Much Higher Gallium and Germanium Production Possible

The German Research Foundation will award Max Frenzel of the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology the Bernd Rendel Prize for Geosciences 2016. In groundbreaking research, geologist Max Frenzel performed comprehensive calculations to estimate the potential annual production of gallium and germanium.

Gallium is essential for the production of high-performance RF devices and power semiconductors used in smartphones and tablets. Germanium is needed, for example, for the fabrication of advanced optoelectronic devices. Frenzel said, “At least 2,900 tons of gallium could be produced every year, while current (2014) production is 440 tons. For germanium, current (2014) production is 165 tons, while it could be at least 1,200 tons.”

Gallium and germanium have low concentrations in primary ores.Therefore, they are predominantly obtained as by-products from the mining of more important main products. Gallium is found in zinc and aluminum ores, and germanium is obtained during the production of zinc and coal. Frenzel says that consequently, the availability of both of gallium and germanium is mostly constrained by geological factors. However, technological and economic factors also play a role in their availability.

The amounts of both gallium and germanium will likely be sufficient to cover future demand. “However, the new estimation method might reveal potential supply risks for other metals,” said Professor Gutzmer a mineral deposit expert who advised and mentored Frenzel during his post-graduate studies in which he developed the new raw material estimation method as part of his dissertation.

Frenzel calculates the probable range of the supply potentials of a particular by-product. His estimates take into account the effects of different recovery processes for the metals and various other factors. Frenzel estimates with a probability of 95 % that the supply potential of gallium lies between 2,900 and 10,400 tons per year and that of germanium between 1,200 and 4,300 tons. In both cases, the probable range lies between 7 and 25 times the amount of current annual production. These estimates also depend on further mining of the main products from which the metals are found.