Cobalt, tantalum and rare earths among main topics at indaba’s commodities review

The increased global interest in minor metals will shape the Commodities Review and Outlook ferroalloys and minor metals’ presentation at the 2012 Investing in African Mining Indaba, says commodity research and consultancy company Core Consultants.

Feature speaker, Core Consultants MD Lara Smith, tells Mining Weekly the company will particularly highlight minor metals cobalt and tantalum, as well as rare earths, as these metals are increasingly used in everyday technology and are experiencing an increase in demand.

“Cobalt, for instance, is used in lithium batteries and, with the manufacturing of electronic devices booming, we are seeing greater demand for cobalt as most electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops, rely on this type of battery for power,” she explains.

Further, she notes that 50% of global cobalt reserves are along the Copperbelt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, with only 5% of copper refined in the DRC and the rest refined in China.

However, Smith highlights that, although cobalt represents an opportunity for Central Africa through global demand, supply will be a challenge.

“Mining licences have been granted in the DRC but logistics are still a major concern,” she says.

Nevertheless, Smith predicts the price of cobalt will increase if supply is disrupted.

Meanwhile, tantalum, which is used in the production of capacitors for automotive and electronic equipment, is also experiencing increased demand.

“Supply of tantalum was traditionally supplemented by secondary sources, including DLA inventory sales and recycling. However, in 2007, the DLA ceased selling tantalum.

“Recycling has become increasingly costly as, in many instances, the recovery costs outweigh the extraction of tantalum owing to the miniaturisation of electronic devices.”

Also experiencing high demand are rare earths, the bulk of which are concentrated and produced in China.

Smith says substantial funds have been raised by Japan and invested in the research and development of rare earths recycling methods, as more countries attempt to diversify away from reliance on Chinese rare- earth material.

She notes that the introduction of new rare earths producers in other countries will be costly, compared with China, where the orebodies are more favourable and amenable to extraction and capital, and labour and environment costs are lower.

Smith will also provide Core Consultants’ price projections for these metals to attendees of this year’s Mining Indaba.

By: Reggie Sikhakhane
Source: http://www.miningweekly.com/article/cobalt-tantalum-and-rare-earths-among-main-topics-at-indabas-commodities-review-2012-01-27

Clash on Dodd-Frank ‘conflict minerals’

Faith leaders and business groups are colliding over a coming SEC ruling on little-known provisions of Dodd-Frank which require companies to track the use of “conflict minerals” in their production of certain consumer products.

One section of Dodd-Frank requires businesses to track - but not halt – the use of so-called conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including a private sector audit of tracking methods. Another requires those involved in the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals to disclose payments made to governments.

“It’s terrible what we’ve allowed to go on over the last few years without the world paying more attention to it,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), on a conference call Wednesday with faith leaders. “As many as 7 million people have been killed… this is a mechanism by which we could cut off the flow of money to the rebels [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo]. The rebels are controlling the mines, and selling minerals on the black market.”

The SEC will soon make a decision on how to interpret the law, and certain business groups are suggesting that the sections would needlessly increase compliance costs.

“We’re concerned that industry pressure on the SEC will be so intense that they’ll water down the law and it’ll become ineffective,”said Corinna Gilfillan, the head of Global Witness, a human rights group.

Conflict minerals are found in all sorts of consumer products, and are widely used in electronics. The four main minerals mined in the Congo are tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Tin is used in circuit boards, tantalum in electronic capacitors, tungsten to allow mobile phones to vibrate, and gold as a coating for wires.

Heavyweights like the Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers have expressed concerns about the provisions.

On the other end, religious figures have stepped up to join human rights groups in urging for a full enactment of the conflict mineral provisions.

“There is broad consensus in the religious community that transparency of minerals coming from conflict regions is a vital responsibility… we’re all concerned with trying to get conflict minerals out of the system,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on the conference call.

The faith leaders emphasized that their religions called them to treat other human beings with respect, which compelled them to support the Dodd-Frank provisions.

“What would it mean for us to be a neighbor to everybody in the supply chain used to make the clothes we wear, the computers we type on, and the cars that we drive? Our call to love is not defined by geographical proximity,” said Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for the Christian group Sojourners. “We are all responsible for being good neighbors. It doesn’t matter if we have a good excuse… the people in the Congo are made in the image of God.”

“In the Jewish tradition, according to the Talmud, it was absolutely clear that there has to be transparency in the way that businesses went about selling their products. There were explicit prohibitions against deception, against watering down wine, against claiming something was something that it was not,” added Saperstein, also an appointee to the White House Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

By: Tim Mak
Source: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/72002.html

Conflict-Free Minerals Reform In The Congo: What You Can Do

The Democratic Republic of the Congo: a region marked by violent conflict since 1996 in which torture, mass rape, forced displacement, and mass murder have been going on for years without much relief. It is a region in which armed groups are able to propagate the violence through the sale of the Congo’s mineral resources.

According to the Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo Campaign,

“Armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars per year by trading four main minerals: the ores that produce tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. This money enables the militias to purchase large numbers of weapons and continue their campaign of brutal violence against civilians, with some of the worst abuses occurring in mining areas.”

Most of these “conflict minerals” are used in the production of electronic devices in a process involving supply chains marked by a disturbing lack of transparency, so that by the time products such as cell phones or laptops end up in the hands of consumers, there is no way to know whether the purchase of those products contributed to the income of armed groups in the Congo.

The goals of many concerned activists are to find a way to ensure transparency in companies’ supply chains and to pressure companies found to be using conflict minerals to discontinue purchasing those minerals. The market for conflict minerals then, ideally, would be limited in terms of profit, reducing resources available to the armed groups, and thus pushing the armed groups toward peaceful resolution of the conflict which could open the region to other reforms.

There have been arguments that the initial attempts toward conflict-free policies have actually been detrimental to the Congo, by driving companies to search for minerals elsewhere, therefore crippling the economy and reducing the income of the general population. However, the UN Group of Experts recently issued a report stating that a conflict-free resolution proves to be an “important catalyst for traceability and certification initiatives and due diligence implementation in the minerals sector regionally and internationally,” and serves to reduce “the level of conflict financing provided by these minerals” in regions that have begun to comply to the due diligence guidelines. So, it seems that passing and implementing conflict-free resolutions are the first steps toward true reform and peace in the Congo.

