Japan Chemical Trading Blog
Tin prices fall
Tin has been used widely from ancient times; bronze is a mixture of copper and tin widely used during the Bronze Age, which started around 3,500 BCE.
Bronze has the merits of a lower melting point and becoming harder than copper because it contains tin, which has a low melting point (232 degrees centigrade).
However, tin consumption decreased when iron, which is cheaper and harder than bronze, started to be widely used; then, recently, increasing production of tin plates or tinned iron plates, since iron is apt to rust by itself, augmented the demand for tin.
Tinned iron plates don’t rust easily since tin has a smaller ionization tendency, so it is hard to melt.
As it was recognized as a militarily important material, international cartels were formed to strategically stock it and to maintain a steady supply to the market.
Because of its high price, substitutes have been aggressively developed, so long-term demand for tin has dropped. For instance, plastic bottles, cartons and aluminum have caused tin plate demand to lose ground in the field of drink containers.
Presently, the demand for tin in tin plates is about 15 to 20% of the total amount.
But demand for tin itself has been increasing again as a substitute for lead due to the recent lead-free trend. For example, tin has been increasingly required to be used in lead-free solder instead of lead, which, with its low melting point, used to be raw solder material in the electronics industry. Around 50 to 60% of the total production is for solder.
It is used in organic tin compound (10 to 15%) for vinyl chloride stabilizers and ITO, a compound with indium, used as transparent electrodes in liquid crystal panels.
The website of Nippon Steel & Sumikin Stainless Steel Corporation reports that it has implemented a breakthrough technology that drastically improves the corrosion resistance of ferritic (chromium-based) stainless steel by adding a tiny amount of tin (Sn) and, based on this technology, it developed the world’s first Sn-added high-purity ferritic stainless steel, “FW series,” which improves corrosion resistance while improving workability as well by decreasing the amount of chromium (Cr), the element of stainless steel. We expect demand will increase in the future.
China and Indonesia are the main producers, accounting for about 70% of global production. Large-scale mines are scattered throughout the world: Southeast Asia, China, South America and Australia. Ores are beginning to be exported from Myanmar, where sanctions have just been lifted, to China. In addition, Australia, Peru, Bolivia, Russia and African countries are said to be developing mines and increasing production.
A medium-term prospective says demand may exceed supply; however, prices have been down recently and LME, one of the world’s major indexes, posted its lowest price in two and a half years on March 2nd.
We export to the world high-quality tin compounds, including stannic chloride, stannic oxide, stannous chloride, stannous sulfate, potassium stannate, sodium stannate, stannous fluoroborate, and stannous pyrophosphate. We have fewer inquiries nowadays except for catalysts for medical purposes, possibly due to price decreases, so business is slow. Nevertheless, tin is a metal whose price has traditionally changed greatly and we have to constantly monitor how major producers such as Indonesia move.