|Cassiterides, north of Iberia--presumed source of early tin.|
Whether or not there’s a recession, according to information cited in this Bloomberg article, we’re about to see nearly 2 billion new cell phones a year. Combine that with more flat-screen TVs and computers, digital cameras, and other electronics, and consumption of tin (mostly for solder) is surging. In my book I quote recent USGS reports that 28% of all the tin used goes to electronics. The Bloomberg article indicates that that value is now more than 50%.
No more than a gram of tin per cell phone, but multiply it by two billion and it all adds up. Production increases (estimated at 0.6% for 2012) are not keeping up with demand increases, and the price of tin could climb in 2012 from around $9-$10 per pound in 2010 to as much as $13 per pound. And consumption is projected to exceed supply by more than 10,000 tons in 2012.
Where does the US get its tin? Apart from recycling and processing scrap, the US imports all its tin. There has been no primary mine production of tin in the US since 1993. Principal suppliers are Peru (more than half our imported tin), Bolivia, China, and Indonesia. China produces almost half the world’s tin, and Indonesia is #2 with almost one-fourth. In addition to electronics, there's tin in your car, in cans and containers (including glass and plastic ones--organotins reduce scratching in plastic), and in toothpaste (stannous fluoride -- stannum is Latin for tin, whose chemical symbol is Sn).
The map here shows an early map of Europe with the Cassiterides, imaginary islands that the Greeks thought to be the source of Phoenician tin. In reality, the tin came from Cornwall, in southwestern Britain. Cassiterite, tin oxide, is the primary ore of tin.
Public domain image from Wikipedia.