Consumption of indium grew at an ever-increasing rate from 1990 to 2005 as new applications for indium, notably its use in indium tin oxide (ITO) stimulated demand. Growth slowed a little from 2005 to 2008 and the industry was badly hit by the global downturn in 2009. Market fundamentals began to improve in early 2010.
Indium is usually derived as a minor by-product of zinc smelting and refining. Primary production peaked at just over 600t in 2007, falling back to around 520t in 2009. China has emerged as the world’s leading producer as output has increased from 73t in 1999 to a peak of 320t in 2006. In 2009, China accounted for just over half of total world output. Growth in demand has prompted an increase in recycling; indium is most commonly recovered from ITO sputtering targets. The Japanese industry has the capacity to recover around 300tpy from waste generated in the manufacture of electronic components and display screens.
The main applications are in indium tin oxide, low melting point alloys and compound semiconductors. The use of ITOs in transparent electrodes for LCD screens has been the main driver for the growth over the last decade as demand grew for flat panel monitors and televisions, as well as screens for cell phones, tablet computers and other portable electronic devices. Non-consumer demand from digital signage displays is also growing. Prices surged in 2010, buoyed by purchasers from Japanese producers of LCDs, after a period of destocking, with prices reaching a high of US$630/kg in May of that year.
Existing primary capacity is in excess of current production so output could meet the forecast growth in demand in the short term. However, if total demand grows at the forecast rate of 15%py to 2015, production could struggle to keep pace.
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