Mineral Resource of the Month: Gallium

Brian W. Jaskula, a mineral commodity specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey, compiled the following information on gallium, a metal used in compound semiconductors for electronic applications.

Gallium is used in LCD screens. Credit: © iStockphoto.com/Dmitry Kutlayev Gallium is used in LCD screens. Credit: © iStockphoto.com/Dmitry Kutlayev

The metal element gallium occurs in very small concentrations in rocks and ores of other metals — native gallium is not known. As society gets more and more high-tech, gallium becomes more useful. Gallium is one of only five metals that are liquid at or close to room temperature. It has one of the longest liquid ranges of any metal (29.8 degrees Celsius to 2204 degrees Celsius) and has a low vapor pressure even at high temperatures. Ultra-pure gallium has a brilliant silvery appearance, and the solid metal exhibits conchoidal fracture similar to glass.

Most gallium is produced as a byproduct of treating bauxite (aluminum ore), and the remainder is produced from zinc-processing residues. So its production is dependent on the production of those principal metals. The world bauxite reserve base is so large that much of it will not be mined for many decades, which actually makes most of the gallium in the bauxite reserve base unavailable in the short term. 

The majority of gallium, primarily in the forms of gallium arsenide and gallium nitride, is used to produce integrated circuit chips and optoelectronic devices, such as laser diodes, LEDs and solar cells. Gallium enjoys wide applications in aerospace, defense applications, high-performance computers, industrial equipment, telecommunications and many consumer items such as cellular telephones and DVD players. 

High-speed, feature-rich, third-generation cellular telephones and other high-speed wireless devices, which require greater numbers of gallium arsenide components, were key demand drivers for gallium in 2008. The gallium arsenide-based LED market is expanding into backlighting for LCD and notebook computer screens, digital cameras, DVD players and automotive lighting. 

A promising area for gallium is its use in copper indium gallium diselenide thin-film solar cells. These solar cells can be produced in high volumes, consume less energy and raw materials during fabrication than crystalline silicon technology, and yield good energy output, even under unfavorable weather conditions. Because the solar cells are so thin, they can be used to cover entire facades of buildings, as well as be integrated into functional and decorative building elements such as roof shingles and tiles. As technological advances find new uses for gallium arsenide and gallium nitride, market conditions remain strong. 

For more information on gallium and other mineral resources, visit minerals.usgs.gov/minerals


GALLIUM PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION

World production of primary gallium from bauxite and zinc was about 95 metric tons in 2008, with the top four producers being China, Germany, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

World production of refined gallium was estimated to be about 135 metric tons in 2008, with the top three producers being China, Japan and the United States.


FUN FACTS

Gallium was discovered spectroscopically by Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran in 1875. He named the element “gallia” after his native land of France.

Gallium is a metal that will melt in one’s hand.

Because gallium wets glass and porcelain, it can be used to create brilliant mirrors.

Gallium nitrate is used as a radio-pharmaceutical agent in an imaging procedure referred to as a gallium scan. Gallium nitrate binds and concentrates in areas of inflammation and allows such sites to be imaged by nuclear scan techniques.

Gallium was used in small quantities in the core of the first atomic bomb to help stabilize the plutonium crystal structure.

Energy Notes: June 2008-2009

 Credit: The American Geosciences Institute Credit: The American Geosciences Institute

U.S. Oil & Petroleum Imports (millions of barrels per day)

Oil and petroleum imports data are preliminary numbers taken from the American Petroleum Institute’s Monthly Statistical Report. For more information visit www.api.org.

 

 

The American Geosciences Institute

AGI was founded in 1948, under a directive of the National Academy of Sciences, as a network of associations representing geoscientists with a diverse array of skills and knowledge of our planet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - 06:00

U.S. Geological Survey

The "Mineral Resource of the Month" column is written by various U.S. Geological Survey mineral commodity specialists. For more information about these and other mineral commodities, visit: USGS Commodity Statistics and Information.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - 06:00