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.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Gallium revisited

By Richard I. Gibson

In this post on gallium in March 2011, I said there was no limitation in sight to the increasing price of gallium. But I was wrong.

After five years of prices ranging from averages of $688 per kilogram (2011) to $449 (2009), gallium’s price plummeted to about $275/kg in October 2012. Why? The simple rules of supply and demand.

China ramped up its gallium production anticipating a rapid increase in use of gallium-based LED’s (light-emitting diodes) in back-lighting for computer and other electronic device displays, but the growth of that industry was much less than projected. Supply outran demand, and the price fell. China increased world gallium capacity dramatically, by about 35% in two years, while demand simply grew at a normal pace.

In the long run, gallium has a bright future, because of its critical use in smartphones, where ten times the volume of gallium arsenide is used over conventional cell phones. The likely slow but steady growth in CIGS (copper-indium-gallium diselenide) solar cells will also contribute to increases in gallium demand.

The $32-million US gallium industry relies almost entirely on imports from refineries in Germany (32% of imports), U.K. (27%), China (15%) and Canada (11%), a slight reorganization of sources from my 2011 post. Integrated circuits consume 71% of gallium in the U.S., with the other 29% going to solar cells, photodetectors, and telecommunications devices like smartphones.

Gallium in January 2013 was priced at about $280/kg.

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