Especially with the ongoing discussions of China’s role in the rare earth production for the global technology market, one aspect is often overlooked: Japan plays as well a major part in rare metals in the case of Indium. Apart from China with share of 58% of the global Indium production, Japan is the number two with 11%. According to the Fast Company magazine Japan’s first large scale use of Indium was in high performance aircraft engines during World War II and has shifted today to thin films for flat screen displays application. Indium is used to form transparent electrodes from indium tin oxide in liquid crystal displays and touchscreens (just think about all the mobile phones, apple related goods, ticket stations or ATMs). So what is actually Indium? According to Wikipedia Indium is a soft, malleable and easily fusible post-transition metal is chemically similar to aluminium.
Depending on the source consulted the global Indium natural sources seem to last only about 13-15 years considering the present consumption. Worldwide production is about 476 tonnes per year from mining and a further 650 tonnes per year from actually recycling Indium. Not surprisingly the demand has risen rapidly in recent years with the popularity of LCD monitors, which now account for 50% of indium consumption according to Wikipedia. Consequently efficient manufacturing and recycling gets top priority, especially in Japan in order to maintain a balance between demand and supply. While now all the hype is out on the increasing use of touch screens in daily life, I want to point out that Japan plays a major role in keeping the global need Indium in balance with recycling and efficient production. Further having a limited future global resource on Indium, the pressure is on finding a suitable alternative.
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)