Why not focus the fight for conflict-free reform on college campuses, which house a “particularly coveted demographic of electronics companies,” namely, students?

The Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo Campaign and STAND, a Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, have created the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, a “nation-wide campaign to build the consumer voice for conflict-free electronics, such as cell phones, laptops, and other devices that will not finance war in eastern Congo.” By focusing on college campuses, the initiative “draws on the power of student leadership and activism to encourage university officials and stakeholders, both of whom are large purchasers of electronics and powerful spokespersons, to commit to measures that pressure electronics companies to take responsibility for the minerals in their supply chains.”

Organizing the student voice at the university level not only expresses the collective desire of individuals to ensure that they and their university do not participate in the perpetuation of the conflict in the Congo, but it also sends a powerful message to both political and corporate entities that consumers care about policies of those entities that may support the conflict. The Conflict-Free Campus Initiative explains:

“Universities are also a large client for most electronics companies and represent a large section of the buyers’ market for consumer electronics. By raising our collective voice as consumers, we can actually bring about a shift in corporate and government policy and help bring peace to Congo.”

Eight universities have issued conflict-free resolutions, including Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Duke University; more than sixty other colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada have begun campaigns to do the same (including Yale University, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Brown University, UC Davis, UCLA, UCSB, UCSC, Notre Dame, and Georgetown University).

The activism geared toward passing these conflict-free initiatives on college campuses has been successful in inspiring activity at the government level. California passed a bill prohibiting “state agencies from signing contracts with companies that fail to comply with federal regulations aimed at deterring business with armed groups in eastern Congo,” the first state bill to be passed regarding conflict minerals. Massachusetts is now also considering a conflict-free bill. Two cities, Pittsburgh, PA and St. Petersburg, FL, have also passed conflict-free resolutions.

If enough colleges, universities, towns, cities and states take the initiative in decisively acting to prevent the perpetuation of the conflict in the Congo by taking steps toward becoming conflict-free, perhaps the income of the armed groups committing mass rape and murder will be decreased sufficiently to prompt the beginnings of an end to the conflict.

Once the fighting ends, addressing the root causes of the conflict – including ethnic tensions – can be addressed through effective institutional reforms. But the fighting has to end before that can happen, and the fighting cannot end unless the actors in the conflict cannot afford to fight.

By: Cara Palmer
Source: http://www.neontommy.com/news/2012/01/conflict-free-minerals-congo-reform

Critical Metals Vital to Our Lives in Tight Supply

We begin 2012 similar to how we started 2011 when it comes to rare earth, rare technical metals and rare industrial metals. China has over 90% of production and refining. The US and EU governments are scrambling to legislate, source, produce, open and reopen mines. The West has decided to continue down the road of the idea that the markets will take care of the supply and price of these metals. What is alarming is how easily the West was lulled to sleep by China´s ability to supply the world its metals cheaply and efficiently. The West concentrated on making money trading stocks and futures that dealt with these commodities. China concentrated on building the most extensive mining industry in the history of man. Here in 2012 the Department of Energy in the USA has approved a spending bill that includes $20 Million to focus on the supply issues of these metals.

The metals I am speaking about are so vital to our everyday lives. These metals are found in your mobile phones, computers, LCD and LED TV´s, hybrid cars, solar power, wind power, nuclear power, efficient lighting and medical technologies. Here is a list of metals that have been deemed critical.

  • Indium RIM (Solar, Mobile Phones, LCD)
  • Tellurium RIM (Solar, Computers, Semi-conductors)
  • Gallium RIM (Solar, Mobile Phones, LED´s, Fuel Cells)
  • Hafnium RIM (Processors, Nuclear, Lighting, Plasma Cutting Tools)
  • Tantalum RIM (Capacitors, Medical Implants, Mobile Phones, Nuclear)
  • Tungsten RIM (Nuclear, Armaments, Aviation)
  • Yttrium REE (Lighting, Medical Technology, Magnets in Hybrids)
  • Neodymium REE (Magnets in Wind power, Super Magnets, Hybrid Vehicles)
  • Dysprosium REE (Computers, Nuclear, Hybrid Vehicles)
  • Europium REE (Lighting, LED´s, Lasers
  • Lanthanum REE (Hybrid Vehicles, Magnets, Optics)
  • Cerium REE (LED´s, Catalytic Converters, Magnets)

RIM=Rare Industrial Metal REE=Rare Earth Element

The supplies of these metals could hold back the production of green technologies. According to the latest report by the Department of Energy, ¨Supply challenges for five rare earth metals may affect clean energy technology deployment in the years ahead¨. If Green technology is to become main stream, the costs of these technologies have to reach cost parity with traditional energy sources. As long as there are serious supply issues with these metals the costs can´t reach these levels. The other option is finding alternatives like Graphene and Nanotechnologies.

The US and EU need supply chains of the metals that include both mining and refining of these metals. Relying on sovereign states for critical metals such as these, leave a nation vulnerable to outside influence in both politics and economics. Environmentalists have succeeded in influencing politicians to close mines throughout the West. Politicians have legislated the mining industry into the position it is in today. The Western nations must start now to build its supply chain or continue to be at the mercy of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations for its metal needs.

The best the West can do now is provide, enough metals to meet its own demands. China has reached a point where it can now demand that certain industries produce their products there. If a company decides to try to produce the product in another country China will make producing that item cost prohibitive outside of China by raising the prices of the metals.

The demand for the products these metals are used to produce, are showing few signs of slowing down even in a so-called recession. Governments are subsidizing Green technology, people are buying mobile phones across the planet and everybody wants a nice flat screen TV. Will 2012 pass without countries truly taking this opportunity to fix the problem or will they step up and make the hard decisions which can put the countries back in control over their own destiny?

By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy

Investing in Inefficient Markets and the Efficient Markets Hypothesis

There’s a nice little point being made here in the WSJ. We’ve all pretty much internalised the Efficent Markets Hypothesis: that markets are efficient at processing the information which might affect prices in a market. We’ve also all pretty much internalised the idea that as a result of this we’re not going to beat those markets. And nor are most fund managers most of the time.

To which, as the WSJ says, the come back is yes, but there are plenty of markets out there (weird foreign ones say, or small caps in certain industries) which are still inefficient because, well, there’s not enough players in them to make them efficient. And it’s certainly possibly true that this is so.

