About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


By Richard I. Gibson

Visit this post for a 2013 update on gallium.

Gallium, named for France, comes to the US ironically from Germany, while the biggest proportion of imported germanium comes from Belgium. Both elements are byproducts yielded by refining other metals. Bauxite (aluminum's ore) and zinc processing are the main sources for gallium.

Why care? Most Americans own some gallium. Its biggest use - more than half - is in integrated circuits as gallium arsenide or gallium nitride, and it ends up in cell phones (especially "smartphones"), computers, back-lit flat-panel devices and televisions. Gallium also helps make lasers and solar cells.

The US imports more than 99% of its gallium, from Germany first, followed by Canada, China, and Ukraine. Demand and price are surging because of increasing manufacture of smartphones and flat-panel tech and also because of another important use of gallium: light-emitting diodes, LEDs. High-intensity LEDs are growing in volume, impacting demand for gallium. Its price has gone from $450 per kilogram in 2009 to $670 in 2010, and there's no limitation in sight. 

Gallium finds its way to at least six pages in What Things Are Made Of.


Lucinda Bilya said...

That is interesting. The more I learn about how dependent America is on foreign goods, oil, and minerals, I wonder what are we missing?

Doesn't America have any of these resources?

We are certainly a consumer nation.


Richard Gibson said...

Hi Lucy, yes, the US is self-sufficient in a few things. See this blog post - http://richardgibsonwriter.blogspot.com/2010/04/does-us-import-everything-not-quite.html. But we're net importers of a HUGE number of commodities - the point of my book.

Thank YOU for stopping by!