Indium is a material that has many applications. It is used by anyone who watches television or views a computer screen. It is found in solar energy arrays and in soldering applications that are required to be lead free. In 2009, about 550 metric tons (t) of indium metal was produced from primary sources world-wide; it was estimated that the United States consumed about 110 t of indium metal (20 percent of world primary production). However, when imports of consumer products that contain indium are considered, the United States consumed about 200 t of indium (36 percent of world primary production).
When one considers the recovery from the low-efficiency sputtering process that coats indium-tin oxide onto glass and other surfaces, the recycling rate (within the manufacturing process that uses indium-tin oxide in flat panel displays approaches 36 percent. However, indium recovery from old scrap generated from end-of-life consumer products is not sufficiently economic to add significantly to secondary production.
Between 1988 and 2010, indium prices averaged $381 per kilogram (in constant 2000 dollars). However, prices have been quite volatile (deviating from the average of $381 per kilogram by ±$199 per kilogram, a 52 percent difference from the average), reflecting short-term disequilibrium of supply and demand but also responsiveness of supply to demand. The dynamics of zinc smelting govern the primary supply of indium because indium is a byproduct of zinc smelting. Secondary indium supply, which accounts for about one-half of total indium supply, is governed by indium prices and technological advances in recovery. Indium demand is expected to grow because the number and volume of cutting edge technology applications that depend on indium are expected to grow.
First posted July 23, 2012
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Goonan, T.G., 2012, Materials flow of indium in the United States in 2008 and 2009: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1377, 12 p., available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1377/.
Structure of the Indium Industry in the United States