Tantalum prices have continued to rise in recent weeks, boosted by a tightening supply chain in Africa. One of the largest producers, Rwanda, announced an initial two-week lockdown on 21 March, but this has since been extended twice and is expected to remain in force until at least the end of April. Concentrate prices, as reported by Asian Metal (30% Ta2O5, CIF basis) reached US$64/lb in mid-April, climbing from US$60/lb at the start of the year.
Supply chain closures come amid a backdrop of rising prices, with tantalum concentrate rising from a low of US$53/lb in August last year. Previous to this, prices had fallen sharply as Australian tantalum output, a by-product of lithium mining, began to flood the market, taking market share from African producers. By August however, this trend began to reverse, with the lithium industry suffering from weakness in the electric vehicle/lithium-ion battery sector which had a negative, knock-on impact on tantalum output.
The COVID-19 outbreak in China early on in 2020 had a limited effect on supply chains and prices. Although China is a major processor and consumer of tantalum, it accounts for only a very minor amount of tantalum concentrate production. Much of China’s processing capacity is located in the south of the country, far from the worst-affected area of Wuhan.
As China’s markets begin to recover, the tantalum industry now turns its focus to Africa, which is still in the early stages of the outbreak. Africa accounted for an estimate 47% of global primary tantalum production in 2019, with the majority coming from the Great Lakes region, mainly DRC and Rwanda. Delays to shipping have already begun to be seen at the African ports of Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, which are frequently used to ship tantalum from the Great Lakes region. More supply disruption is expected in the coming weeks as the virus spreads through the African continent.
Roskill’s NEW Tantalum: Outlook to 2029, 15th Edition report was published in March 2020 and details trends in tantalum production, consumption, trade and prices, as well as profiling the major industry players. Click here to download the brochure and sample pages for the report, or to access further information.