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  Geotimes - September 2007 - Indium prices on the rise

Energy and Resources
Indium prices on the rise

Demand for indium, a rare, soft, silvery-white metal, has skyrocketed in recent years, thanks to increasing demand for flat-screen TVs, laptops, cell phones, clocks and anything else with a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen.

Indium’s low melting point and conductivity make it critical to various electrical components, such as infrared detectors and photovoltaic devices, but most of the indium currently produced goes to make LCD screens. In these screens, small amounts of indium tin oxide are used to form an array of thin film transistors that are both optically transparent and electrically conductive. With more electronics using LCD displays, the consequent upswing in demand drove the price of indium from $97 per kilogram in 2002 to $855 per kilogram in 2006 — an increase of nearly 900 percent, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Indium is produced as a byproduct of zinc production, linking its availability to the mining of zinc iron sulfide, or sphalerite. Although Canada has the largest indium reserves, China is the largest producer and exporter of the metal, controlling more than 60 percent of the world’s refined indium production, according to USGS. The United States has the third largest indium reserves in the world, but produces no domestic indium and relies entirely on imports from other countries.

A drop in indium prices to between $700 and $750 per kilogram in early 2007 prompted China to establish the world’s first indium exchange, the Guangxi Indium Metal Exchange Center, aiming to consolidate the country’s indium reserves and set prices for the metal. Although such prices would not represent the global market, the possibility that the Chinese government might decide to stockpile the metal — which Japan, another indium producer, has already done — could have a significant effect on future indium prices.

Carolyn Gramling

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