Tantalum as an investment can be a rather contentious topic among finance experts. Others call it a conflict resource and have linked the use of the metal to the war in the African country once known as Zaire. This war is sometimes called the African World War, and it involved 9 countries and about 20 separate armed groups.
In fact, even the metal’s discovery was mired in controversy. It was discovered in 1802 by a Swedish scientist, but many scientists insist that it wasn’t a new element at all. It wasn’t until 1864 that it was demonstrated beyond doubt that it was different from niobium (columbium).
In the workplace, it’s also considered a hazard, and the permissible exposure limit to the metal is 5mg per square meter over an 8-hour work day. At levels of 2,500mg per square meter, it can be life-threatening. But you’re not like to get into direct contact at such high volumes, unless you work in a place that manufactures tantalum products. And it is extremely useful for numerous applications in various industries.
Below is the historical Tantalum price per metric ton.
|Year||Price||Price (Inflation Adjusted)||Change|
Price History of Tantalum
Tantalum isn’t traded on any public commodities exchange. It isn’t really bought and sold in pure form. Instead, it is sold as tantalite ores from which the metal can then be extracted. The price is determined after negotiations between the seller and the buyer, although it’s estimated that the starting point for these negotiations is at $123.61 per kilo.
There is some persistent demand for the metal, but the supply picture is a bit murky. This has added to the difficulty in pegging the price of the metal. In 2010, it was reported that Brazil and other places in South America produced about 40% of the global annual supply, with Australia coming second at 21%. Central Africa accounts for less than 10%.
More importantly, it’s been estimated that there are only less than 50 years of supply left based on current extraction rates from mines. This has emphasized the need for greater recycling.
The price of the tantalite is very much dependent on the demand as well. The price of tantalite ore rose from about $75 per kilo in 2010 to more than $270 per kilo on 2011 and 2012. But the price has dropped since then. However, some experts point to expected growth in the electronics, aerospace, and power industry to boost the price back up.
Tantalum as Investment
This is a very obscure investment tool, and there are many more viable alternatives available. However, you can always buy shares in mining companies that extract the metal. But you will need to understand that news concerning this commodity is very seldom reported, and it will be very hard to keep track of prices.
Purposes Used for Tantalum
Tantalum is used in many industries, and it is deemed a critical component in many items. But the main and most important function of the metal is in the manufacture of electrolytic capacitors for the electronics industry. These types of capacitors make use of the metal’s tendency to form a protective oxide surface layer. This results in high capacitance in a very small volume, which give the product size and weight benefits. It’s why it is ideal for mobile phones, personal computers, DVD players, video game systems, and automotive electronics.
The metal also plays a crucial role in high-tech semiconductors. It is “sputtered” on to semiconductor substrates, and this is a key process in flat planed displays, inkjet printer heads, and magnetic storage media.
The metal is also known for its great strength, ductility, and virtual immunity to chemical attack in room temperatures. Thus, it can be shaped into very fine wires that can be used to evaporate metals like aluminum. Since it is resistant to body fluids and is biocompatible too, the metal is widely used as a component of implants and of surgical instruments. Orthopedic implants come with porous coatings of the metal, because it can form a direct bond to hard tissue.
It is chemically inert against most acids, and this makes it a useful ingredient for pipes for corrosive materials and for chemical reaction vessels. It’s also used for the heat exchanging coils for the steam heating of hydrochloric acid.
The metal is very dense, and because of that it has been used for shaped charges that focus the energy of the explosive. It’s also been used for EFPs or explosively formed penetrators, which is a kind of shaped charge designed to penetrate armor effectively.
Finally, it is also used in metal alloys. Its attributes can improve an alloy’s ductility, strength, and resistance to corrosion. These alloys are often used in turbine blades, and can be used to line piping and valves.
In other words, it is extremely useful, it is very rare, and investment opportunities are limited nonetheless.