However, what the WSJ then points out is that if this were so then those funds investing in those inefficient markets should be beating the general market: and while certain funds do do so, no class of funds does so regularly.

All of which pretty much shoots down the contention that there are those inefficient markets in which excess returns can be gained. Or, perhaps, that the fund managers who claim to be following that strategy aren’t very good at following it.

There’s just one point I’d add to this. Something from personal business experience at the wierder end of the metals market. There are most certainly inefficient markets here. When the entire global market for lutetium (yes, I know, you’ve never heard of it) is three or four tonnes a year, worth maybe $1.5 million all told, yes, among 7 billion people we’d think that was a pretty inefficient market.

And it is a pretty inefficient market, truth be told. However, it doesn’t take much interest, much volume, for a market to become efficient in things like price discovery. Take, say, tantalum as an example. Global usage is of the order of 1,000 tonnes a year. Worth, well, depends upon which day you look at the price but in the $300 million to $500 million range perhaps? Yes, I know that looks like a lot of money but that’s the entire size of the whole global market: this is still a very small market indeed. But a pretty efficient one. Absent political problems you’ll not find prices varying by more than 2 or 3 % at any one time. The tantalum price in Hong Kong is roughly within transport costs of the price in Rotterdam, on the other side of the world.

Please note, I’m not saying that the tantalum market is “efficient” in the sense that the market for Apple stock is. Rather, just pointing out that a market doesn’t have to be very big before it’s much closer to that efficient end of the spectrum than the inefficient one at which you can make tonnes of money by exploiting the inefficiencies.

That is, inefficient markets are, almost by definition, small markets. Meaning that they’re just not open to profitable exploitation by any large number of people: for as soon as there’s a large number of people they’re not small markets and thus not inefficient.

By: Tim Worstall
Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/01/13/investing-in-inefficient-markets-and-the-efficient-markets-hypothesis/

Rare earth crisis: Innovate, or be crushed by China

Laptops, cars, smartphones, TVs, MRI scanners, LCD displays, light bulbs, optical networks, jet engines, cameras, headphones, nuclear reactors. It might seem like a random selection of high-tech gizmos, but every single object on that list has one very important thing in common: Their manufacture requires one or more rare earth metals.

Rare earths — a block of seventeen elements in the middle of the Periodic Table — aren’t actually all that rare, but they tend to be very hard to obtain commercially. Generally, rare earth elements are only found in minute quantities in mineral deposits of clay, sand, and rock (earths!), which must then be processed to extract the rare metals — an expensive process, and also costly for the environment as billions of tons of ore must be mined and refined to yield just a few tons of usable rare earths.

Many rare earths are also geochemically rare — they can only be mined in a handful of countries. This is simply down to Mother Nature being a tempestuous so-and-so: Some countries have deposits of rare earths, and some don’t. This results in massively skewed production (China famously produces 97% of the world’s rare earth metals), and, as you can imagine, a lot of national security and geopolitical troubles, too.

It doesn’t stop with rare earths, either: Many other important elements, such as platinum, are only available from one or two mines in the entire world. If South Africa sustained a huge earthquake — or was on the receiving end of a thermonuclear bomb, perhaps — the world’s supply of platinum would literally dry up over night. The continued existence of technologies that rely on platinum, like car exhaust catalytic converters and fuel cells, would be unlikely.

If geochemistry and politics weren’t enough, though, we even have to factor in ethical concerns: Just like blood/conflict diamonds — diamonds that originate from war-torn African nations, where forced labor is used and the proceeds go towards buying more weapons for the warlord — some rare metals could be considered “blood metals.” Tantalum, an element that’s used to make the capacitors found in almost every modern computer, is extracted from coltan — and the world’s second largest producer of coltan is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the home of the bloodiest wars since World War II. Not only do the proceeds from coltan exports get spent on weapons, but the main focus of the wars were the stretches of land rich in diamonds and coltan.

Also along the same humanist vein, it’s important to note that extracting these rare elements is usually a very expensive and disruptive activity. Indium, probably the single most important element for the manufacture of LCDs and touchscreens, is recovered in minute quantities as a byproduct of zinc extraction. You can’t just set up an indium plant; you have to produce zinc in huge quantities, find buyers and arrange transport for that zinc, and then go to town on producing indium. In short, extracting rare elements is generally a very intensive task that is likely to disrupt or destroy existing settlements and businesses.

The rare earth apocalypse

The doomsday event that everyone is praying will never come to pass, but which every Western nation is currently planning for, is the eventual cut-off of Chinese rare earth exports. Last year, 97% of the world’s rare earth metals were produced in China — but over the last few years, the Chinese government has been shutting down mines, ostensibly to save what resources it has, and also reducing the amount of rare earth that can be exported. Last year, China produced some 130,000 tons of rare earths, but export restrictions meant that only 35,000 tons were sent to other countries. As a result, demand outside China now outstrips supply by some 40,000 tons per year, and — as expected — many countries are now stockpiling the reserves that they have.

Almost every Western country is now digging around in their backyard for rare earth-rich mud and sand, but it’ll probably be too little too late — and anyway, due to geochemistry, there’s no guarantee that explorers and assayers will find what they’re looking for. The price of rare earths are already going up, and so are the non-Chinese-made gadgets and gizmos that use them. Exacerbating the issue yet further, as technology grows more advanced, our reliance on the strange and magical properties of rare earths increases — and China, with the world’s largest workforce and a fire hose of rare earths, is perfectly poised to become the only real producer of solar power photovoltaic cells, computer chips, and more.

In short, China has the world by the short hairs, and when combined with a hotting-up cyber front, it’s not hard to see how this situation might devolve into World War III. The alternate, ecological point of view, is that we’re simply living beyond the planet’s means. Either way, strategic and logistic planning to make the most of scarce metals and minerals is now one of the most important tasks that face governments and corporations. Even if large rare earth deposits are found soon, or we start recycling our gadgets in a big way, the only real solution is to somehow lessen our reliance on a finite resource. Just like oil and energy, this will probably require drastic technological leaps. Instead of reducing the amount of tantalum used in capacitors, or indium in LCD displays, we will probably have to discover completely different ways of storing energy or displaying images. My money’s on graphene.

