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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.

  • Bismuth chemicals are primarily used in the pharmaceutical and animal-feed industries (62% of total uses). In modern medicine, compounds of bismuth are used to treat and prevent gastric and duodenal ulcers. The metal also appears is nuclear medicine and anticancer, antitumor and antimicrobial studies.

  • 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?

  • Supply is dominated by China. The country is responsible for 82% of the global production of refined bismuth (Bi metal with purity of at least 99.8%), followed by Mexico (11%) and Japan (7%)

  • China is also the main player regarding the bismuth mining production (bismuth sulphide concentrates quantities).

  • Other countries with noteworthy bismuth reserves are Vietnam, Mexico, Bolivia and Canada.


How Much Does it Cost?

  • Bismuth is not traded on any metal exchange market which makes it difficult to set an official price.

  • Over the past decade, the price of bismuth has highly fluctuated. In 2007, prices rose drastically due to state-directed efforts to concentrate bismuth production in China. The financial crisis in 2008 brought prices back down to approximately 15US$/kg. Between 2010 and 2014, prices went back up because of speculative investments and fell back down drastically to 10$US/kg in 2015 and 2016. Prices have remained stable since then.


Specific Issues for Bismuth

  • Bismuth is very hard to recycle because it is used in dissipative applications (pigments or pharmaceuticals). It is, however, recovered from the production processes of lead and copper refining.

  • The bismuth global supply chain is largely relying on Chinese supply of primary refined bismuth, but these still contain a lot of impurities. Further refining of the metal mainly happens in Europe, North-America and South-East Asia.

  • EU import reliance on refined bismuth is almost 100%.

  • China is responsible for 84% of bismuth imports in the EU.

  • The global demand for bismuth is expected to grow with 4-5% each year, mainly because of the high demand in pharmaceuticals.

  • Bismuth was added for the first time to the EU’s list of critical raw materials in 2017. Chinese control at the beginning of the bismuth supply chain is an important aspect in the assessment of the metal’s criticality.



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