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 and high power resistors. However, in the EU, most of Ta use comes from imported 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 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?

  • There is currently no primary mine production of tantalum in the EU.

  • The two main producers of tantalum are Rwanda (31%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (19%). 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.

  • From 2010-2014, 81% of EU import of Ta ores came from Nigeria.


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 estimated starting point for these price negotiations is $123.61 per kilo.

  • 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 less than 50 years of supply left based on current extraction rates from mines.

  • Tantalum is according to some experts considered to be a conflict resource.

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

  • Tantalum was considered critical in the 2011 criticality assessment but non-critical in 2014. In 2017, tantalum was added again to the CRM list, mainly because of its supply risk. The EUs supply primarily comes from one source, Nigeria. The level of confidence concerning Ta trade in Central Afrika is a key parameter affecting the material’s criticality.



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