By Sebastian Anthony
Source: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/111029-rare-earth-crisis-innovate-or-be-crushed-by-china

PwC survey says “Mineral, metal scarcity would deteriorate”

LONDON – Scarcity of metals and minerals will become more severe in the next five years, with the automotive, chemicals and energy industries likely to be hit hardest, according to a global survey of company executives by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The survey of 69 executives across seven sectors, published on Wednesday, found that European companies were most concerned about a shortage, with 71% of respondents seeing scarcity as a risk, compared with 53% in Asia Pacific and 50% in the Americas.

“Put simply, many businesses now recognize that we are living beyond the planet’s means,” said Malcolm Preston, PwC’s global sustainability leader, in a statement.

Companies pinpointed growing demand for materials and political issues, such as China’s export restrictions on rare earth metals, as the main drivers of scarcity.

Those in the renewable energy, automotive, energy and utilities sectors said they currently faced supply instability, while

those in the aviation, high-tech and infrastructure sectors expected increasing disruption of supply by 2016.

The report suggested that some industries might use scarcity to their competitive advantage. Some 43% of respondents said scarcity offered an opportunity at present, while 59% said opportunities would increase in the next five years, with the automotive sector most positive.

“New business models will be fundamental to the ability to respond appropriately to the risks and opportunities posed by the scarcity of minerals and metals,” PwC’s Preston said.

Despite abundant material reserves in Asia, particularly in China, which produces about 97% of the world’s rare earth metals, Asian firms still expect substantial problems as explosive growth in emerging markets puts pressure on supplies.

PwC listed 14 materials as “critical”, including tantalum, which is used in computers and mobile telephones; fluorspar, found in cement, glass and iron; and lithium, used in wind turbines and batteries for hybrid cars.

Eighty-three percent of surveyed firms said their suppliers considered metal scarcity to be an important issue, but only 61% said they thought their customers were concerned about it.

In Europe, 96% of executives said their governments were aware of the problem, compared with 58% in Asia and 54% in the Americas.

Almost half of companies rated their preparedness for scarcity as ‘high’ to ‘very high’. The renewable energy sector had the highest percentage at 67% who were highly confident about their plans to combat a supply shortage, while just 33% of companies in the chemical and high-tech sectors rated their preparedness as “high” to “very high”.

Source: http://www.business-mongolia.com/mongolia/2011/12/20/pwc-survey-says-mineral-metal-scarcity-would-deteriorate/

Lithium, Cobalt Among Minerals Facing Chronic Shortage, PwC Says

Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) — Global manufacturers may face a critical shortage of 14 raw materials over the next five years affecting industries including chemicals, aviation and renewable energy, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

Seven manufacturing industries may be seriously affected by a critical shortage of raw materials “which could disrupt entire supply chains and economies,” PwC said in a report today based on a survey of senior executives from 69 manufacturers.

“Many businesses now recognize that we are living beyond the planet’s means,” Malcolm Preston, PwC’s global sustainability leader, said in the report. “New business models will be fundamental to the ability to respond appropriately to the risks and opportunities posed by the scarcity of minerals and metals.”

Beryllium, used as a lightweight component in military equipment, cobalt, used in industrial manufacturing and lithium, used in wind turbines and hybrid cars, were among minerals identified in the report as facing critical shortages. Tantalum and flurospar will also face a shortfall, it said.

By: Jesse Riseborough
Source: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-12-07/lithium-cobalt-among-minerals-facing-chronic-shortage-pwc-says.html

Cracking Down on Conflict Minerals

Photo: Matt Moyer/Getty Images DIRTY JOB: Men and children work at a gold mine in Mongbwalu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2005. The mine is controlled by one of the many warring militias in the area. Electronics firms could face bad publicity for using gold from such mines.

In the jungles and mountains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, battles are raging, part of a 13-year-long civil war. Most of the world has paid little attention to the murder and rape that still dominates life in the DRC’s eastern provinces. But U.S. electronics companies like HP, Intel, and Apple recently became deeply interested, thanks to a provision on “conflict minerals” that was slipped into a 2010 financial reform law, the Dodd-Frank Act.

The minerals provision is intended to deprive the Congo’s warlords of funds by cutting off sales from the mines they ­control. It focuses on the ores that ­produce the “three Ts”: tin, ­tantalum, and tungsten, as well as gold. Public companies that use these ­metals in their products will be required to investigate their supply chains, determine if they use metals that were mined in the DRC, and disclose their findings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in their annual reports, and on their websites. If its minerals did originate in the DRC, a company must submit a larger report on whether the purchase of these minerals financed or benefited armed groups in that part of Africa. The SEC is expected to issue final rules for implementing the law before the end of the year, and companies are scrambling to get ready.

While the conflict minerals law applies only to companies that are required to file annual reports in the United States, it’s expected to have an international impact. Since mineral suppliers sell to electronics companies around the world, any change in operations they make for the U.S. market will have ripple effects elsewhere.

The law doesn’t only affect the electronics industry. But the conflict mineral issue has been linked in the public mind to ­electronics because the three Ts play ­crucial roles in smartphones, TVs, and laptops. Tin is used in solder and thus found on every circuit board, tantalum is used in capacitors, and tungsten is used in the vibrating motors of many phones.

Electronics companies had been warned that they’d eventually have to account for their use of these minerals. So firms like HP and Intel asked the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, two trade groups, to investigate the industry’s options.

The groups found that it’s extremely difficult to determine the origin of the tantalum used in a certain batch of smartphones. But they also realized that only about 45 smelters worldwide deal with the three Ts, buying the ores from suppliers and turning them into pure metals. After several years of research, the industry groups came up with the Conflict-Free Smelter Program, which is currently in the pilot phase for its first metal, tantalum.

The program asks each smelter to allow an annual independent audit of its mineral procurement process. If the auditors are convinced that no minerals are sourced from the Congo’s conflict mines, that smelter is certified as “conflict free,” allowing companies to buy its metals without worry. While the program is voluntary, EICC spokeswoman Wendy Dittmer says many smelting firms believe it’s in their interest to participate.

“Electronics companies are starting to ask questions all the way down their supply chains,” she says. “That certainly makes the buyers of the minerals very interested in being able to talk about their own due diligence.”

