Success in solar could scorch supply-side dynamics

Apr 20, 2009 | 09:31 AM |

Recycling has been a dominant force in the liquid crystal display (LCD) industry for years. As the largest consumer of indium, the majority of the metal for LCD consumption is derived via recycling rather than virgin material.

But signs are pointing to a supply crunch on the horizon—in part due to expectations of increasing demand for indium from the solar market—as current recycling techniques approach their limits, driving research into new, alternative recycling methods.

Around 1,318 tons of indium are expected to be derived from recycling this year alone vs. only 450 tons of virgin supply, according to Cranston, R.I.-based alloyer AIM Specialty Materials USA. Recycling is necessary to ensure the constant flow of the versatile metal and to help stabilize prices.

As a zinc byproduct, indium can be subject to shortfalls if zinc mines, particularly in China, are closed. One large indium producer has identified a nearly 100-ton reduction in indium supply, much of it attributable to the closure of unprofitable indium processing plants, although there has been no impact on prices, given weaker demand for end-consumer products. In general, very few refineries focus solely on indium and "no one puts a hole in the ground to get indium," said Brian O'Neill, sales manager at AIM Specialty.

The industry responded to rising indium prices a few years ago by expanding its scrap recycling capabilities to meet increasing demand. As a crucial step in the LCD manufacturing process, recycling of indium tin oxide (ITO) waste from the sputtering process has received the majority of attention. Most recycling from the sputtering process is done in Asia, where the major ITO manufacturers are based.....

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