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Condottiere July 21st, 2019 04:25 PM

Extraction costs, whether infrastructure, production, human or ecological.

The Chinese can control theirs, and I'll presume that even without subsidies, it probably is lower than anywhere else, without including start up expenses.

They need a permissive global trading environment to continue to prosper, so it's not really in their interests to completely boycott exports, but selectively force corporations to set up factories, that require these elements, within the Middle Kingdom.

vegas July 21st, 2019 11:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by aramis (Post 604549)
Quote:

Originally Posted by mike wightman (Post 604547)
Go look up Indium,

Yep.

I injured myself today, so I have been hung up in bed (getting old sucks) and I decided to do as you suggest and look up Indium as I had nothing better to do. It took me a few hours but I looked through the last 28 years of USGS pricing data, I found a spot price for it online for a representative 2019 price. I also read a couple reports on the element.

Here is what I see for Indium prices over time (1991-2018 & Jul-19 spot):

peaked in 2006 at $850/kg;
began to fall dropping below $500/kg in 2009 before recovering, but
never cracked the low $700s/kg before resuming its fall;
price bottomed in 2016 in the $200-300s/kg before rebounding slightly again;
As of 2018, the last year there is USGS data, it was in the $300s/kg
The current bid/ask spread for it was from the high $200s vs low $300s today.

That price pattern is not indicative of a bottleneck or shortage of Indium. Basically it is trading just off the lowest price in 12 years and is back to where it was priced in the late 90s.

Just for contrast, gold trades today over $50,000/kg; silver is at $580/kg.
Indium is not an expensive element.

Yes, Indium is used in flat panel displays and demand is going up. It is also so cheap its used in solder since the adoption of RoHS. Those are the #1 (FPDs) and #2 (Solder & alloys) industrial uses for it.

But the market for Indium is quite small for an industrial metal, around 1000 tonnes per year worldwide. (For contrast, silver industrial uses run to about 17000 tonnes per year, plus there is a nearly equal amount demanded by consumers.) USGS does not provide estimates of Indium reserves. Ore abundance estimates range from 165 to 394 ppm; near that of silver; maybe more, maybe less. We don't know.

Looking at all this, my bottom line conclusion is:

Indium is an industrial commodity with small demand that has seen plenty of price volatility as many commodities have over the last two business cycles. Its relative scarcity may hold back adoption of Indium on a wide scale (e.g. in photovoltaics) but does not impede on current uses in displays or solder.

I can't see anything particularly worrisome about Indium. Itís the same price today it was 2 decades ago.

giant.robot July 22nd, 2019 01:42 AM

A lot of rare earths have similar industrial demand to Indium, on the order of ones to tens of kilotons, thanks for the awesome research vegas. As flykiller points out, rare earth availability is less an aspect of raw deposits or refining but monopoly control by the Chinese government.

None of these materials are rare to the point of it makes sense to spend trillions of dollars trying to mine asteroids. The return on investment is so far in the negative the idea is simply absurd.

The Falcon Heavy expendable variant can lift 63 metric tons to LEO for $150M. That's about $2.3k per kg. If you were generous, or rather SpaceX was generous and launched at cost, you might be able to get to about half that: $1k per kg. As a comparison air freight is around $2-4 per kg. A pure Indium ingot apparently goes for about $475. Even if it only took a metric ton of space infrastructure to get a 1kg ingot of Indium, the price is a few orders of magnitude too low to justify the cost of that infrastructure.

flykiller July 22nd, 2019 01:52 AM

Quote:

I can't see anything particularly worrisome about Indium. Itís the same price today it was 2 decades ago.
just as a contrary point, price does not necessarily reflect abundance. for example it's easy to pump water from an ancient aquifer in the middle of the desert, but once it's gone it's gone. did your research how much indium actually remains available, or was it all simply costs-based?

giant.robot July 22nd, 2019 03:43 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by flykiller (Post 604592)
just as a contrary point, price does not necessarily reflect abundance. for example it's easy to pump water from an ancient aquifer in the middle of the desert, but once it's gone it's gone. did your research how much indium actually remains available, or was it all simply costs-based?

"Remains available" isn't really a meaningful metric because "available" is has a flexible definition. Rare earths aren't necessarily rare in terms of proportion of the Earth's crust, they're mostly just chemically difficult to separate from ore. To make them economical to use industrially high concentration deposits are the primary source of them. This is the same concept as most precious metals, they're found all over but not necessarily in high concentrations. Concentrated veins are prized over extracting them from other ores because it's cheaper.

At the scale most rare earths are used industrially we're not going to "run out" of them. If the actual raw amount available to extract dries up their price will increase until functional replacements become attractive, products using them become too expensive to produce, and/or exploitation of more expensive deposits becomes viable.

The break even price for asteroidal rare earths is astronomical (pun intended). It's very far beyond the horizon, certainly not something that will happen in the next several decades. So asteroidal rare earths fitting into the "exploitation of expensive deposits" is way beyond the horizon.

vegas July 22nd, 2019 01:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by flykiller (Post 604592)
just as a contrary point, price does not necessarily reflect abundance. for example it's easy to pump water from an ancient aquifer in the middle of the desert, but once it's gone it's gone.

Your water example is conflating price and cost. The COST of pumping water is low, but the PRICE can be very high, depending on the price of the next best alternative to your ancient aquifer...

