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TANTALUM

What Is Tantalum And Where Do I Use It?

  • Tantalum (element symbol Ta – number 73 on the periodic table) is a silver-grey hard, transition metal with a high density (16.6g/m3) and the fourth highest melting point (3,020°C).

  • Tantalum does not occur as a free metal in nature, but in the form of complex oxides and other minerals such as microlite or tantalite-columbite.

  • Because of its complex mineral form, tantalum is mostly produced as a co-product and often associated in ore bodies with niobium, tin or lithium.

  • Worldwide, tantalum is primarily used to manufacture capacitors for electronic devices. However, in the EU, most of Ta use comes from imported semi-finished products rather than manufacturing.

  • Tantalum is also used to make alloys to increase strength, ductility and corrosion resistance. In the EU, superalloys are an important use of tantalum due to the prominence of the aerospace sector.

  • Another major application for Ta is sputtering targets used in the production of computer chips, storage media, inkjet printer heads, flat panel displays and so on.

  • Tantalum chemicals have a wide range of applications. They are often intermediates in the manufacture of other products destined for the electronics industry.

  • Tantalum mill products are also widely used, for instance in chemical processing equipment, ballistics and dental and surgical instruments and implants.

  • Tantalum carbides are used in cutting tools.

Where is Tantalum Produced?

  • ​​In the EU there is currently only one mine in France where tantalum is a by-product. 

  • The two main producers of tantalum are Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Combined these countries account for approximately half of the global primary supply. 

  • Brazil is next in line with 14%, followed by numerous smaller players such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and China.

 

How much does it cost?

  • ​​Tantalum is not traded on any metal market. It is not really bought and sold in pure form, but rather as tantalite ores from which the metal can be extracted.

  • Prices are thus established after negotiations. The quoted market price of tantalum metal is around $250 per kilo (October 2020). Note that tantalite mineral prices are significantly lower.  

  • The price of tantalum rose from around $75 per kilo in 2010 to more than $270 per kilo in 2011 and 2012. Since then, the price has dropped again. However, it is expected that the price will increase again slowly due to the expected growth of some crucial sectors such as electronics, aerospace, and power industry.

 

Specific Issues for Tantalum

  • It is estimated that there is over 100 years of supply left based on current extraction rates from mines.

  • Although it was once called a conflict resource, since 2010 supply chain due diligence has overcome this problem. 

  • The use of tantalum is limited to those applications where no substitution of tantalum can be used.

 

  • Tantalum was considered critical by the EU in its 2011 criticality assessment but non-critical in 2014. In the 2017 and 2020 CRM lists tantalum was included again, mainly because a new methodology was used to assess its supply risk. 

  • The EUs supply primarily comes from central Africa, Brazil and Australia. The level of confidence concerning tantalum trade in central Africa is a key parameter affecting the material’s criticality.

 

Applications

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