Investing in Indium

Indium is a poor metal with uses in the semiconductor industry and LCD industry. Indium is also used in thin-film solar cells in combination with copper, gallium, and selenium. Indium-111 is used in nuclear medicine for imaging leukocytes. There are very few indium minerals, two of which are indite and dzhalindite. It is produced mainly as a byproduct of zinc production.

Domestic Production and Use: Indium was not recovered from ores in the United States in 2010. Two companies, one in New York and the other in Rhode Island, produced indium metal and indium products by upgrading lower grade imported indium metal. High-purity indium shapes, alloys, and compounds were also produced from imported indium by several additional firms. Production of indium tin oxide (ITO) continued to be the leading end use of indium and accounted for most global indium consumption. ITO thin-film coatings were primarily used for electrically conductive purposes in a variety of flat-panel devices—most commonly liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Other end uses included solders and alloys, compounds, electrical components and semiconductors, and research. The estimated value of primary indium metal consumed in 2010, based upon the annual average New York dealer price, was about $66 million.

Recycling: Data on the quantity of secondary indium recovered from scrap were not available. Indium is most commonly recovered from ITO. Sputtering, the process in which ITO is deposited as a thin-film coating onto a substrate, is highly inefficient; approximately 30% of an ITO target material is deposited onto the substrate. The remaining 70% consists of the spent ITO target material, the grinding sludge, and the after-processing residue left on the walls of the sputtering chamber. ITO recycling is concentrated in China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea—the countries where ITO production and sputtering take place.

An LCD manufacturer has developed a process to reclaim indium directly from scrap LCD panels. Indium recovery from tailings was thought to have been insignificant, as these wastes contain low amounts of the metal and can be difficult to process. However, recent improvements to the process technology have made indium recovery from tailings viable when the price of indium is high.

Import Sources (2006–09): China, 35%; Canada, 26%; Japan, 16%; Belgium, 8%; and other, 15%.

Events, Trends, and Issues: The price of indium recovered in 2010 after declining sharply during 2009. The U.S. producer price for indium began the year at $500 per kilogram and increased to $570 per kilogram in late January; the price remained at that level until mid-September. The New York dealer price range for indium began the year at $460 to $500 per kilogram, and increased through the end of May, reaching a high of $580 to $640 per kilogram. The price range then decreased and leveled off at $525 to $565 during June and most of July, after which it modestly increased to $550 to $575 per kilogram by mid-September.

Indium consumption in Japan (the leading global consumer of indium) was expected to increase by 20% in 2010 from that of 2009. Additionally, Chinese indium consumption was expected to continue to increase significantly, rising by 56% from that of 2009 to 75 tons owing to increased domestic demand for LCD-containing electronics. China planned to increase its domestic manufacturing of high-end LCD electronics rather than sell the raw materials to Japan and buy back the electronic products at high prices. As a result, the Chinese Government cut its second half 2010 indium export quotas by 30%. China’s 21 indium producers were allowed to export a combined total of 93 tons of indium in the latter half of 2010, compared with 140 tons during the first half of the year. Most of this material was exported to Japan for consumption.

In the downstream market, demand for ITO targets increased during the first half of 2010 from that of the second half of 2009 owing to a rise in LCD panel production. However, LCD panel inventories began to increase during the second half of 2010 owing to lower-than-expected LCD sales in the United States and global economic uncertainty. One LCD panel producer initiated a 30% production cut at one of its Japanese plants to control inventory. As a result of weakening LCD demand that occurred in the latter half of 2010, LCD panel producers lowered prices, resulting in an aggressive price competition among flat-screen LCD TV producers. However, ITO producers were not able to significantly lower their prices as higher indium prices in 2010 cut into profits.

World Resources: Indium’s abundance in the continental crust is estimated to be approximately 0.05 part per million. Trace amounts of indium occur in base metal sulfides—particularly chalcopyrite, sphalerite, and stannite—by ionic substitution. Indium is most commonly recovered from the zinc-sulfide ore mineral sphalerite. The average indium content of zinc deposits from which it is recovered ranges from less than 1 part per million to 100 parts per million. Although the geochemical properties of indium are such that it occurs with other base metals—copper, lead, and tin—and to a lesser extent with bismuth, cadmium, and silver, most deposits of these metals are subeconomic for indium.

Vein stockwork deposits of tin and tungsten host the highest known concentrations of indium. However, the indium from this type of deposit is usually difficult to process economically. Other major geologic hosts for indium mineralization include volcanic-hosted massive sulfide deposits, sediment-hosted exhalative massive sulfide deposits, polymetallic vein-type deposits, epithermal deposits, active magmatic systems, porphyry copper deposits, and skarn deposits.

