Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gallium Indium Supply Dynamics

Gallium mining and extraction Similar to Indium, Gallium is the result of an extraction process. There are no primary Gallium mines. Gallium is extracted from bauxite as part of the bauxite-alumina-aluminum refining flow, which most commonly utilises the Bayer liquor process. Its melting point is actually only 85.58°F (29.76°C). On the other hand, one of gallium's peculiar characteristics is that it can be easily supercooled, i.e., cooled to below its freezing point without becoming a solid. And its boiling point is high, at 3,999°F (2,204°C). Indeed, it has the longest liquid range of all elements. And even when it's solid, gallium is so soft you can cut it with a knife. Gallium Photo
By all accounts, bauxite is plentiful in the earth's crust and is widely distributed geographically and politically. Similar to Indium, this contributes to stability of supply of Gallium feedstock. Interestingly, only a small portion (less than 10%) of the potentially available Gallium in the bauxite is actually extracted. Hence, the existing flow of bauxite processing offers tremendous capacity increases. Historically, the low extraction volume was limited more by the relatively small demand and economics of relatively low prices. For all practical purposes, Gallium output is limited only by facilities investment and capacities. Gallium supply Gallium metal is now plentiful with intermittent volatility. In 2000–2001 Gallium saw a significant price decrease, primarily due to inventory stocking by the cell-phone supply chain when a feared shortage failed to materialise. In addition, poor communication up and down the supply chain contributed to a hoarding of material against a phantom demand. Hence, a massive over-supply (glut) followed, driving prices to historic lows. The more recent constrained availability of Gallium during 2007, and the resultant price run-up, is an example of this intermittent volatility and does not reflect any long term concern about supply. As with many minor metals, the supply/demand balance of Gallium is difficult to fully track, and more difficult to forecast going forward. This lack of transparency is a secondary factor driving intermittent volatility. A near-term supply/demand shortfall that is forecast, is due to the time required to bring facilities on-line. On a cumulative basis, prior year surpluses helped in the past to fill demand in subsequent years. Despite the small forecasted shortfall in 2007 and 2008, Gallium remains in a surplus condition. Conclusion Indium- and gallium-containing raw materials exist abundantly worldwide. The metals industry has been investing in process improvements and capacity over the last few years to bring more Indium and Gallium to the market. As described, price volatility and short-term availability will continue intermittently due to numerous factors including the time-lag required to install additional capacity, Government regulation, and the lack of information that suppliers receive about future demand. But overall, we anticipate adequate Indium and Gallium supply and continued price affordability for current and new applications.

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