Minor Metals Trading

The rapid advancement of technology coupled with the global adoption of consumer electronic goods and devices such as mobile phones and computers has signalled an increase in demand for minor metals. The technology industry relies on minor metals to make their products thinner, lighter and longer lasting hence the increase in their demand to give companies a competitive edge. Their importance in the technology industry has also led to them recently being dubbed ‘technology metals.’

Redstone Commodity Search has been working extensively with clients helping them hire across the value chain within the niche world of minor metals. We have found the most interesting mandates have come primarily from Asia and Europe. Recent minor metal mandates include:

  • Head of Minor Metals Research, UK
  • Minor Metals Trader, China
  • Minor Metal Sales, Singapore
  • Minor Metal Researcher, China
  • Rare Earth Metal Trader, Hong Kong

What are Minor Metals?

Until relatively recently, there were no real practical uses for these metals, hence the term ‘minor metals’ as they had no major uses when compared to the base and even precious metals (read more about metal trading). They were only available in small quantities and at a high cost. Before the commercial development of stainless steel, nickel was also considered a minor metal but it rapidly became a high volume production metal.

Due to the diversity of metals classed in this category, there is much discussion about what actually defines a minor metal. Traditionally minor metals have one or more of the following qualities:

  • predominantly extracted as a by-product of base metals
  • has a relatively low annual production volume compared to base metals
  • more difficult to extract than base metals
  • not traded on formal exchanged (although this has changed to a degree)
  • has relatively few, or more specialised end uses

Cobalt and molybdenum have arguably moved out of the minor metals category as they are both now listed on the London Metal Exchange (LME), and their production has significantly increased.

Rare earth elements (REE) or rare earth metals also fall into the minor metals category. They have similar properties which often causes them to be found together in geologic deposits. They are also not as rare as their name suggests: the two least abundant metals have an average abundance that is nearly two times greater than gold. The problem with mining them though is that it is unusual to find them in high enough concentrations to make it economically viable to extract.

Of the many metals that fall into the minor metals category, it is difficult to predict which ones will play vital roles in future technology. Currently, indium and lithium are both used in consumer electronics: indium provides touch-sensitive conductivity in touchscreens whilst lithium is commonly used in digital cameras and mobile phones as a major component of rechargeable batteries.

Most minor metals, with the exception of rare earth metals, are extracted as a by-product of base metal refining and production. For example, cobalt can be obtained from copper and nickel production; indium is a by-product from zinc, lead, tin and copper refining; gallium is found in bauxite ore from aluminium production; and bismuth is extracted during lead and copper production.

Examples of Minor Metals

Rare earth metals highlighted in bold:

  • Antimony
  • Arsenic
  • Beryllium
  • Bismuth
  • Cadmium
  • Calcium
  • Cerium
  • Chromium
  • Cobalt
  • Dysprosium
  • Erbium
  • Europium
  • Gadolinium
  • Gallium
  • Germanium
  • Hafnium
  • Holmium
  • Indium
  • Iridium
  • Lanthanum
  • Lithium
  • Lutetium
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Mercury
  • Molybdenum
  • Neodymium
  • Niobium
  • Osmium
  • Praseodymium
  • Rhenium
  • Rhodium
  • Ruthenium
  • Samarium
  • Selenium
  • Strontium
  • Scandium
  • Silicon
  • Tantalum
  • Tellurium
  • Terbium
  • Thallium
  • Titanium
  • Thulium
  • Tungsten
  • Vanadium
  • Ytterbium
  • Yttrium
  • Zirconium

How are Minor Metals Traded?

China is the world leader in minor metal production accounting for more than 40% of global production, Asia as a whole makes up just under 50%. As most minor metals are by-products of other base metal production, country production can be directly related to other metal production.

Due to their low levels of production, the majority of minor metals are not currently traded on formal exchanges. The increase in demand for certain minor metals, however, has created a market for derivatives contracts in the financial markets. In 2008, the LME launched contracts for cobalt and molybdenum.

Minor Metal Applications

  • Consumer electronics – Mobile phone/tablet/computer components
  • Medical
  • Optics
  • Filaments in lightbulbs
  • Electronic pastes
  • Catalysts
  • Batteries
  • Renewable energy technologies
  • Automotive and aerospace – alloying agents in specialist steels

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