There are concerns that the law may backfire. By making the reporting requirements more onerous for companies that source minerals from the DRC, the law may reduce demand from all DRC mines, even those that aren’t in conflict regions and don’t finance armed groups.

These concerns about such a de facto ban led Motorola Solutions to initiate the Solutions for Hope Project, in which Motorola and several other companies formed a relationship with a conflict-free tantalum mine in the DRC’s Katanga province.

To establish the program, Michael Loch, Motorola’s director of supply-chain corporate responsibility, visited the mine and accompanied a shipment of ore along its export route. “This pilot allows our industry to stay engaged in the area,” says Loch. “We didn’t want to abandon the region.” But he acknowledges that it took a lot of effort to get the process in place for one mine and says it may be difficult to scale up the program.

The pilot programs should ­provide a framework to make ­compliance easier. Still, ­companies around the world are waiting for the SEC’s final rules with some anxiety. And there may be some efforts to block the rules’ enforcement through U.S. courts. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for one, has discussed the possibility of a lawsuit. The chamber disagrees with the SEC’s initial compliance cost estimate of US $71 million, saying that costs will instead be counted in the billions of dollars.

One thing is already certain about the SEC rules: There will be no fines for using conflict minerals. Even so, activists think it will have its intended effect, because companies will want to avoid bad publicity.

“For years we have been unknowing consumers of these minerals because companies have turned a blind eye,” says Sasha Lezhnev, a policy consultant on conflict minerals with the human rights group Enough. “This will enable consumers to make choices on whether or not to buy products from companies that are sourcing from these mines.”

Source: http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/materials/cracking-down-on-conflict-minerals

Zirconium and tantalum under the spotlight

I was a guest speaker at an international conference on the zirconium-tantalum family of metals. The conference, ZrTa 2011, took place at a beautiful venue in Magaliesburg, about 100 km from Pretoria. There were also speakers from countries such as Canada, France, Japan and the UK. The crowd at the conference exhibited a great spirit of enthusiasm, and they ranged in age from the seniors to young graduates entering the field.

This family of metals is important in a number of high-tech applications, including the nuclear field. I am trained not only in the nuclear field, but also in materials science and metallurgy.

Even though I know the science of metal alloys, it is still amazing to me how small additions of one metal to another can change the resulting properties so dramatically.

Most members of the public probably do not realise this dynamic in the high-tech alloys business. Most people still retain the old image that you make an alloy by throwing in a bucket of this and a bucket of that and then cook and stir it all up together. Modern high-tech alloy making is much more like bricklaying with atoms.

One can imagine a metal internal structure at the atomic level being like a bucket full of tennis balls. If you want to make the metal perform differently, you can add golf balls. The golf balls then fall into the spaces between the tennis balls. To go further, one could add marbles; they fall in between the golf balls and the tennis balls.

In the metal atomic lattice, these spaces between the atoms are known as interstitial sites, and different metals have different size atoms, which, just as in my golf ball analogy, fit in between the other larger atoms.

This is a reasonably simple explanation; it gets much more complicated than that. The people at ZrTa 2011 were not only interested in making alloys – they also wanted to do high- precision metal coating, and they wanted to know what happens in situations of potential corrosion. The list goes on. This business, really, is bricklaying with atoms. These folks have to figure out which atoms to place where so that the result provides characteristics that some industrial operator wants.

Dr Hiroaki Muto, of Japan, even reported that some corrosion-resistance properties showed improvement when subjected to nuclear radiation. So the nuclear radiation energy seems to be doing something to the atoms that results in improved performance. Very interesting.

Dr Zeb Vilakazi had already pointed out that the science of metalworking has been at the forefront of mankind’s development since the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Now we are in the age of looking at the atom arrangements of exotic metals like zirconium, niobium and tantalum. Tantalum is used to grow single-crystal metal turbine blades, which are used in the jet engines of large passenger aircraft. So, when you fly in an aeroplane, look out at the engine at a height of 30 000 ft and say: “Thank heavens, some scientists know how to work with tantalum.”

If you want to impress the person sitting next to you, just say in an authoritative tone: “I wonder what the spot market price for tantalum is today.”

Richard Burt, of Canada, told us that, in Asia, they are digging up roads that were paved a century ago. Why? Back then, in the production of tin, they used the waste slag to make road surfaces. Now they have found that there are significant amounts of tantalum contained in this waste slag. A century ago, nobody realised that tantalum would be worth anything. In fact, the miner of the day would not have known what tantalum was.

Tantalum is also used to manufacture the special glass used to make the camera lenses in cellphones. So next time you take a photo with your cellphone, say: “Thank heavens that some scientists know how to work with tantalum.” Well, anyway, you get the picture. Tantalum is also used in computer flash drives. These fancy metals end up in strange places.

The South African Department of Science and Technology has launched a special programme, the Advanced Metals Initiative, to examine these metals so that South African innovation can be brought to bear on applications to make money for the country.

Dr Johann Nel, the ZrTa 2011 conference chairperson, is part of this advanced metals initiative. He invested a great deal of effort in getting the meeting-of-the-minds conference on the go. At such events, people do not just learn during the formal sessions but also while chatting over a drink as the South African sun sets. A French visitor told me that it was his fist time in Africa and he was excited to be here. Hopefully, he and the others will be back.

By: Kelvin Kemm
Source: http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/

Rare earth elements vital to electronics industry

What do ics, lasers, optical fibres, capacitors, displays and headphones have in common? Answer: they are all electronic products that depend on one or more of the rare earth elements. And that list is far from complete.

 There are 17 rare earth elements, all vital to the electronics industry in some form. Yet, despite their name, some rare earth element

s are relatively plentiful: cerium is, apparently, as abundant as copper. They are regarded as ‘rare’ because deposits of these elements are generally not exploitable commercially.

Though typically used in relatively small quantities per product, a major worry has emerged recently about the guaranteed continuation of their supply – some 97% of rare earths are currently supplied by China.

Over the last few years, China has been reducing its exports of rare earths and recently cut back more drastically, by around 70%

. And an ominous note was sounded when China completely halted supplies to Japan after a row about Japan’s arrest of a Chinese boat captain. He was released and supplies resumed. Squabbles aside, the prediction is that, within a few years, China will need its entire output of rare earths to satisfy its own domestic demand.