I focused on price because it is readily observable and if Indium in is in "shortage" or a "bottleneck" (not your words, Aramis and Mike's words) then price should rise dramatically. With the price in the $200-300s/kg for the last 3+ years, there certainly is not a shortage.

Quote:

Originally Posted by flykiller (Post 604592)
did your research how much indium actually remains available, or was it all simply costs-based?

Yes, I looked for abundance, cost and price data. Abundance and cost are estimates of unobservable or proprietary information respectively.

Re: abundance:
Quote:

Originally Posted by vegas (Post 604586)
USGS does not provide estimates of Indium reserves. Ore abundance estimates range from 165 to 394 ppm; near that of silver; maybe more, maybe less. We don't know.

One report suggests there are reserves of 15000 tonnes, another that there are reserves and resources of 50000 tonnes.

Mining industry accounting has specific rules for what counts as a reserve, hence the use of "resources" by the other source. And of course these are always "identified" reserves; there are certainly other "unidentified". We don't know what we don't know. That is why I looked up the estimate range (in ppm) for abundance. Those were the 1st and 3rd quartiles of estiamtes btw. (We can't know for certain how much there is until we find it all!)

AND +1 to giant.robot for his "remains available" post.

AND I could add, as price gets high, recycling becomes viable. Everything I looked up is just about mining.

Re: cost:

one NREL report form 2015 suggests variable costs ranging from $100/kg to $350/kg (depending on quality of source.) If that is right, you will not see full production of Indium until the price is well north of $350/kg as firms have to cover all their costs to be incentivized to invest and produce more not just there variable costs.

Cost information is proprietary, so these are only rough estimates.

vegas July 22nd, 2019 09:05 PM

Another day laid up in bed, another rare earth researched: Rhenium.

Here is what I see for Rhenium prices over time (1991-2018):

peaked in 2010 at $4700/kg;
steadily dropped every single year since to under $1500/kg in 2018

That price pattern is not indicative of a bottleneck or shortage of Rhenium. Quite the opposite, market commentary suggests we have been in a market glut for several years now. One spot price I found suggested the price has rebounded to the $2000s, but price comparability is a bit difficult with these industrials with tiny markets (more on that below), so I'll withhold judgement on 2019 market recovery until I see USGS data.

Rhenium is used in superalloys for high performance turbine engines (#1 use, 80% or so of demand) and oil refining as a catalyst (#2 teens% of demand).

The market for Rhenium is tiny: a mere 50 tonnes per year worldwide. In dollars that's less than US$100M per year.

USGS estimates of Rhenium reserves in the US at 400 tonnes with resources of 5000 tonnes. Worldwide reserves are 2600 tonnes with resources of 6000 tonnes. So at present demand, the US has 7 years worth in reserves, nearly 100 years worth in resources, and over 80% of the worlds resources. Also btw, China is not a significant supplier of Rhenium; Chile is the world's chief producer.

Looking at all this, my bottom line conclusion is:

Rhenium is a rare element used in tiny amounts in highly specialized applications. Resources are plentiful in the US compared to demand, if uneconomical to extract at today. EOL engines and spent catalyzers are currently recycled for Rhenium contributing significantly to supply.

No one is going to the moon, an asteroid, or to war over Rhenium any time soon.

BRJN July 22nd, 2019 11:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by giant.robot (Post 604591)
Even if it only took a metric ton of space infrastructure to get a 1kg ingot of Indium, the price is a few orders of magnitude too low to justify the cost of that infrastructure.

If you have to stop after the first ingot and begin again from scratch to get the second, third, &c ingots, something is wrong with your design. The proper question may be "How much does the next batch cost?" If the machinery can keep working, the cost per ingot will drop over time. (Of course the data needed for those calculations may not yet exist, or may involve 'peeking through' patents / copyrights, which makes the data unavailable.)

giant.robot July 23rd, 2019 11:19 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BRJN (Post 604626)
If you have to stop after the first ingot and begin again from scratch to get the second, third, &c ingots, something is wrong with your design. The proper question may be "How much does the next batch cost?" If the machinery can keep working, the cost per ingot will drop over time. (Of course the data needed for those calculations may not yet exist, or may involve 'peeking through' patents / copyrights, which makes the data unavailable.)

:rolleyes:

I thought the math was implied but I guess not. If we have our magic 1 metric ton Indium refinery in the asteroid belt...it's just popping out ingots with nothing to do with them. We have a couple options:
  • The magic refinery comes back to Earth orbit to deliver the ingot(s)
  • We send a second magic ingot delivery vehicle to retrieve the ingots, it needs enough fuel to get to the belt, rendezvous with the refinery, and come back to Earth
  • The ingot refinery has a mass driver to shoot ingots at Earth where another giant electromagnet catches them

Even if our magic refinery only masses a metric ton, an ingot retrieval vehicle (and fuel), mass drivers, or whatever else isn't going to be so light. To simplify things I just went with a ton of launch mass to get 1kg of Indium from an asteroid provided there was a magic 1 ton refinery.

Doing anything useful in space requires energy, nothing happens without it. Even solar power isn't free in space because you need to convert it into a usable form of energy which requires some amount of mass which has to come from somewhere.

Space is expensive and hard. The more stuff you put into space the harder and more expensive the whole endeavor. Even at its cheapest it's orders of magnitude more expensive than some of the hardest stuff to do on Earth. The remotest places on Earth are orders of magnitude more accessible and forgiving than the Moon.


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