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Home » Metals » Indium

Indium Price Supported by LCD Demand
and New Uses for the Metal


flat panel monitor LCD
Indium is used to make flat panel displays.

Almost everyone wants a large flat-panel monitor, a cell phone and numerous other products with liquid crystal displays (LCD). This has created a strong demand for indium tin oxide (ITO), an ingredient used in the production LCD products. This increasing demand for ITO has driven up the price of indium to several hundred dollars per kilogram.


What Is Indium?



Indium is a soft, gray metallic element with a bright luster and a very low melting point. It is relatively rare and ranks 61st in crustal abundance. It is about three times as abundant as silver.


The Uses of Indium are Rapidly Increasing



A small amount of indium is used to make every liquid crystal display screen. This is the primary use of indium today and accounts for over 50% of consumption. These LCDs are key components in laptop computers, flat panel monitors and flat panel televisions. They are also in cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras, clocks, watches, GPS receivers, answering machines and other electronic devices. Many of these are in very high demand and LCDs are being incorporated into an increasing number of devices.

indium wire
Indium Wire

About 15% of the indium produced is used to make electrical components. These are mainly used in infrared detectors, high speed transistors and photovoltaic devices. Indium's very low melting point and ability to conduct electricity make it an important ingredient in many low temperature solders and alloys. About 12% of indium consumption goes to alloys and solders.




indium wire
        Data from USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries

Indium Prices



Another important use of indium is in coatings applied to glass. These coatings are transparent, but reflect infrared light. This limits the transfer of radiant heat through the glass. These glasses are used in aircraft windows, windows of important buildings, and doors on refrigerators and ovens. Small amounts of indium are also used in defogging agents to keep condensation from building up on aircraft and locomotive windows. Many of these uses have declined over the past few years because of the higher indium price.



2006 Refinery Production
Metric Tons

China
300
Japan
55
Canada
50
Belgium
30
Russia
15
France
10
Other Countries
20
Total
480

Sources of Indium



The United States does not produce any domestic indium and relies on imports from China, Canada, Japan, Russia and other countries. China controls over 60% of the world's refined indium production.

The main commercial sources of indium are zinc concentrates, a byproduct of sphalerite mining. A small amount (usually less than 100 parts per million) of indium is present in sphalerite. If the amount of indium in the sphalerite is high enough it can be economically recovered. Small amounts of indium also occur in ores of copper, lead, tin and a few other metals, however, the abundance is subeconomic under current indium prices.


2006 Indium Reserve Base - Metric Tons


From indium content of zinc ores
Canada
2000
China
1300
United States
600
Russia
300
Japan
150
Peru
150
Other Countries
1500
Total
6000

Indium Recycling



Very little indium is recycled in the United States. This is because there is no infrastructure for the collection of used indium-containing products. Related to recycling, the use of ITO in manufacturing is only 15% efficient. This requires 85% of primary indium to go through a recovery process. The current recovery process takes several weeks and processors typically have millions of dollars worth of indium in various stages of recovery. The incentive to improve efficiency of indium tin oxide use and recovery is significant.






Indium Forecast



On the demand side the growth of LCD products is increasing and this will support the price of indium. On the supply side the association of indium with zinc production from sphalerite causes the commercial availability of new indium stocks to be 100% dependent upon the mining of sphalerite. This makes it very hard to increase the production of indium when demand for zinc is low. Fortunately, the current demand for zinc is strong and that should support a steady indium supply.



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