Tantalum, the black gold

Almost all the tantalum produced in the world comes from two countries, even if the statistics hide a secret: the source of almost all the metal is in one country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Tantalum is a key component in many modern technologies, since it is used to produce capacitors, without which there would be no computers and smartphones.

Despite its importance in today’s world, tantalum mining takes place only in very few countries in the world. Most of this rare metal is mined in Rwanda and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), areas that are sadly known for the so-called bloody minerals. These two countries alone represent around 60% of global production.

But the complete picture of the countries that produce the most tantalio in the world is the one that emerges from the ranking that follows, produced thanks to the 2017 data of the US Geological Survey (USGS).

1
RWANDA (mining production: 390 tons)
Rwanda is officially the largest producer of tantalum in the world but, as mentioned, mining in this country is a source of enormous problems and suffering for the local population. Moreover, as everyone knows now, most of Rwanda’s mineral production comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the epicenter of the bloody minerals. In fact, it is currently impossible to know what the real production of Rwanda is.

2
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (mining production: 370 tons)
The country, according to official statistics, produced about 30% of the world tantalum. However, it is believed that production is much greater even if ‘targata’ as Rwanda. Mining practices in the DRC take place in a context of corruption, violence and immoral practices. The United States and Europe have tried to discourage companies from buying bloodied tantalum, but without success. For example, in the US, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and the Consumer Protection Act sought to halt the flow of minerals from the DRC but the Trump administration has expressed a desire to repeal some parts of these laws.

3
NIGERIA (mining production: 190 tons)
It is believed that the nation has large tantalum reserves, although the exact figure remains unknown. Instead, it is known that most of its tantalum comes from the tantalum which is found in the states of Nasarawa, Kogi, Osun, Ekiti, Kwara and Cross Rivers.

4
BRAZIL (mining production: 100 tons)
Brazil, with 34,000 tons of reserves, is one of the two producing countries outside the African continent. The largest tantalum mine in the country is MIBRA, owned by Advanced Metallurgical Group. In light of the problems afflicting Rwandan and Congolese suppliers, Brazil could become a major source for companies worldwide in the coming years.

5
CHINA (mine production: 95 tons)
The country’s output remained stable on an annual basis, increasing only 1 tonne compared to 2016. It is the leading tantalum supplier country for American companies.

Tantalum, the black gold

Extraction or production of tantalum raw materials of all kinds is widespread, whether by primary industrial mining, artisanal mining, as a secondary mineral or as a byproduct. Brazil is currently the major producer. Significant quantities are also produced in China, the DR Congo, Russia and Rwanda. Additional quantities are produced, some intermittently or at a low level, in Australia, Burundi, France, Malaysia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Thailand and Zimbabwe.

In the years leading up to 2008 the main mining operations were in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia and Mozambique. Following the world economic crisis the main mining operations in Australia, Canada and Mozambique ceased production. Since then, there has been intermittent production in Mozambique, while Australian production resumed at a reduced level for a seven month period in 2011. In 2012, Ethiopian production was stopped due to transport difficulties preventing export.

In terms of resources, whether currently exploited or not, in addition to Australia and Brazil there are other significant resources in China, the DRC, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Russia and Rwanda. Tantalum is also produced in Brazil, Malaysia and Thailand as ‘tin slag’, a by-product of tin mining and smelting. Tantalum raw materials are also being explored in Canada, Colombia, Egypt, Madagascar, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

MOSTLY LIKELY RESOURCE BASE

Source                                               Mlb                                Percentage
South America                             285                                         40%
Australia                                          145                                          21%
China and Southeast Asia        73                                           10%
Russia and Middle East             69                                           10%
Central Africa                                 63                                             9%
Other Africa                                    47                                              7%
North America                               12                                               2%
Europe                                                 5                                                1%

Total                                                   698

Tantalum minerals with over 70 different chemical compositions have been identified. Those of greatest economic importance are tantalite, microlite, and wodginite; however, it is common practice to name any tantalum-containing mineral concentrate as ‘tantalite’ primarily because it will be processed for the tantalum values and is sold on that basis. The minerals are concentrated by physical means at or near the mine site to increase the percentage of tantalum oxide and niobium oxide by weight.

