What Is Antimony and Where Do I Use It?
- Antimony (Chemical symbol Sb) is classified as a minor metal, growing in strategic importance.
- It can be found in over 100 difference mineral species, typically in association with elements such as mercury, silver and gold. The principle ore mineral of antimony is stibnite.
- The main use for antimony is as a trioxide additive in the chemical and plastics industry as a “synergist” for flame retardant compounds, the use of which is driven by regulatory Health and Safety standards.
- Antimony is also used in the manufacture of lead-acid batteries and also has uses in the production of plastics, glass and pigments.
- Antimony metal is used as an alloy hardener as well as in metallurgical applications and is also the raw material of antimony oxide which is primarily used as a fire retardant in plastic insulations as well as in electronic devices and household appliances. Sb2O3 can be used as a filling agent for various rubber, ceramic and fibre products and as a pigment in oil paints and as a catalytic agent in organic synthesis.
- Antimony ethylene glycolate is primarily used as catalyst for poly-condensation of polyester. Antimony acetate improves the poly-condensation time, especially in continuous processes and significantly reduces impurity levels in PET resin.
- Antimony is used in the electronics industry to make some semiconductor devices, such as infrared detectors and diodes.
- It is alloyed with lead or other metals to improve their hardness and strength. A lead-antimony alloy is used in batteries. Other uses of antimony alloys include type metal (in printing presses), ammunitions and cable sheathing.
Where is Antimony produced?
- Supply is dominated by China, accounting for 87% of world metal production over the past decade.
- China is the largest producer of Antimony metal, with 78% of antimony being mined in China, followed by 4% Russia, 4% Tajikistan and 11% Vietnam.
- A minor amount of antimony is also extracted in countries such as Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan and South Africa.
- Amounts of antimony are also extracted as a by-product of gold and base metal refining in Australia, Peru, Mexico, Canada and the United States.
- There is currently no primary extraction of antimony ores and concentrates in the EU. However, in Europe six countries are known to have antimony resources including France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Greece.
How much does it cost
- United States antimony metal prices rose from about US$ 1.300 per tonne in 2004 to a high of over US$ 14.000 per tonne in 2011.
- The peak in 2010-2011 occurred in response to Chinese mine closures and the introduction of Chinese export quotas.
- Prices have been declining over the last five years from the peak in 2011 to just under US$7.000 per tonne in 2015.
- Antimony prices have generally declined since 2011 due to the reduction in global consumption. This is in response to substitution of antimony where economic performance would drive the choice of material, following supply disruption and associated price increase.
- The first Critical Raw Materials report by the European Commission in 2010 identified Antimony as a CRM, and this status was renewed in the 2014 and 2017 revision of the CRM report.
- Primary antimony ores are not extracted in the EU. The EU is heavily reliant on imports (100%) for unwrought antimony.
- Several countries have restrictions concerning trade with antimony.
- According to the OECD´s inventory on export restrictions, China uses export taxes on antimony ores and concentrates and export quotas on antimony and products thereof as well as antimony oxides.
- Russia has an export tax on antimony waste and scrap and South Africa has a licensing agreement on scrap.
- The European Union, the United States and Japanese economies are import dependent on the metal.
- In the next 10 years the Chinese are expected to move from a net exporter of Antimony to a net importer.
- Halogenated antimony trioxide is still highly regarded as an effective flame retardant and therefore this is likely to remain the principal market for antimony in the EU although its use in the manufacture of PET plastics is likely to increase. The continued use of ATO in flame retardants is also likely to be driven by more stringent fire safety regulations.
- The use of antimony in lead-acid batteries is less certain: it may increase if developing countries continue to grow their automotive sectors, but the antimony-lead alloys used in the production of these batteries are being increasingly substituted on environmental grounds in many developing countries.