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What Is Bismuth And Where Do I Use It?


  • Bismuth (element symbol Bi – number 83 on the periodic table) is a high-density and very brittle metal with a pinkish metallic lustre. It has a low melting point (271°C).

  • Bismuth occurs naturally in the minerals bismuthinite (sulfide), bismutite (carbonate) and bismite (oxide).

  • It is very rarely extracted as a main metal, but mostly as a by-product of lead and tungsten.

  • Bismuth is an important component in low melting alloys as it has the capacity to expand on solidification (freezing).

  • The metal is considered to be eco-friendly and non-toxic. Because of this, the metal is often used in pharmaceuticals or cosmetics and is commonly used as a substitute for lead in other applications.

  • With an increasing focus on reducing the consumption of lead globally, bismuth alloys have found roles as efficient substitutes. Its low melting point has increased its use in electronics and its low toxicity makes it ideal for use in food processing equipment and copper water pipes. The medical industry hasalso found it to be highly effective in X-ray shielding (Masan Resources 2019).


  • The second most important use of bismuth is in fusible alloys (28% of total uses). Because of its eco-friendly character, the metal is often used as a replacement for metals considered to be more harmful (like lead) in solders.

  • 10% of the total uses accounts for the appearance of bismuth in metallurgical additives and other industrial applications such as coatings, pigments in paints or electronics.


Where is Bismuth Produced?


  • The global producers of bismuth are China 68%, Vietnam 17%, Japan 5% and Mexico 3%.


  • There is no primary production of bismuth. As a by-product, bismuth supply chain is firstly dependent on primary production of lead and tungsten. At the world level, the bismuth supply chain is in large part relying on Chinese supply of primary refined materials (purity of 99.8% Bi) still containing a lot of impurities. Those materials are massively exported to Europe, North America and South-East Asia for further refining.


Global Market


  • Global demand for bismuth is connected to high demand in pharmaceutical applications. Another emerging market could come from the substantial interest in developing new classes of semiconductor, thermoelectric materials, and topological insulators (EC, 2020).


  • Bismuth occurs naturally in the minerals bismuthinite (sulfide), bismutite (carbonate) and bismite (oxide), but is very rarely extracted as main metal (European Commission, 2020d). The main primary source of bismuth is recovery as a by- or co-product of lead and tungsten extraction and processing, and – though more rarely – from tin and copper ores processing (USGS, 2019). 


  • China was reported to hold up to 80% of production of refined bismuth worldwide in 2021 (USGS, 2022). Bismuth is not traded on any metals exchange, and there are no terminal or futures markets where buyers and sellers can fix an official price (EC, 2020).


Specific Issues for Bismuth


  • Bismuth can be substituted for most of its application. However, it is often at higher cost and reduced performance


  • According to the Gestis substance database, Bismuth powder has a risk of explosion when in contact with ammonium nitrate, hydrazine nitrate, perchloric acid and heated nitric acid and the LD50 is5000mg/kg (Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung, 2020). 


  • China remains the major supplier of Bismuth to the EU with 47% of the total EU imports.


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