The concentrates are transported to the processors’ works for chemical processing. Tantalum mineral concentrates may contain from two to more than five different tantalum-bearing minerals from the same mining area.The sale of tantalum mineral concentrates is based on a certified analysis for the tantalum oxide (Ta2O5) they contain, with a typical range from 20% to 60% depending on the mine source.


Overview of Companhia Industrial Fluminense’s Mibra mine at Nazareno, Minas Gerais, Brazil (Itamar Resende)

The single largest operating tantalum mine is the Mibra operation of Companhia Industrial Fluminense in Nazareno. This mine has the capacity to produce 220 tonnes Ta205 per year which equates to approximately 15% of current global primary production,although the latter are at historically relatively low levels. At 2007-2008 levels the Mibra mine accounted for 5-10% of global primary production.

Additional significant operating mines are the Lovozero mine in Russia,the Yichun mine in China and the Pitinga mine also in Brazil. Significant but closed mines include the Greenbushes and Wodgina mines both in Western Australia, the Tanco mine in Manitoba Canada,and the Kenticha mine (Ethiopia Mineral Development Enterprise) in Ethiopia.

Significant quantities are also obtained from alluvial and soft rock deposits by artisanal mining, primarily in centralAfrica. Individual mines are small and rely on manual tools and labour. Mining investment has been curtailed for many years, whether due to lack of funds or whether due to political instability and associated risk in e.g. the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a result there are no known or measured deposits associated with artisanal production.

In Brazil, Malaysia and Thailand,the tin industry provides tantalum as a component of the tin slag by-product, that arises from the smelting of cassiterite ore concentrates for tin production. Struverite concentrates (a Ti-Nb-Ta mineral) have historically also been available from northern Malaysia containing 9-12% tantalum oxide.

Scrap recycling generated within the various segments of the tantalum industry has for a long time accounted for about 20% of the total input each year, while in 2012 this increased to some 30%.

In summary, the global supply up until 2008 and as of 2012 looked as below, with considerable fluctuation in the proportions between 2008 and 2012.

Source                                                    Percentage 2008         Percentage 2012

Primary  concentrates                                    60%                                      40%
Secondary concentrates                               10%                                       10%
Tin slag                                                                    10%                                       20%
Scrap recycling,
synthetic concentrates                                  20%                                       30%

Tantalum valuation basis

A very interesting article which present the real market situation..

“The T.I.C. as an international association is not allowed to gather data on nor discuss prices, forecasting or future trends, as this would be against our Charter and may raise antitrust and competition law concerns.”

It is important to understand that there are no official prices for tantalum or niobium commodities, as these metals are not traded on any metal exchange (London Metal Exchange or other). The price is determined solely by negotiation between buyer and seller.

Some price data may be found in the metals press or in publications, whether printed or on the internet. Examples of such press include Asian Metal, Metal Pages, Platts and CRU Prices Service, which regularly publish subscription-based information on market prices. Their web addresses are:

Additionally, Roskill Information Services publish market reports on both niobium and tantalum. Information on these can be found at:

Please note that the T.I.C. does not verify or monitor the information published on these websites; the T.I.C. can therefore not assume any responsibility or be held liable in any way in relation to the information published on these websites.

To calculate the value of a tantalum mineral, the main principle is that only the quantity of Ta2O5 contained is paid for, not the whole bulk of material. Basically the weight of material is multiplied by the percentage grade e.g. 30%, then multiplied by the pricing rate of X$/lb Ta2O5. Note that while our industry statistics have moved to metric units, the traditional valuation basis of $/lb Ta2O5 contained is likely to continue.

[Value tantalite] = weight of material x 30% [x conversion to lb if necessary] x X$/lb Ta2O5

In theory it does not matter whether the material is 30% or 40%, by applying the percentage the quantity paid for is automatically adjusted; sliding scales according to grade are not known of. There may possibly be fixed discounts or premiums for grades significantly below or above the 30% to 50% range.

The content of Nb2O5 in tantalum minerals is ignored as its contribution would generally be minimal due to the price difference between Nb and Ta.

Typical market specifications

Tantalite on the international market generally contains a minimum of 30% Ta2O5, while lower grade material with a minimum of 20% Ta2O5 may also be of interest. The commercial payable value is based on the Ta2O5 content alone, any Nb2O5 is generally ignored.