So action is being taken to avoid the drastic scenario of the supply of rare earths simply coming to a halt (see below). If it did, it is astonishing how many electronic products we use every day would become either much more difficult – even impossible – to make or much more expensive.

Take one of the most widely used rare earths – neodymium. It was first used to generate the light in green laser pointers, but then it was found that, when mixed with iron and boron, neodymium makes magnets that are weight for weight 12 times stronger than conventional iron magnets. Result: neodymium magnets are used in in-ear headphones, microphones, loudspeakers and hard disk drives, as well as electric motors for hybrid cars and generators.

Where low mass is important, they are vital: for example, in laptops, they provide finer control in the motors that spin the hard disk and the arm that writes and reads data to and from it, allowing much more information to be stored in the same area.

In its Critical Materials Strategy, the US Department of Energy (DoE) estimates new uses of neodymium, in products like wind tu

rbines and electric cars, could make up 40% of demand in an already overstretched market, which is why any shortages would be critical.

Most of the rare earths vital to electronics are less well known: erbium is one example, a crucial ingredient in optical fibres. For long distance optical fibre transmission, amplification is vital and is achieved with the help of erbium. Embedded within short sections of the optical fibre, excitable ions of erbium are pushed into a high energy state by irradiating them with a laser. Light signals travelling down the fibre stimulate the erbium ions to release their stored energy as more light of precisely the correct wavelength, amplifying the signals.

Tellurium is an element that could see a huge increase in demand because in 2009, solar cells made from thin films of cadmium telluride became the first to outdo silicon panels in terms of the cost of generating a Watt of electricity. Until now, there has been little interest in tellurium, but if it leads to significantly cheaper solar power, demand will rocket and that is why the DoE anticipates potential shortages by 2025.

Hafnium is another rare earth proving itself vital to the semiconductor industry; hafnium oxide is a highly effective electrical ins

ulator. It outperforms the standard transistor material, silicon dioxide, in reducing leakage current, while switching 20% faster. It has been a major factor in enabling the industry to move to ever smaller process nodes.

Also central to semiconductors is tantalum, key to billions of capacitors used worldwide in products like smartphones and tablet computers. In its pure form, this metal forms one of two conducting plates on which charge is stored. As an oxide, it is an excellent insulator, preventing current leakage between the plates, and is also self healing, reforming to plug any current leakage.

One of the most widely used rare earths is indium, which we all spend a lot of time looking at. The alloy indium tin oxide (ITO) provides the rare combination of both electrical conductivity and optical transparency, which makes it perfect for flat screen displays and tvs,

where it forms the see through front electrode controlling each pixel. A layer of ITO on a smartphone’s screen gives it the touch sensitive conductivity to which we have been accustomed in the last few years. Mixed with other metals, indium becomes a light collector and can be used to create new kinds of solar cells, together with copper and selenium.

Another rare earth valuable for its magnetic properties is dysprosium. When mixed with terbium and iron, it creates the alloy Terfenol D, which changes shape in response to a magnetic field; a property known as magnetostriction. Dysprosium can also handle heat

; while magnets made from a pure neodymium-iron-boron alloy lose magnetisation at more than 300°C, adding a small amount of dysprosium solves the problem. This make the element invaluable in magnets used in devices such as turbines and hard disk drives.

Other rare earths include: technetium, used in medical imaging; lanthanum and, the main components of a ‘mischmetal’ (an alloy of rare earth elements) used to create the negative electrode in nickel metal hydride batteries – and cerium also helps to polish disk drives and monitor screens; yttrium, important in microwave communication, and yttrium iron garnets act as resonators in frequency meters; and europium and terbium.

The last have been used for decades to produce images in colour tvs, thanks to their phosphorescent properties – terbium for yellow-green and europium for blue and red. More recently, energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs have used them to generate the same warm light as the incandescent tungsten bulbs they replaced.

Is there a single reason why the rare earths have proved so valuable for such a range of technologies? The answer is no – it is more a result of each element’s particular physical characteristics, notably the electron configuration of the atoms, according to one of the world’s leading experts, Karl Gschneidner, a senior metallurgist at the DoE’s Ames Laboratory.

“Some of the properties are quite similar; basically, their chemical properties. That is why they are difficult to separate from each other in their ores and that is why they are mixed together in the ores. But many of the physical properties vary quite a bit from one another, especially those which depend upon the 4f electron (a particular electron shell in the configuration of the atom), that is the magnetic, optical and electronic properties. Even some of the physical properties, which are not directly connected to the 4f electrons, vary considerably. For example the melting points vary from 798°C for cerium to 1663°C for lutetium.”

What makes the rare earths so special is the way they can react with other elements to get results that neither could achieve alone, especially in the areas of magnets and phosphors, as Robert Jaffe, a Professor of Physics at MIT, explains.

“The result is high field strength, high coercivity, light weight magnets, clearly valuable in tiny devices where magnetically stored information has to be moved around, like hard disk read/write operations. The magnetic properties of pure metals and relatively simple alloys have been thoroughly explored and there is nothing as good as rare earth magnets. Two paradigms for magnetic material are NeBFe (neodymium-boron-iron) and SmCo (samarium-cobalt), with the former most popular now.

“In phosphors, europium, terbium and others absorb high frequency light and then re emit the light in regions of the spectrum that are very useful in manipulation of colour, hence their use in flat panel displays and compact fluorescent lights.”

Another example is neodymium oxide, which can be added to crt glass to enhance picture brightness by absorbing yellow light waves. Neodymium has a strong absorption band centred at 580nm, which helps clarify the eye’s discrimination between reds and greens.

Given how vital they are for the electronics industry and other technologies – by one estimate, £3trillion worth of industries depend on them – it is remarkable that the world has been so complacent about sourcing rare earths, allowing a single country to virtually monopolise the supply. But that is now changing.

For example, the Mountain Pass mine in California is being reactivated by Molycorp Minerals in a $781million project, having been mothballed in 2002. Others include the Nolans and Mount Weld Projects in Australia, a site at Hoidas Lake in Canada, Lai Chau in Vietnam and others in Russia and Malaysia.

In Elk Creek, Nebraska, Canadian company Quantum Rare Earth Development is drilling to look for supplies and has called on President Obama to move aggressively to create a stockpile of rare earths.

