Besides well-known applications such as containers and traditional lead-acid batteries, tin is predicted to be the metal most impacted by the development of future technologies. Tin’s extensive use in solders makes it the metal that glues the technology revolution, and new applications such as in emerging lithium-ion batteries tend to grow as technology advances and diversifies.
China represents over half of global primary tin consumption, and also accounts for over half of global refined tin production. In 2018, the bulk of ore supply was sourced from China, Indonesia and Myanmar. China was also the largest destination for tin ore, using an estimated 45% of global supply in 2018.
Slowing economic growth in China and US-China trade tensions are thought to have had a negative impact on tin prices, that averaged US$20,313/t in 2018 with weaker prices in the second half of the year. Recovery started early in 2019, with prices passing US$20,000/t for the first time since July 2018 owing to growing US-China trade hopes and stocks hitting a record low. Tin prices are still relatively stable by historical standards, with variations not nearly as large as those observed between 2012 and 2014.
Although refined tin production has been below 380ktpy since 2014, the tin market has been in deficit in the last three years. After emerging in 2014 as a major tin concentrate supplier to China, Myanmar has for the last few years experienced an output decline. Moreover, tin output from large producers in Asia and South America is slowing due to exhaustion of deposits and falling mine grades, impacting global output.
As tin ore is being produced in a small number of countries, the market is particularly vulnerable to supply disruptions. An encouraging scenario is being built, which is expected to lead to an increase in new projects given the demand potential. For the next few years, the Bisie mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo is set to be the most important addition to the tin supply chain, as only a handful of other smaller tin projects are on the horizon.
The tin market is entering an interesting phase with the diversification of applications in high and new technologies. Established major producers are investing in expansions and new producers have commenced or will be commencing operations in the near future to help supply catch up with the forecast demand increase. These however might be insufficient, potentially leaving enough space for new suppliers to enter the market. Roskill’s new report provides a comprehensive insight into the trends and likely future direction of the tin market over the period to 2029.