Should material contain mainly Nb2O5 and only little Ta2O5, then it would be sold as columbite and should contain a minimum of 50% Nb2O5. The payable value is based on the Nb2O5+Ta2O5 content payable entirely as Nb2O5; the Ta2O5 content is not paid a higher rate.

OTHER REQUIREMENTS

Tantalum and niobium raw materials often contain somewhat elevated levels of naturally occurring thorium and uranium, usually high enough for them to be classified as radioactive for handling and transport.  Such raw materials are then also known as Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM).

It is incumbent on any producer or trader to also analyse for Th and U in order to demonstrate whether the material is radioactive or not.  This is reflected in the T.I.C.’s Transport Policy.  As a guide, these elements are of concern for the purpose of mining and handling at levels above 1 Bq/g, a level obtained from e.g. 0.013% ThO2 plus 0.0048% U3O8, whereas for transport alone the levels of concern are an order of magnitude higher, i.e.10 Bq/g or 0.13% ThO2 plus 0.048% U3O8.

January 31, 2018 – latest news from ICE

31st January 2018

ETHIOPIA- AS TANTALUM MINE PRIVATIZED, PUSH IS MADE FOR VALUE ADDED PRODUCTION

The Ministry of Public Enterprises (MoPE) is attempting to partially privatize the country’s tantalum mining facility at Kenticha.

In its latest bid notice MoPE invited experienced partners to mine for the rare metal.However experts are criticizing the bid document claiming that it should focus on making value added products from the mineral as opposed to mining raw tantalum. They say a value addition factory at Kenticha will cost a minimum of USD 120 million and a maximum of a quarter billion USD. “However, this would establish an industry that would boost the country’s hard currency from exporting end products as opposed to raw production.

The bid document that MoPE issued indicated it is looking for a partner to manage and expand lithium-tantalum mining at Kenticha. The government has attempted to expand the 25 year old Kenticha mine, located 550km south of Addis Ababa at Adola, many times.

However the facility is still the property of the state owned Ethiopian Minerals Development Enterprise, which is now under the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation. Experts said that tantalum mining, which is exported as a concentrate, has several related products that can be produced locally. Lithium demand has been growing because the battery is used in various industries so the global market is huge.

For instance the lithium-ion battery automobile industry is now on the rise and is searching for lithium, according to experts. Tantalum is a major input for the production of electronics, aircraft parts and medical equipment.

“A factory that would make value added products would really help the economy,” experts in the industry added. Tantalum is used to make mobile phones and other electronic gadgets, aircraft parts and medical equipment.

The PM has also followed the issue and the government plans to expand the mining plant as opposed to including partners just to produce and export the concentrated mineral. A pilot tantalum production project began in 1990, during the Derg era. Tantalum concentrate exports for the first six months of the current budget year has earned Ethiopia over USD four million. Oromia’s regional administration wants to have the youth in the area to take part in producing tantalum as opposed to transferring it to a third party.

However, experts say that if the factory produces value added products it will be capital and skilled labor intensive as opposed to just mining which would use unskilled labor.”The sector is a dangerous business since tantalum concentrate consists of uranium,” an expert said. The regional administration has already drafted a bill that would allow the region to administer natural resources.

Currently the federal government manages or licenses natural resources in all regions. However, Oromia argues that this goes against their constitutional rights. “We do not have any mechanism to control the operation, provide licensing, and enforce the law,” an expert at the region told Capital recently.Different social, health and environmental issues have arisen at the area.

Capital has confirmation from the Oromia Water, Mining and Energy Bureau that experts from environmental, social and health professions have been at the area recently to assess the effect of the mining sites including Lege Dembi Gold Mining, which is close to Kenticha.Lege Dembi has also already completed its 20 years production license.

This license is awaiting renewal. The company has submitted a request for a ten year extension to the Federal Ministry of Mines, Petroleum and Natural Gas. This is based on their original agreement that states the two parties would extend the production for ten years which is a common practice in the mining sector.

Based on that the upcoming mining proclamation that will be ratified by the ‘Chefe’ (regional council) will give the right to the region to administer the mining resources, develop, provide licenses, terminate the license or close the mine when the agreement ends, penalize and even support the regional mining operation. (ICE ADDIS ABEBA)