Sales Status of Niobium and Tantalum in the World

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Tantalum is a magical precious metal. It exists in our mobile phones, computers, PDA, and other electronic products, bringing us convenience. In the summer of 2001, a commercial quotation was found on an Internet bulletin board called Embassy Network. The contents are: “How much can you offer per kg? The lowest offer is 100000 dollars, immediate delivery!” They are in short supply, so, except normal marketing channel, secret backroom deals are also very popular.

Tantalum metal powder is the major components of various high-tech products. The mobile phones produced by Nokia and Ericsson, the computer chip produced by Intel, the stereo equipment and video recorder produced by Sony, all contain tantalum metal. Therefore, the exploitation, sale, and process of various channels have everything that one expects to find. The backroom deals are focused on the rarest mineral—mainly niobium tantalum ore. Most of the tantalum metals around the world (about $6 billion/year) are from the lawful mineral factories in Australia, Canada and Brazil.

In April 2001, the United Nations released a report concerning “Illegal plunder of natural resources and other fortunes from Congo”. This is the first time warning for high-tech industry. The report put forward a most alarming problem: the rebellious troops of Rwanda and Uganda plundered and smuggled thousands of tons of Nb-Ta-Fe ores from Congo, export them to the international market through their countries, and then used the money they earned to support the militia. In 1997, annual export volume of Nb-Ta-Fe ores was only 2.5 tons in Uganda; by 1999, the export volume increased to about 70 tons. Backroom deals are furious. It can be seen from another aspect that niobium and tantalum resources are important and rare, the supply and demand are imbalanced. Therefore, it can be predicted that the prospects will be brighter.

In 1999, 8% of America’s tantalum metal mine import was from Congo, not including those imported from Rwanda and Uganda whose places of origin may be Congo. In addition, there are still many tantalum metals whose places of origin are unavailable. Presently, 15% of global tantalum metal supply is from Africa. Australia is the largest places of production, which accounts for 70% of the global tantalum metal mineral resource supply; Congo ranks fourth.

According to the investigations of the United Nations, there are over 20 international mineral trading companies that import Nb-Ta-Fe ore from Rwanda. Ores that imported from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and many other countries are sold and transported into Asia, Europe, and America. Ores are sent out from Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda by AJ AIR BELGIUM at regular intervals, then, American Airlines (partnership of AJ AIR BELGIUM) sends them to all parts of the USA. The ores are extracted by refining company to obtain the tantalum metal powder. Among them, there are the world’s largest refining company H. C. Starck (the output of tantalum metal accounts for 50% of the world) and the second largest refining company Cabot. Refining company usually buys Nb-Ta-Fe ore from international trade company. Sometimes directly buy from big mines and local businessmen. After they extracted the minerals, they sold the tantalum metal powders to capacitor manufacturers (for example, AVX, Epcos, Hitachi, and NEC), then, capacitor manufacturers sold them to high-tech enterprises. The celebrated high-tech enterprises like Alcatel, Compaq, Dell, Ericsson, HP, IBM, Lucent, Motorola, Nokia, etc. are the biggest buyers of tantalum capacitor; AMD, Intel, and other chip companies buy in large quantities of tantalum metal powders for the manufacturing of semiconductor.

With the global consumers’ craving for new mobile phones and advanced computers, high-tech companies will continue to spend a lot of money into buying tantalum capacitors. Their suppliers will also try every means to seek for tantalum metals from all over the world. Therefore, marketing demand for niobium tantalum ore will never end.