Market Basics » Minor Metals


The list of minor metals varies but generally includes Antimony (Sb), Arsenic (As), Beryllium (Be), Bismuth (Bi), Cadmium (Cd), Cerium (Ce), Chromium (Cr), Cobalt (Co), Gadolinium (Gd), Gallium (Ga), Germanium (Ge), Hafnium (Hf), Indium (In), Lithium (Li), Magnesium (Mg), Manganese (Mn), Mercury (Hg), Molybdenum (Mo), Neodymium (Nd), Niobium (Nb), Iridium (Ir), Osmium (Os), Praseodymium (Pr), Rhenium (Re), Rhodium (Rh), Ruthenium (Ru), Samarium (Sm), Selenium (Se), Silicon (Si), Tantalum (Ta), Tellurium (Te), Titanium (Ti), Tungsten (W), Vanadium (V), and Zirconium (Zr).

An expansive category includes the rare earth elements (REEs).

Further classification for minor metals:

  • Electronic Metals (e.g. Gallium and Germanium)
  • Power Metals (e.g. Molybdenum and Zirconium)
  • Structural Metals (e.g. Chromium and Vanadium)
  • Performance Metals (e.g. Titanium and Rhenium)

Minor metals are so described not because they are unimportant, but because their productions is relatively small and they are usually by-products of other metal mines. The are also defined by their comparatively specialized uses and difficulty in refining for manufacturing.

Trading unit

Trading units vary by metal, but many are quoted in U.S. dollars per kilogram rather than per metric tonne because production numbers for the metals are so low.

Cobalt and molybdenum are traded in U.S. dollars per metric tonne.

Units for delivery

Varies by metal and contract, but the Minor Metals Trade Association has outlined that contracts should contain information pertaining to material and purity, quantity, form and packing, origin, price, place and time of delivery and terms of payment so as to standardize transactions.

Materials must meet contractual quality constraints.

The London Metal Exchange (LME) specifies cobalt futures contracts backed by:

  • Lot size: 1 tonne of minimum 99.3% cobalt
  • Deliverable in 100kg - 500kg drums of uniform size and weight
  • Delivery by brand
  • Impurities set according to standard producer specification

The London Metal Exchange (LME) specifies moly futures contracts backed by:

  • Lot size of 6 tonnes of molybdenum delivered in 10 tonnes of roasted molybdenum concentrates (RMC)
  • Permissible variance of 5% of the 6 tonne lot size or between 57 to 63 percent, or 5,700-6,300 kilograms (kg)
  • Deliverable in 200 or 250kg drums
  • Defined impurity levels

Pricing mechanisms

Spot prices negotiated in long- or short-term contracts.

Avenues of trade

Minor metals are generally not traded on exchanges with the exception of cobalt and molybdenum which trade on the London Metal Exchange (LME).

Most metals exchange hands from miners to users based on prices agreed and contracted by the two parties. Some minor metals are traded on long-term contracts of one year or six months, and other business is done on a spot or short-term basis in which the two parties frequently interact.

The London Metal Exchange (LME) launched two minor metals contracts during the second half of 2009 - cobalt and molybdenum - with the purpose of providing transparent pricing and price risk management.

Market summary

Harkening to their title, minor metals are produced at a significantly smaller clip than other, more abundant exchange-traded metals. Most minor metals see fewer than 150,000 metric tonnes of mine production globally in a calendar year. Comparitively, aluminium production is close to 40 million metric tonnes a year.

Because of the privately-traded nature and wide array of available minor metals, accurate and up-to-date supply and demand statistics are hard to obtain.

Gallium was subject to a massive speculative bubble in 2000-1 due to hoarding related to the cell-phone supply chain which feared shortages.


Most minor metals are mined, although some are produced after being mined as a different metal. For example, chromium is mined as chromite and then produced by heating the ore in the presence of aluminium or silicon. Cobalt is usually mined as a byproduct of nickel and copper mining, and is usually mined as cobaltite, erythrite, glaucodot and skutterudite. Magnesium comes from the electrolysis of magnesium chloride.

Bolivia is estimated to half the world's known lithium reserves.

A study undertaken by the Indium Corporation determined that indium reserves (proven and probable, measured and indicated, and inferred) in identified base metal mines in the "western" world amount to 26,000 mt of indium. Those located in the rest of the world, i.e. China and the CIS (former Soviet Union) amount to about 23,000 mt of indium, bringing the total world reserve to close to 50,000 mt of indium.

The main mining areas for Strontium are the United Kingdom, Mexico, Turkey and Spain.

Vanadium production is mostly as a by-product or from recycling with primary vanadium production accounting for just 20% of production. Approximately 50% is recovered from steel-making slag; the rest is from oil and coal residues, spent catalysts and less than 5% as a by-product of uranium (U) production.


