Indium At Your Fingertips; The Go-To Minor Metal For Flat-Panel Displays

June 10, 2013


On the basis of an article in Metal Bulletin on March 29 of this year, titled “Korea Zinc plans 140-150 tonnes of indium output in 2013,” the figure for last year’s production in Korea may even be a trifle low.

A significant source of indium supply is recycled ITO sputtering targets. Using sputtering to deposit ITO on panels remains amazingly wasteful of the sputtering target itself. In the process of sputtering, less than 30 percent of the ITO actually ends up stuck to the panel. The remaining 70 percent ends up on the walls of the sputtering chamber, in the grinding sludge and in the “used” target itself. While indium therein can now be recovered (amounting to 60-65 percent of the original ITO target) the remainder still goes to waste. As recovery methods improve, more indium will also become available through recycling.

Recycling takes place mainly in China, Japan and Korea. Both Indium Corp. and AIM say that about 900 tons per year are recovered from global recycling capacity.

As with many minor metals, figures for production (primary and secondary), demand (in indium’s instance in ITO and other applications), will often differ depending upon whom you ask. And sorting out consumption from primary and/or secondary consumption is sometimes very difficult.

In the case of indium, however, whoever may be providing the figures all recognize that supply quite obviously exceeds demand—and by some estimates, significantly so. Recent figures from both AIM and Indium Corp. illustrate this very clearly.

Indium Supply/Demand

Supply/Production Tonnes
Primary 560
Secondary 900
Total 1,460


ITO 400
All Others 270
Total 1470
Surplus 770

Source: AIM Specialty Materials


2009 2010 2011 2012 2013e 2014e
Sources Virgin 444 538 544 506 505 535
Reclaim 786 904 949 902 953 981
Uses FPD 1,008 1,159 1,217 1,156 1,191 1,227
Others 229 242 255 255 270 295
Stockpiles 15 10
Annual Net* -22 31 21 -3 -3 -6
Cumulative** 86 117 138 135 132 126

Notes: *Annual Net equals sources and uses balance for that year
**Cumulative equals annual net plus prior year-end balance
Does not include all Chinese stocks and stockpiles quantities

Source: Indium Corporation


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