Another associated problem is the lack of people with rare earth expertise, as Gschneidner says.

“There is a serious lack of technically trained personnel to bring the entire rare earth industry – from mining to OEMs – up to full speed in the next few years. Before the disruption of the US rare earth industry, about 25,000 people were employed in all aspects. Today, there are only about 1500.”

Despite these moves, it could be years before they enhance supplies significantly. For the longer term, there are prospects of better sources emerging. Just a couple of months ago, Japanese scientists from the University of Tokyo announced they had found the minerals in the floor of the Pacific Ocean in such high density that a single square kilometre of ocean floor could provide 20% of current annual world consumption. Two regions near Hawaii and Tahiti might contain as much as 100billion tonnes.

The team was led to the sea floor because they reasoned that many rock samples on land containing metallic elements were originally laid down as ocean sediments. “It seems natural to find rare earth element rich mud on the sea floor,” they said.

A final extraordinary fact about rare earths is that, despite their importance, we have hardly bothered to recycle them at all. In an age when metals like aluminium, copper, lead and tin have recycling rates of between 25% and 75%, it is estimated that only 1% of rare earths are recycled. Japan alone is estimated to have 300,000 tons of rare earths in unused electronic goods. If we do not correct that quickly, over the next few years at least, rare earths could live up to their name with a vengeance.

David Boothroyd
Source: http://www.newelectronics.co.uk

Alternative Metals to Gold and Silver

Rare Industrial Metal - Cobalt

The last decade has been a wonderful time for Gold Bugs and Silver Bugs. We have profited and protected our wealth against inflation. Gold has risen from around $250 per ounce in 2001 to a recent high of $1917.90 and silver has risen from around $5 per ounce in 2001 to a recent high of $49.81. These numbers are quite exciting for anyone involved in the precious metals markets. Being a Silver Bug myself, I have to admit the ride up has been rather erratic. Long ago I had to learn to ignore the daily Comex price of Silver. Gold and Silver will continue to be an important part of my future holdings, but going forward I am beginning diversification into other metals. Here is a brief overview of some of the rare industrial metals I like and why I believe they are a good choice for anyone who believes in holding physical metals as part of their asset strategy.

There are many who believe the world is in a recession and this may be true in the USA, EU, and other Western nations. There are a few of us who still believe that the speed of industry and commerce is accelerating. I have spent time in Africa, had an opportunity to live in Europe for a few years and I currently live in Panama. This experience has opened my eyes to what is happening outside of the USA. What I see is a great mass of people who were once walking now driving cars. These same people are talking on mobile phones, watching television on a flat screen, using their laptop at a cafe, getting better medical care, flying on vacations, living in modern homes and working jobs that require technology. This is happening across the planet! Can you imagine the impact on demand for rare industrial metals from countries of the BRIC, (Brazil, Russia, India, China), with the size of their populations? Like it or not commercialization was tested in the USA and was a huge success and now it has been exported worldwide. Here in Panama with a population of just over 3 Million we are adding 3000 automobiles a month to the roads. There are enough mobile phones in Panama to give every citizen 3 handsets. All of this takes a lot of natural resources and metals. Below are some of the important metals I would like to introduce to you.

Tantalum, the rare technical and industrial metal that gives technology the ability to be compact. Have you ever wondered why we no longer have to carry around mobile phones the size of a brick? The tantalum capacitor was a revolutionary invention for the world. Today you find tantalum in all of your personal electronics. Tantalum is now being used in in medical implants because it is non-toxic and does not react with body fluids. It is also used in jet aircraft as an alloying agent. Current worldwide production of tantalum is approximately 1160t annually. By 2030 just the demand is estimated to be 1410t. A few years back there was a lot of controversy surrounding tantalum because of its “Conflict Metal” tag. The metal was originally being mined in the Congo but most tantalum is mined in Australia, Brazil, and Canada.

Indium, how do you like that touch screen on your mobile phone? This rare technical and industrial metal has become a star among the elements recently. Indium’s uses in phones, computers, semi-conductors and televisions are well known. The one use that I would really like to highlight is in CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenide) thin film solar cells. These solar panels are the latest technology to hit the solar industry. Recently we have heard India, Japan, USA, Germany, Spain and many other countries announce huge solar initiatives. India alone signed into law a US $19 billion plan to produce 20 GW of solar power by 2020. Under the plan, the use of solar-powered equipment and applications would be made compulsory on all government buildings, as well as hospitals and hotels. This initiative alone will use up all the entire world’s production of solar cells. According to the USGS 84% of all indium production is currently used in solar cell production. Current worldwide production of Indium is approximately 600t per year. The future amount of indium required will depend greatly on the solar industry. Indium is mined in China, Canada, Bolivia and Japan.

Cobalt, have you driven a hybrid or electric vehicle lately? This rare technical and industrial metal is the one of the elements that makes the batteries in these cars possible. Cobalt is also used in pigments, super-alloys, non-corrosive medical implants, dental implants and jet engines. The top use today is as an alloy to make metals resistant to corrosion. The one I see real promise in is the use of hybrid and electric vehicle batteries. By 2012 the estimated sales of hybrid vehicles worldwide is approximately 2.2 Million and by 2015 to be at least 10% of the world auto market. Currently the biggest hurdle to these vehicles is the added cost and the ability to produce enough batteries to meet the demand. Cobalt has gained a lot of attention since the London Metal Exchange (LME) launched a cobalt contract in February 2010. Current worldwide production of cobalt is approximately 57,500t annually. The future is bright for cobalt. Every aircraft that goes in the air and every hybrid vehicle sold will put greater pressure on the supply of this metal. Cobalt is mined in Australia, Congo, Russia, Zambia and a few other countries.

These are just a few of the metals that our world needs to operate and the future is looking great for all commodities. I like the rare technical and industrial metals because of the tight supply and all of the wonderful uses for them. The mining of these metals is often a by-product of base metal like copper, lead and zinc. Most of the large deposits have been found and are in production. This translates into a very tight supply for the future and profits for investors. Silver and Gold have been my metals of choice for many years, but I see great opportunity for the person who is adventurous and willing to add another asset to their portfolio before the masses catch on.