Substitutes: Indium’s recent price volatility and various supply concerns associated with the metal have accelerated the development of ITO substitutes. Antimony tin oxide coatings, which are deposited by an ink-jetting process, have been developed as an alternative to ITO coatings in LCDs and have been successfully annealed to LCD glass. Carbon nanotube coatings, applied by wet-processing techniques, have been developed as an alternative to ITO coatings in flexible displays, solar cells, and touch screens. Poly(3,4-ethylene dioxythiophene) (PEDOT) has also been developed as a substitute for ITO in flexible displays and organic light-emitting diodes. PEDOT can be applied in a variety of ways, including spin coating, dip coating, and printing techniques. Graphene quantum dots have been developed to replace ITO electrodes in solar cells and also have been explored as a replacement for ITO in LCDs. Researchers have recently developed a more adhesive zinc oxide nanopowder to replace ITO in LCDs. The technology was estimated to be commercially available within the next 3 years. Gallium arsenide can substitute for indium phosphide in solar cells and in many semiconductor applications. Hafnium can replace indium in nuclear reactor control rod alloys.

Indium Producers
Teck Cominco (NYSE: TCK) - - The world's largest producer of indium. Their specialty metals division also produces bismuth, germanium, and cadmium.
Xstrata - Kidd Creek copper-zinc metallurgical operations at Timmins, Ontario
SMG Indium Resources - - Private company stockpiling indium.
Argentex Mining (OTC: AGXM) - Indium miner in Argentina. Pinguino property in Santa Cruz, Argentina
South American Silver Corp. (TSE: SAC) - South American indium producer
Umicore Indium Products
Nyrstar NV - Auby zinc smelter
PPM Pure Metals GmbH
Norddeutsche Affinerie AG
North Queensland Metals - Baal Gammon copper, tin, silver and indium project
Great Western Minerals Group (CVE: GWG) - In 2008 they acquired Less Common Metals, a producer of ultra-high-purity indium
AXT (NASDAQ: AXTI) - Indium phosphide semiconductor substrates
Lithic Resources - Crypto zinc project in Utah
Indium Corp. of America
Korea Zinc Co. - primary and secondary indium at its Onsan zinc refinery
Doe Run Peru - La Oroya metallurgical complex
Votorantim Metais - Cajamarquilla zinc refinery
Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant OJSC
Ural Mining and Metals Co (UMMC)

Chinese Indium Producers
Zhuzhou Keneng
Guangxi Debang
Zhuzhou Torch Metals
Huaxi Tin
Hsikwangshan Twinkling Star
Yunnan Chengfeng Nonferrous
Nanjing Germanium
Nanjing Sanyou
Guangxi Intai
Liuzhou Yinli
Shuikoushan Nonferrous
Kunming Hua Lian Yin Ye
Guangxi Tanghan Zinc & Indium
Qinghai Western Indium
Hunan Zhentan
Huludao Zinc Industry Co. (SHE: 000751) - Indium products
China Minmetals
Nanjing Foreign Trade & Development
Yunnan Tin Co. (SHE: 000960)

Japanese Indium Producers
Asahi Pretec - secondary indium production at its ITO target recycling plant in Fukuoka
Dowa Metals & Mining - indium recycling facility in Akita Prefecture
Nikko Metals
Mitsui Mining & Smelting - Omuta ITO manufacturing plant in southern Japan
Sumitomo Metal Mining
Toho Zinc

(wiki) - Indium on Wikipedia

Indium News
2011-07-25 - (mb) - Indium tightens on renewed speculative interest
2011-07-25 - (mb) - China indium market outlook uncertain
2011-07-11 - (bw) - The business case for indium tin oxide and alternative transparent conductors
2011-07-08 - (bw) - Chinese indium strategies: Threats and opportunities for displays, photovoltaics and electronics
2011-07-07 - (mb) - Indium creeps lower still, flat-panel demand may provide floor
2011-07-05 - (kh) - Korea to foster indium, lithium exploration
2011-06-13 - (mb) - Chinese indium prices soften as investors lock in profits
2011-06-06 - (mb) - Indium falls as buying weakens in USA, Europe
2011-06-02 - (mb) - Chinese indium producers report power curbs
2011-05-21 - (mb) - All eyes on Chinese indium market as prices stall
2011-05-19 - (pl) - China indium producer Hunan Zhentan cuts output on power shortage
2011-05-19 - (mb) - Chinese crude indium prices ease, but supply still tight
2011-05-18 - (mb) - Market mulls indium outlook as rally slows
2011-05-05 - (reu) - Japan's Dowa raises indium prices by 3,000 yen/kg
2011-01-04 - (pl) - China Zhuzhou Keneng wins largest indium export quota for H1 2011
2010-11-09 - (st) - Singapore researchers create amber light for nitride LEDs
2010-11-01 - (mw) - Alexco receives balance of assays from Onek Zinc-Silver Deposit; indium association confirmed
2010-11-01 - (fc) - How a handful of countries control the Earth's most precious materials
2010-10-27 - (tr) - Are we running out of touchscreens?
2010-10-21 - (pi) - Adex Mining's ambition to develop indium-tin mine in New Brunswick takes massive leap forward
2010-10-20 - (cnet) - IBM partners to produce thin-film solar cells
2010-02-25 - (mw) - South American Silver Corp. discovers high-grade silver-gold-indium vein system at Malku Khota in Bolivia
2009-12-21 - (mb) - Japan drives indium's recovery, says Zuzhou Keneng
2007-01-15 - (gw) - Indium demand

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