Minor metals are used in many applications, such as consumer electronics, aviation turbine blades, light bulb filaments, ceramics pigments, catalysts, batteries, medicines, as an additive for aluminium cans, heating elements and as alloying agents in steels.

Steel accounts for nearly 75% of the world's Moly demand with the majority going into stainless followed by tool and high speed steel, HSLA and carbon steels. Other uses include catalysts, lubricants and pigments. The primary end use sectors include the chemical and petrochemical industries, oil and gas, automotive, mechanical engineering, power generation, construction, aerospace and consumer goods.

The single biggest consumer of tellurium is in alloys with steel to improve machinability. It is also added to lead to increase hardness and acid-resistance for use in batteries, it can vulcanise rubber, tint glass and ceramics in electronic devices and is also used as an industrial catalyst in oil refining. A relatively new consumer of tellurium is in rewritable CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs, where tellurium suboxide is used in the media layer of these discs. Tellurium is also used in new phase change memory chips developed by Intel™.

Calcium is chiefly used in the manufacturing of cement and mortar making it of key importance to the construction industry. Calcium's wider uses come from its compounds such as Calcium Carbonate, also known as limestone is used in the glass, chemical, optical industries and particularly, steel. Further compounds of the element provide uses in bountiful commercial products, from paints too cosmetics.

Demand for Strontium is relatively low, mainly used as a carbonate in television screens, special glass and visual display units. Strontium can also be used in cancer treatment as an isotope, Strontium-89, for example, emits beta particles and has a long half-life making it ideal for radiotherapy.

Aluminium-scandium alloys are mostly used for minor aerospace industry components and for high-quality sports equipment. Scandium alloys are especially desirable for use in, for example, baseball bats, lacrosse sticks, and bicycle frames. Small amounts of scandium are also used in high-intensity lights and fuel cells.

Consumption of titanium has remained strong following its popularity in the new industrial phase of the last half of the 20th century. The boom in the aerospace industry has been the primary driver for this. Titanium's main applications are lightweight alloys used to make fan blades for aero-engines, as well as other parts for the aerospace industry such as fasteners (due to titanium's strength as strong as steel but at 60% of its weight, and its corrosion resistance and ability to operate at high temperatures).

In the chemicals industry vanadium compounds are mostly used as catalysts (the largest end-use of vanadium within the chemicals industry, for the oxidisation of sulphur dioxide to trioxide and within polymer production), specialist glass (gives blue and green tint), enamels, printing inks (due to the range of colours produced by its salts), rechargeable batteries and ceramics (gives a golden colour). To a degree, vanadium can be substituted by niobium (Nb), molybdenum (Mo), manganese (Mn) and titanium (Ti) within the steel industry but not in master and super-alloys. Finally, vanadium's other application is in nuclear reactors as it has low-neutron absorbing abilities and doesn't deform by 'creeping' under high temperatures.

Chromium alloys used today are mainly involved in plating both metals and plastics, making then water and air resistant as well as having an aesthetic metallic appearance.

Extraction, Processing, Refining & Supply Chain

Minor metal ores are recovered from open pit and underground mines using conventional dredging, blasting, drilling, and hauling techniques.

Most of the minor metals are not from primary mines sources. Rather they are by-products derived from several common base metals including lead, zinc, copper, tin, silver or other polymetallic ores.

Gallium is extracted from bauxite as part of the bauxite-alumina refining flow that most commonly utilizes the Bayer liquor process.

Lithium is found in ores and sea water. Large scale operations extract lithium by evaporating brine on salt flats. As a highly reactive alkali metal, lithium is almost always found as a compound, making the processing and refining of the metal a key phase in the mining development.

Molybdenum is obtained from primary mines and byproduct mines. Byproduct mines are generally associated with copper.

Tellurium occurs in relatively few minerals, including calaverite (AuTe2), sylvanite (AgAuTe4) and tellurite (TeO2), but it is commercially produced only as a by-product of refining other metals. Over 80% of tellurium production comes from the anode slimes from copper refining. These slimes can contain as much as 8% tellurium, rendering this source of tellurium the most efficient and cost effective process. Tellurium can also be recovered as a by-product in a similar way from gold, lead, nickel, platinum and zinc mining. The world production of tellurium is estimated around 220 MT per year and the main mining regions are the USA (circa 50 MT per year), Canada (circa 20 MT per year), Peru (circa 30 MT per year), Russia (circa 20 MT per year) and Japan (circa 40 MT per year). Many producers do not report their production of tellurium.

Recent Posts XML error: Invalid document end at line 12