• Indium
  • Mines Producing Indium

Also Known As : Zinc Ores

Indium is a chemical element that is obtained primarily from zinc ores where it is found in compound form. It is rarely found as grains of native metal. Its properties are akin to those of thallium and gallium.

Indium, was discovered in 1863 and first called “Indigo Blue” because of an indigo blue line in its spectrum that first drew attention to its existence in zinc ores. It was isolated as a metal in 1864.

Primary Uses of Indium:
- As indium tin oxide, a transparent electrode in liquid crystal displays and computer and TV touch-screen (LCDs)
- As a thin film in lubrication usage to coat bearings in high performance aircraft during the Second World War
- As a low melting point alloy lead free solder
- Radioactive indium is used in small quantities in nuclear medical tests, such as in a radio-tracer by highlighting white blood cells and the movement of labelled proteins in the body

Worldwide production of indium is about 475 tonnes annually mainly because of the demand in the production of LCD computer and television screens. Recycling accounts for a further 650 tonnes a year. 50 percent of indium use is now taken up with the demand coming from the manufacturers of LCD screens. It is estimated that there is only 20 years of indium available in the world based on current mining supplies which draws attention to the need of successful recycling programs being continued and further developed throughout the world.

The worldwide lack of indium mineral deposits and the fact that indium is enriched in mainly zinc deposits and to a smaller extent in iron, copper, tin and sulphidic lead, makes the production of zinc the main source for indium. Indium is leached from the dust and slag left over when producing zinc. It is then purified by electrolysis, a process that varies according to the composition of the slag and dust being processed. In 2012 China produced 390 tonnes of indium making it the world's leading indium producer. Canada, Japan and South Korea followed with 70 tonnes each.

Indium is a silvery white metal that is quite soft and has a brilliant lustre. When bent, in its purest metal form, it emits a high pitched “scream.” It wets glass in the same way as does gallium and is perfect for making low melting alloys, in fact an alloy containing 76 percent gallium and 24 percent indium is a liquid at room temperature.

Indium, despite it being claimed to be more prolific in the Earth's crust than silver, is not mined in the conventional manner. In fact, there are no dedicated indium mines anywhere in the world. This is mainly because where it does exist it is usually in such low concentration. It costs a lot of money to set up a mine to extract any metal ore that has to be refined before the product becomes of any value to a buyer.

In the case of indium, the market demands the product has to be close to 100 percent pure before it is of any use. In fact, to use indium successfully in high-tech situations a purity of 99.995is needed. In some applications, such as that of semiconductor usage, a purity of 99.9999 is required.

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