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Antimony – A Diamond in the Rough?

Antimony (Sb) – a metal that has served mankind without fanfare for decades in car batteries and flame retardants, is slowly moving into the spotlight. Several industry resources have recently pointed out its potential, which is due to a combination of increased demand and stagnant supply. Both the British Geological Survey and the European Union’s risk list have antimony near the top of their lists of critical materials worldwide. Reason enough to take a closer look.

The biggest market for antimony (as antimony trioxide) is in flame retardants where the metal is added to plastics, fibers and building materials. This market is continuing to grow while lead batteries (conventional car batteries and some “stand-by” batteries) are on a decline. It is also used to decolorize glass, thereby improving its optical qualities. Antimony made headlines in high-tech applications more recently, including phase-change memory (touted as an evolution in computer memory) and battery anodes that might ultimately enable us to replace lithium with sodium in rechargeable batteries. None of these developments have made it near marketable products yet, but the metal is definitely being favored by research for a variety of new applications.

On the supply side, some analysts still lament antimony’s price drop from approximately US$ 18,000/t in 2010 to approximately US$ 12,000/t today. They forget that antimony traded at just US$ 2,000/t ten years earlier which makes for a very significant increase in value. Traditionally, China has been the main supplier, as it is for many of the rare earth elements (REE), too. However, China’s exports have seen a steady decline in recent years and the country is now a net importer of antimony. To the extent that information is made available, China appears to have exploited its main mining areas, and did not develop new ones.

In hard numbers, the world’s antimony reserves are estimated to be around 1.8 million tons with a total worldwide production of 180,000 – 200,000 tons. Demand is seen to exceed this number since 2011, expected to reach 240,000 to 250,000 tons annually by 2020.

Some sources are now predicting that antimony will reach a price of US$ 20,000/t by 2020. If true it would once more underline the validity of a long term investment strategy that several TMI guests suggested in earlier articles.

Chances are, therefore, that antimony might indeed be one of several “diamonds” buried in the rough of technology metals.

By Bodo Albrecht



Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in precious metal products, commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.
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