Bismuth buyers await price retreat from 5-year high

The price of bismuth should recede further from the five-year peak seen in September with the imminent return of Newmont Corp’s Peñasquito mine in Mexico, buyers in the US said this week

“It should take a little of the upward pressure off of bismuth,” one buyer said. The alloy maker declined to say what he has been paying for bismuth, since there is such a small market for the minor metal that is almost as rare as gold.

A second US-based consumer of bismuth – in lead-free solder – indicated that he is now paying about 10% more for it than he was one year earlier.

Bismuth price in China still at 5-year high

Fastmarkets does not assess bismuth in the US, but the bismuth price in China – the world’s dominant producer – is the highest it’s been in five years and four months in Fastmarkets’ weekly bismuth assessment there. China produced 16,000 out of the 19,000 tonnes of bismuth worldwide in 2021, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

The US has relied on imported bismuth since it stopped producing bismuth metal in 1997, according to the USGS.

Some bismuth a by-product of lead mining in Mexico

Bismuth is almost never mined alone, and “bismuth production is most often a by-product of processing lead ores,” according to the USGS.

How much bismuth comes from Peñasquito – a mine where a strike, ongoing since June, just ended – is unknown. Newmont did not respond to requests for comment on the amount of bismuth coming from the mine.

“The deposits within the Peñasquito Operations…[are] typically silver-rich (gold:silver ratios of 1:10), with associated lead, zinc, copper, molybdenum, manganese, bismuth, tellurium, and tungsten,” the Denver, Colorado-based company said in a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in February 2022.

Although the first source buys base metals, as well as bismuth, he doesn’t anticipate price changes from the resumption of Peñasquito’s zinc or lead annualized production of 200,000 tonnes and 81,600 tonnes respectively.

“I’m mostly interested in what Peñasquito’s return will mean for minor metals,” he said.

Bismuth supply tight; price starting to moderate

Tight bismuth supply drove the price in China to its recent peak in late September. Although the price moderated slightly in the next assessment, after China returned from a national holiday (September 29-October 6) the price remains at a five-year high.

Fastmarkets assessed the price of bismuth 99.99% Bi min, in-whs China at 59,000-61,000 yuan ($8,067-8,340) per tonne on Friday October 13, down by 0.83% from 60,000-61,000 yuan per tonne on September 22.

However, before September 2023, the current midpoint of 60,000 yuan was last surpassed in June 2018. The midpoint remains 24% higher than it was one year prior: a 48,500 yuan midpoint on October 14, 2022.

The current 60,000 yuan price in China is equivalent to $8,203 per tonne, or $3.72 per lb for 99.99% pure bismuth in a warehouse.

The US buyer of bismuth for solder said his price this week is around $4.275 per lb for less pure bismuth (99.95%) delivered – up almost 10% from around $3.90 per lb in October 2022.

About 60% of bismuth goes into chemicals, but metallurgical use is common, too. This includes using bismuth to replace lead in water pipes for health reasons.

“Bismuth is difficult to work with,” the lead-free solder maker said. But it’s still sometimes a necessary purchase, he said.

Amid growing use of bismuth, Rio Tinto to recover it from US copper mine

A US-based lead trader said he also traded bismuth in the past.

“They no longer make it here for environmental reasons,” he said.

Bismuth is used in steel and glass coatings in the automotive industry, paints and pigments, alloys with low melting points, castings and pharmaceuticals. It is, for example, the main ingredient in the stomach medication Pepto-Bismol, as bismuth subsalicylate.

Rio Tinto and Fortune Minerals agreed to recover bismuth from Rio Tinto’s copper mining waste in a memorandum of understanding announced on September 29 – with Robin Goad, Fortune’s chief executive officer, saying the company expects to retrieve “8.5% of current [global] consumption” for its part.

The global bismuth market is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5%, Goad said.

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