Uses of antimony
Antimony’s major use (in the form of antimony trioxide) is as a flame retardant in children’s clothing, toys and plastics for the construction industry. Antimony is also used in standard car batteries to extend battery life and to enhance the efficiency of the production process for PET plastic containers used for drink bottles. Minor uses of antimony include ammunition, fireworks, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and fluorescent light bulbs. A significant new use for antimony is the development of a new generation of memory devices which will replace flash drive memory devices presently used in computers, mobile phones and USB memory devices. These new memory devices (known as phase-change devices) use an alloy of germanium, antimony and tellurium (Ge2Sb2Te5) known as “GST”. In June 2010, Samsung Electronics started mass-producing these phase-change devices from GST for use in mobile phones and laptops. These devices are up to 30 times faster than normal flash memory.
Antimony metal prices have risen from a 20 year low of around US$1,000 per tonne in 2001 to over US$12,000 per tonne in 2010. Antimony metal prices are quoted daily in The Australian Financial Review. The price paid for antimony concentrates by smelters varies between 35-50% of the antimony metal price. Antimony trioxide typically attracts a premium to the antimony metal price. The dramatic and sustained increase in the price of antimony over the last 10 years has been driven by supply and demand fundamentals.
Supply and Demand Fundamentals
World consumption of antimony has increased significantly over the last 20 years, a trend which is set to continue. Worldwide demand for antimony trioxide has risen 7.5% annually from 2004 to an estimated 180,000t in 2010. Significantly, in June 2010 the European Commission identified antimony as one of the 14 minerals critical to European industry which are facing supply challenges. China has historically been the largest producer of antimony in the world. China accounted for about 90% of global antimony output in 2009.
Recoveries from gold-antimony ores
Historically, gold recovery from gold-antimony (auro-stibnite) ores was relatively poor as the presence of antimony interfered with the standard CIP/CIL process for gold extraction. However, the efficiency of extraction processes for auro-stibnite ores has advanced significantly over the last 20 years as a result of a better understanding of the properties of antimony. Modern process designs incorporating flotation of antimony prior to CIP treatment of float tails result in very good recovery rates for both gold and antimony.
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