What is Indium And Where Do I Use It?
- Indium is a very soft, ductile and malleable silver metal. It is very abundant in host metals such as zinc, lead, tin and cooper. Host metals, in contrast to minor metals, are base metals spread across the globe.
- Approximately 95 % of the refined indium produced in the world comes from the processing of zinc ores.
- The most important commercial use of indium is as indium-tin oxide (ITO) in flat panel devices (FPDs). Other applications include alloys and solders, thin film solar panels, thermal interface materials, light emitting diodes (LEDs) and laser diodes.
Where is Indium Produced?
- More than half of global production of refined indium is produced by China (57%), followed by France, South Korea, Japan, Canada, South America and China where the extraction and production of primary indium takes place during the production of host metals in refineries.
- Over the past 3 years China has produced about 1.000 MT per year of primary indium and has stockpiled more than 3.000 MT, all without adversely affecting global prices or supply, including in Europe.
- The EU is essentially indium self-efficient. In 2013, more primary indium was produced in Europe than consumed. The cost to use indium is low, and the lack of any foreseeable shortage means it is readily available for future applications.
- The annual demand growth for primary indium worldwide is stable and in some markets approaches zero.
- Industrial re-processing of ITO scrap is a proven way of returning a significant amount of indium to the global market. The technology to do so is very efficient and the process cycle time very fast.
- World secondary refined indium production resulted almost exclusively from the recycling of manufacturing scrap rather than recovery from end-of-life (EOL).
How much does it cost?
- Indium price was only US$65 per kg in 2002 and climbed to its high record of US$1.000 in 2005 supported by rising ITO demand from TVs manufacturers.
- Price started to fall in 2006 marketing the beginning of a period of fluctuations. Prices were therefore supported by stockpiling at the Fanya Metals Exchange, establishes in 2011 in China, until its collapsed in 2015.
- Indium prices have since dropped to their current levels of about US$200 per kg.
Specific Issues for Indium
- Although more and more coated screens from end-of-life products are being collected, still more needs to be done to economically recover the indium from these materials.
- To maintain this level of self-efficiency, and to expand on the low cost and proven technological benefits of indium use, EU policy makers should focus on increasing market access by reducing tariff barriers on indium bearing substances, encouraging greater indigenous production and investing in improving economically viable recovery technologies from the growing amount of EOL products.
- Indium consumption is expected to be supported by the continued ITO demand for LCD screens and the growth of the emerging IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) display market.