By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy
Source: http://www.buyrareearthmetalschinaprices.com

Tantalum Market Has Hard Time

LONDON, Aug 26, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) — The projected future for niobium producers looks quite positive while the tantalum market will probably experience hard time under conditions of major supply shortfalls. Associated geologically, tantalum and niobium have very different application areas that have impacted the development of both markets significantly during the crisis period.

The recent mine closures have cut global tantalum supply by around 40% and demand for the material is forecast to increase by only small index. However tantalum has valuable advantages over its competitive materials and is widely used in the manufacture of electronic capacitors.

For niobium the forecasts are that as end-users bring back their suspended capacity the demand will reach healthy growth rate. Although given the fact that the output of the material is enough to cover the projected consumption, there is little prospect of investing into the industry in future.

Detailed review and outlook on global, regional and country markets of tantalum and niobium can be found in the new market research report “Tantalum and Niobium (Columbium) Market Review” that presents in-depth discussion of the present market landscape, historical background and future forecasts for the markets and features topical data showing tantalum and niobium capacities, production, consumption, trade statistics, and recent prices (globally, regionally and by country).

Report Details:
Tantalum and Niobium (Columbium) Market Review Published: February, 2011 Pages: 63 http://mcgroup.co.uk/researches/tantalum-and-niobium-columbium

The research covers insightful information on tantalum and niobium major marketers - producers and suppliers, features data on tantalum and niobium production, consumption and trade in the reviewed countries, tantalum and niobium prices. Market outlooks through 2016, showing projected tantalum and niobium market volumes and prices, are also reviewed.

The report on tantalum and niobium has been worked out by Merchant Research & Consulting Ltd, an internationally recognized market research agency, specializing in chemical industry. “Tantalum and Niobium (Columbium) Market Review” is included into the catalogue “Metals”, which also incorporates studies on Aluminum, Antimony, Beryllium, Chromium, Copper, Iron and Steel, Lead, Magnesium, Mercury, Titanium markets.

SOURCE: Merchant Research & Consulting Ltd.

Precious Metals: Is Tellurium the new Gold?

Rare Industrial - Metal - Tellurium

Gold has been spectacularly popular among investors for the past couple of years.

Silver seems to be this year’s gold.

So, what’s next year’s silver gonna be?

According to Robert Jaffe, a physicist at MIT, tellurium could be a metal investor’s best new play.

“Tellurium ought to be regarded as more precious than gold — it is; it is rarer,” he tells New Scientist magazine.

An article by James Mitchell Crow in the June, 2011 issue of New Scientist, titled “13 Exotic Elements We Can’t Live Without,” points out:

We rarely stop to think of the advances in materials that underlie our material advances. Yet almost all our personal gadgets and technological innovations have something in common: they rely on some extremely unfamiliar materials from the nether reaches of the periodic table. Even if you have never heard of the likes of hafnium, erbium or tantalum, chances are there is some not too far from where you are sitting.

You could soon be hearing much more about them, too. Demand for many of these unsung elements is soaring, so much so that it could soon outstrip supply. That’s partly down to our insatiable hunger for the latest gadgetry, but increasingly it is also being driven by the green-energy revolution. For every headphone or computer hard-drive that depends on the magnetic properties of neodymium or dysprosium, a wind turbine or motor for an electric car demands even more of the stuff. Similarly, the properties that make indium indispensable for every touchscreen make it a leading light in the next generation of solar cells.

All that means we are heading for a crunch. In its Critical Materials Strategy, published in December last year, the US Department of Energy (DoE) assessed 14 elements of specific importance to clean-energy technologies. It identified six at “critical” risk of supply disruption within the next five years: indium, and five “rare earth” elements, europium, neodymium, terbium, yttrium and dysprosium. It rates a further three - cerium, lanthanum and tellurium - as “near-critical”.

Here are the 13 elements necessary for cleantech applications that may be winners in this year’s commodities portfolio:


New Scientist says:

These numerous uses make for a perfect storm threatening future supplies. In its Critical Materials Strategy, which assesses elements crucial for future green-energy technologies, the US Department of Energy estimates that wind turbines and electric cars could make up 40 per cent of neodymium demand in an already overstretched market. Together with increasing demand for the element in personal electronic devices, that makes for a clear “critical” rating.


New Scientist says:

Erbium is a crucial ingredient in the optical fibres used to transport light-encoded information around the world. These cables are remarkably good at keeping light bouncing along, easily outperforming a copper cable transporting an electrical signal. Even so, the light signal slowly fades as it racks up the kilometres, making amplification necessary.


New Scientist says:

In 2009, solar cells made from thin films of cadmium telluride became the first to undercut bulky silicon panels in cost per watt of electricity generating capacity.

Because the global market for the element has been minute compared with that for copper - some $100 million against over $100 billion - there has been little incentive to extract it. That will change as demand grows, but better extraction methods are expected to only double the supply, which will be nowhere near enough to cover the predicted demand if the new-style solar cells take off. The US DoE anticipates a supply shortfall by 2025.


Hafnium’s peerless heat resistance has taken it to the moon and back as part of the alloy used in the nozzle of rocket thrusters fitted to the Apollo lunar module. Since 2007, though, it has also been found much closer to home, in the minuscule transistors of powerful computer chips.

That’s because hafnium oxide is a highly effective electrical insulator. Compared with silicon dioxide, which is conventionally used to switch transistors on and off, it is much less likely to let unwanted currents seep through. It also switches 20 per cent faster, allowing more information to pass. This has enabled transistor size to shrink from 65 nanometres with silicon dioxide first to 45 nm and now to 32 nm.

By Justin Rohrlich June 20, 2011

Tantalum Demand Uptick to Increase Price

PITTSBURGH (Asian Metal) 18 Apr 11,€“ The US tantalum market remained relatively steady this week even as distributors reported sustained demand through the first two weeks of the second quarter . A large US-based trader, who moves around 3tm domestically, noted that while prices had increased significantly over the past year, it would take very strong buying to see the same rate of growth from 2010. Sources note, however, that with most suppliers still reporting a lack of scrap material domestically, an uptick in demand could very quickly spike prices upwards.

Superalloy demand for tantalum, which pushed up tantalum prices in 2010, is strong enough to keep pricing high but has not seen any recent surge that would be required to put pressure on the market. €œI don’€™t have any intention on replenishing my supply so I should wait until I think the price is peaking. Traders expect more buying activity, however, before the historically slow summer period.