Gallium, indium and germanium and sustainable society development

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ГОДИШНИК НА МИННО-ГЕОЛОЖКИЯ УНИВЕРСИТЕТ “СВ. ИВАН РИЛСКИ”, Том 56, Св. II, Добив и преработка на минерални суровини, 2013

ANNUAL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MINING AND GEOLOGY “ST. IVAN RILSKI”, Vol. 56, Part ІI, Mining and Mineral processing, 2013

Indium – one of crucial metals for the sustainable society development
Marinela Panayotova, Vladko Panayotov
University of Mining and Geology, Sofia 1700, Bulgaria, E-mail:
Abstract. Indium is a high-tech metal, essential for the sustainable economy and communications development. It is fundamental to production of RES and new environmentally and consumer friendly devices used in the every-day life. Its availability is increasingly under pressure. Present paper reviews most important applications, main nowadays production ways, production amounts, resource base, current and future demand of indium. Potential of pre- and post-consumer recycling is addressed as one of the main ways to secure metal amounts needed for new productions. Attention is drawn to the underestimated until now sources, such as byproducts, residues, tailings, solid waste and effluents from raw materials’ processing and water treatment.
Индий - един от важните метали за устойчивото развитие на обществото

Маринела Панайотова, Владко Панайотов

Минно-геоложки университет "Св. Иван Рилски", 1700 София, E-mail:
Резюме. Индият е високотехнологичен метал, който е от съществено значение за развитието на устойчиви икономика и комуникации. Той е от основно значение за производството на възобновяеми енергийни източници и опазващи околната среда нови устройства, използвани в ежедневието. Необходимостта от този метал ще нараства. Настоящата статия разглежда най-важните приложения, основни производствени пътища, производствени количества, ресурсната база, актуалното и бъдещото търсене на индий. Разглеждат се възможностите на рециклирането, като един от основните начини за осигуряване на количества метал, необходим за нови производства. Обръща се внимание на подценявани вторични източници, като странични продукти, хвостохранилища, твърди отпадъци и отпадъчни води от преработване на суровини и пречистване на водите.

Most important technical applications of indium
Indium (In) is used mainly as indium tin oxide (ITO). ITO, which accounts for about 85 % of In consumption, is used to make transparent conductive coatings for displays such as liquid crystal, flat panel and plasma displays; and touch panels (TFT). Flat-panel liquid crystal displays (LCDs) for computer monitors and flat-screen televisions are the leading application for In, consuming more than 50 % of the world primary output of In (Bleiwas, 2010). Thin films of ITO are also used in organic light-emitting diodes and solar cells. About 8 % of In is applied for alloys and solders (Buchert et al., 2009). Indium antimonide, indium arsenide and indium nitride are semiconductors with useful properties. Indium is used in the synthesis of the semiconductor copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), which is applied for the manufacture of thin film solar cells. Indium in solar cells is a relatively new application with strong growth potential (Tolcin, 2008).
The major future development and deployment of photovoltaic cells and wind turbines will depend seriously on the availability of 8 significant elements, and In is among them (Öhrlund, 2011).
A nanocomposite material, based on tin indium oxide (SnO2–In2O3) and graphene nanosheet (GNS) synthesized via a facile solvothermal method, has been proposed as anode material for lithium ion batteries (Yanga et al, 2013). As an anode for lithium ion batteries, the SnO2–In2O3/GNS nanocomposite exhibits a remarkably improved electrochemical performance in terms of lithium storage capacity (962 mAh/g at 60 mA/g rate), initial coulombic efficiency (57.2%), cycling stability (60.8% capacity retention after 50 cycles), and rate capability 393.25 mAh/g at 600 mA/g rate after 25 cycles) compared to SnO2/GNS and pure SnO2–In2O3 electrode.
The report of the Ad-hoc working group at the Raw Materials Supply Group at the European Comission estimates that In is to be regarded as one of the most critical metals in the next years due to rapid demand growth as well as serious supply risks, combined with moderate recycling restrictions and difficulties in substitution with non-critical metals (European Commission, 2010).

