The Slippery Metal Miracles…
19 April, 2012
The Slippery Metal Miracles…

The element that became known as gallium was another of those elements predicted by Dmitri Mendeleev, the Russian chemist, when he constructed his Periodic Table, but not yet, at that time, found. Gallium arsenide (GaAs) is a compound of the elements – gallium and arsenic.

It is a III/V semiconductor, and is used in the manufacture of devices such as microwave frequency integrated circuits, monolithic microwave integrated circuits, infrared light-emitting diodes, laser diodes, solar cells and optical windows. Some electronic properties

of gallium arsenide are superior to those of silicon – the “bread and butter” of microelectronics. Gallium arsenide is used in chips/microchips - especially for mobile phones, LEDs, laser diodes, photo-detectors and solar cells. Total global production of gallium is probably only around 220 tons a year, with a significant portion of that coming from secondary production, or the recycling of Gallium Arsenide scrap.

 

 

A number of primary gallium producers also recycle (and refine) gallium-containing scrap, often on either a toll conversion basis or having purchased it themselves. New Gallium Arsenide scrap is recycled in the U.S. (in particular by Recapture Metals at its Blandings, Utah plant), Germany (by PPM - part of the Recylex Group, Japan and the U.K. (by MCP).

Currently there are no “pure” gallium plays. Gallium extraction is just one of a number of activities in Georgia as the country is among few players in microelectronic marketplace.

Georgian scientists had been working on the roadmap of Gallium Arsenide domestic extraction and various applications among them are: Khuchua N. P.; Gerasimov, A.B. ; Chikovani, R.I. ; Chakhnakia, Z.D. ; Khvedelidze, L.V. ; Melkadze, R.G. ; Bibilashvili, A.P. ; Mkheidze, T.D. ; Goderdzishvili, G.I. Please excuse me if I’ve missed someone, whose historic input in the project was significant. It used to be one of the top technological secrets under the Soviet Union scientific-research amalgamation NPO “MIONI”, based in the outskirts of Digomi district.

However unblessed NPO “MIONI” fell apart simultaneously with collapse of Soviet Union.

Perhaps this is not surprising if you take into account that the actual size of the global gallium market — at today’s prices — is probably only on the order of $110 million. There is, currently, no primary gallium recovery in the U.S. And, unfortunately, any prospect of there being any soon seems in today’s economic environment to be receding rapidly. For those seeking primary gallium opportunities closer to home, unfortunately, the choices are dwindling away.

Strategic Resource Acquisition Corporation which has zinc mines in Tennessee with, in the company’s words, “Germanium and Gallium value-added byproducts,” filed for Chapter 11 protection in mid-January 2009.

Gold Canyon Resources Inc. another Canadian company, controls a 100% interest in the Cordero Gallium Project in north central Nevada. While the company describes it as “North America’s largest known primary gallium occurrence,” there is little to indicate that anything further has been done to exploit it, following some initial drilling and evaluation in 2006.

Indeed, in a recent communication, it was stated that, in light of what’s going on in the financial markets, “...the Company has elected to suspend, at this time, the preparation of a preliminary feasibility study at the Cordero Gallium Project.”

For those prepared to look a little further afield, and at a recent start-up operation for which gallium extraction is, again, just one aspect of its businesses, then Emerging Metals Limited (Bloomberg Ticker - EML:LN) could be of interest. One of the company’s first projects is the planned extraction, if it proves viable, of germanium, gallium and zinc from the slag produced by, and stockpiled from, the Tsumeb Smelter in the Oshikoto region of Namibia.

Similarly, the only alloyed exposure to the business of secondary gallium extraction appears currently possible, through recyclers such as Recylex. But once again, as with the current primary metal extractors, gallium will only be one of a number of metals recycled.

In 2010 revenue at leading Gallium Arsenide suppliers RFMD, Skyworks, TriQuint, Avago Technologies, Hittite and Anadigics grew at between 24 to 52 percent. The companies saw a strong upward trend in quarterly revenues throughout the year. “Be or not to be” that’s not the question of the year 2012 for Georgia Gallium Arsenide extraction project, however microelectronic market is highly competitive and would not forgive human errors - it is very tough to compete with tycoons based in USA, France , Slovakia, Russia, Kazahkstan and Japan. Step by step Georgia project is getting there.

 

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