.

Recycling: Worldwide, about 30% of the total germanium consumed is produced from recycled materials. During the manufacture of most optical devices, more than 60% of the germanium metal used is routinely recycled as new scrap. Germanium scrap was also recovered from the window blanks in decommissioned tanks and other military vehicles.

Import Sources (2005-08): Belgium, 46%; China, 24%; Germany, 13%; Russia, 13%; and other, 4%.

Events, Trends, and Issues: The global market for germanium metal and germanium dioxide generally weakened through the first 10 months of the year. The estimated market price of germanium metal (99.99%) in late September was $950 per kilogram, a 33% decline from that of January, when it was about $1,425 per kilogram. Germanium dioxide prices also declined during the year and as of late September, germanium dioxide was selling for about $580 per kilogram. Slumping demand for germanium appeared to be a product of the overall downturn in the global economy in 2009.

Throughout much of the year, many Chinese suppliers, accounting for the majority of the germanium produced globally, held an excess supply of material as the market continued to decline, in anticipation of an eventual turnaround, instead of selling at reduced prices. As a result of the falling prices, some consumers became hesitant to place large orders, expecting that cheaper material would be available in the future. Demand for germanium dioxide from polyethylene terephthalate manufacturers, used primarily to make plastic beverage containers in Asia, declined from that of the previous year. Consumption of germanium tetrachloride through the first half of the year declined as well when compared with the same time period in 2008 owing to reduced demand for fiber-optic cable.

In May, the Yunnan Province in China announced that it would attempt to reinvigorate the Chinese germanium market by stockpiling 8 metric tons of germanium ingots. Domestically, demand for germanium was fairly stable owing to the continued use of germanium lenses and window blanks by the military for various infrared applications. Ongoing military engagements have led to increased spending on thermal weapon sights and related thermal imaging technology over the past several years. In most satellite applications, germanium substrates continued to be favored for use in photovoltaic solar cells, and the development of terrestrial-based applications was ongoing.

In August, a leading manufacturer of solar cells announced that it had manufactured a multijunction solar cell with a germanium substrate that set a new world record for terrestrial concentrator solar cell efficiency, converting 41.6% of sunlight into electricity. A high-efficiency solar cell such as this would potentially allow energy producers to generate more electrical power from typical industrial solar panels and pass on lower costs to consumers. Another producer reported that sales of germanium substrates through the first half of 2009 were greater than those in the corresponding period of 2008 owing to their increased use in high-brightness, light-emitting diodes for backlighting liquid crystal display screens and in vehicle headlights.

A company from the United Kingdom that developed a tarnish-resistant silver alloy containing germanium in the early 1990s called Argentium continued to market the material to jewelry manufacturers. Several jewelry manufacturers in Asia and Europe began incorporating Argentium silver into their collections during the past 2 years.

World Resources: In 2009, the world’s total supply of germanium was estimated to be between 100 and 120 tons. This comprised germanium recovered from zinc concentrates or fly ash from coal and recycled material. The recycling level remained about the same as that in 2008 and supplied about 30% of the world’s total supply of germanium. Owing to the value of refi ned germanium, new scrap generated during the manufacture of fiber-optic cables, infrared optics, and substrates is typically reclaimed and fed back into the production process. Recycling of germanium recovered from used materials, such as fiber-optic window blanks in decommissioned military vehicles or fiber-optic cables, has increased during the last decade. The vast majority of germanium production was concentrated in Canada and China.

Substitutes: Silicon can be a less-expensive substitute for germanium in certain electronic applications. Although some metallic compounds that contain gallium, indium, selenium, and tellurium can be substituted for germanium, germanium is more reliable than these materials in many high-frequency electronics applications and is a more economical substrate for some light-emitting-diode applications. Zinc selenide and germanium glass substitute for germanium metal in infrared applications systems but often at the expense of performance. Titanium has the potential to be a substitute for germanium as a polymerization catalyst.

Germanium Producers
AXT, Inc (NASDAQ: AXTI) - manufactures and sells raw materials to the semiconductor substrate industry through joint ventures in China. These materials include germanium, arsenic, boron, and gallium.
Yunnan Chihong Zinc & Germanium Co. (SHA: 600497) - Germanium dioxide and high purity germanium.
Edmund Optics - - Germanium infrared aspheric lenses
Selwyn Resources (CVE: SWN) - Zinc-lead project in Howard's Pass District, eastern Yukon, Canada.
American Photonics - - Optical grade germanium
Spectrolab - A subsidiary of Boeing (NYSE: BA)
Teck Cominco (NYSE: TCK) - Their specialty metals division produces germanium, bismuth, cadmium, and indium.
Umicore (EBR: UMI) -
Yunnan Lincang Xinyuan Germanium (SHE: 002428)
Yunnan Luoping Zinc & Electricty Co. (SHE: 002114) - Germanium concentrate

(wiki) - Germanium on Wikipedia

Germanium News
2011-06-01 - (bw) - Research and Markets: China Germanium Industry Report, 2011
2011-06-01 - (bw) - Unfavorable export taxes force China to cut the germanium sales according to Merchant Research & Consulting
2011-05-23 - (tmw) - Edmund germanium lenses target IR applications
2011-05-20 - (nw) - Nanoelectronics with germanium
2010-11-19 - (gt) - Rare metal germanium left for dead
2010-11-18 - (mmd) - Flat polished silicon and germanium now being offered by Lattice Materials
2010-11-01 - (fc) - How a handful of countries control the Earth's most precious materials
2010-10-29 - (po) - Edmund Optics Introduces New TECHSPEC Germanium Infrared (IR) Aspheric Lenses
2010-10-29 - (fz - Plessy comes up with new process
2010-10-27 - (prn) - Voltaix announces plans to bring its germane (GeH4) production to Korea via agreement with Wonik Materials
2010-10-26 - (pr) - Global germanium market to exceed 126.4 thousand kilograms by 2015, according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc.
2010-10-14 - (csc) - Umicore opens "world's most advanced" germanium wafer production facility
2010-10-13 - (no) - Newly opened plant in Quapaw to help harness energy
2010-09-01 - (mw) - ATMI(R) and Ovonyx announce important advance toward commercialization of germanium antimony telluride phase change memory using chemical vapor deposition
2010-09-01 - (wsj) - IBM claims fastest mainframe
2010-08-19 - (tm) - Selwyn Resources forms joint venture with Yunnan Chihong Zinc & Germanium
2010-02-10 - (pw) - First light for germanium laser
2006-05-26 - (nat) - Ge/Si nanowire heterostructures as high-performance field-effect transistors

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