The tantalum market has had an eventful 2017 so far. First came the fire at AMG’s MIBRA operation in January, which damaged the larger of its two concentrators and took much of its roughly 300,000lbpy Ta2O5 production offline. The concentrator is being rebuilt, not least because it will be necessary for AMG’s planned move into producing lithium, but that did not stop GAM, its only customer, from cancelling the long-term (and probably high-priced) supply contract.
Things have also been hotting-up with regard to by-product tantalum from lithium mining in Australia. Some has already been coming from Talison Lithium’s Greenbushes mine but recent few weeks have seen shipments of tantalum concentrate start from Galaxy Resources’ Mt. Cattlin operation, the granting of a crucial environmental permit for Alliance Mineral Assets/Tawana’s Bald Hill project, and the first shipments of tantalum concentrate from Kennedy Ventures’ Tantalite Valley mine in Namibia (which could also produce lithium). There are other lithium projects in the pipeline. Lithium by-product looks set to grow from perhaps 7% of total new tantalum supply in 2017 to over 20% within a couple of years. Add to that the supply of by-product from tin smelting and there is the potential for by-products to make up about 30% of new tantalum supply quite soon. There are echoes here of the days when tin slags were the main source of tantalum.
Tantalum prices have moved sharply upward since the start of the year. Market prices for 30% Ta2O5 concentrate hit US$72/lb in July, an increase of 38%. At US$225/kg, 99.5% tantalum pentoxide is up 46%, while 99.95% tantalum metal has registered more moderate growth to US$289/kg, a mere 25% leap.
These increases need to be taken in context, however. The tantalum market has gone through a rough period. Concentrate and pentoxide prices are back where they were two years ago and the metal price is at about the same level this time last year. None of the prices are anywhere near historical peaks. Without some form of major disruption that causes a price spike, such as another outbreak of conflict in Central Africa, it seems unlikely that we will see very high prices again. The concentrate price, in particular, might now be at its new natural level. The growing availability of cheap lithium by-product will have a moderating influence. The first shipment from Mt. Cattlin, albeit of a low-grade concentrate, was just US$40/lb Ta2O5.
Roskill’s Tantalum: Global Industry, Markets and Outlook report was published in June 2017. Click here to download the brochure or sample pages or access further information.
To discuss the tantalum market with Roskill, contact Patrick Stratton: firstname.lastname@example.org