Resource base, production amounts, current and future demand
Indium’s abundance in the continental crust is estimated to be approximately 0.05 part per million (ppm). Trace amounts of indium occur in base metal sulfides. Indium is most commonly recovered from sphalerite. The average In content of Zn deposits from which it is recovered ranges from less than 1 to 100 ppm. Around 0,028 kg byproduct In can be recovered from 1 t Zn ore (Jorgenson and George, 2005). Extraction of In on the mining side is dependent on the development in Zn mining sector and this could be a bottleneck. Although the geochemical properties of In are such that it occurs with other base metals – Cu, lead (Pb), and tin (Sn), and to a lesser extent with bismuth (Bi), cadmium (Cd), and silver (Ag), most deposits of these metals are sub-economic for In extraction. Vein stock work deposits of Sn and tungsten host the highest known concentrations of In. However, it is usually difficult to recover economically In from this type of deposit (USGS, 2012; USGS, 2013). The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the world In reserves to be around 11000 t in 2007. However, the USGS report from 2013 states that for the present quantitative estimates of the reserves are not available (USGS, 2013). Chinese mines convey 50 % of world’s primary In, followed by Canada (15 %). Japan produces about 18 % of In. It does not possess natural In reserves but has a well developed recycling system (Tolcin, 2008).
End use of In grew continuously over the last 20 years. Production of ITO continues to be the leading end use of In and accounts for most global In consumption (USGS, 2012). The market for LCD applications is still growing rapidly. The ITO demand is also driven through the tendency towards bigger screen sizes which causes the need for more ITO per unit. Indium-containing thin film applications in the photovoltaic industry (CIGS) push demand further on. Installed global solar capacity is estimated to grow at the rate of 30 – 35 % each year till 2020 (Metal Pages, 2008). The Öko-Institut e.V. suggests the range of the total annual In demand until 2020 between 5 % and 10 % (Buchert et al., 2009).

Extraction of indium from raw materials
Sometimes, In is extracted directly from sphalerite by the following steps: firstly, In is extracted into solution by pressure acid leaching, then Fe3+ is removed by the method of jarosite precipitation, and In goes into jarosite. Thus formed jarosite is dissolved using hot H2SO4 solution. In some cases In is directly extracted from leach solution by (bis(2-ethylhexyl) phosphoric acid - D2EHPA (Li et al, 2010).
Generally speaking, In is produced mainly by leaching with hydrochloric acid (HCl) or sulfuric acid (H2SO4) of dusts, fumes, residues, and slag from Zn and Pb-Zn smelting. The solutions are concentrated, and In is recovered as 99+ % metal. Then it is refined to standard-grade (99.99 %) and higher purity metal (Rudnick and Gao, 2004).
In the imperial smelting process (ISP), only a limited part of the In is slagged off owing to its affinity for Pb, absence of affinity for Fe, and the strong reducing properties of the metal. About 50 % of the In is lost to lead bullion in ISP; the rest resides in the Zn residue, where it is recovered from those plants that operate a complete refinery unit. While the pyrometallurgical processes are not conducive to the recovery of In, roasting in a rotary furnace can be used for selectively fuming the metal.
In the electrolytic process for Zn refining In is concentrated in the neutral leach residue from the Zn plant. The residue is roasted to produce secondary zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is first leached with dilute H2SO4 to remove Zn, and the residue is leached again with dilute HCl to remove most of the lead and also, a small portion of In and arsenic (As) from the residues. In the next step, soda is added to the remaining filtrate to precipitate the majority of In. The precipitate is leached with NaOH solution to create crude indium hydroxide (In(OH)3), containing 20 % In, 6 % Zn, 1.5–3 % As, and 0.5–2 % Cd. The crude In(OH)3 is leached with dilute HCl. The In solution is purified by cementation of Cu and As with Fe, followed by cementation of Sn and Pb with In. Finally, to remove In, Al is added to create indium cement (Felix, 2002).
In Teck Cominco Ltd., one of the world’s largest In producers, indium is recovered from gaseous streams from the integrated Zn and Pb production. Fumes and other particulates from the lead smelter are transferred to the Zn facilities for hydrometallurgical separation. Fumes generally contain only 0.05–0.2 % In or Ge. They are leached to extract In and Ge into solution (along with Zn and Cd) in order to separate them from the lead sulfate residue. After the first leaching, slurry is settled to remove a lead oxide residue which is pumped back into the Pb smelter, and the clear solution is passed on to the further stage. There, the slurry is partially neutralized with direct fume addition and ferric iron to precipitate Ge, In, As and antimony (Sb). This precipitate is the feed for the indium / germanium recovery plant. There it is re-leached with H2SO4 to dissolve the contained Ge and In. After filtration, the clear solution is processed in a solvent extraction (SX) unit where both metals are recovered and subsequently re-precipitated to a product for further purification (Felix, 2002).
Sometimes it is difficult to recover In from leaching solution with solvent extraction directly because of the high Fe and low In concentrations in leachate. A successful attempt was made to develop a new process to recover In from the pressure oxidative leaching liquor bearing In. Indium was first enriched by the precipitation method using sodium tripolyphosphate (Na5P3O10). The resulting precipitate was dissolved by using subsequently NaOH solution and hot H2SO4 solution respectively, and then the solution was subjected to solvent extraction and cementation using Zn powder for the recovery of In. Total recovery ratio of In from pressure oxidative leaching liquor, bearing In, was more than 95 % (Jiang et al., 2011).

Recycling of indium
Pre-consumer scrap
Precise data on the quantity of secondary In recovered from scrap are not available. Indium is most commonly recovered from ITO. Sputtering, the process in which ITO is deposited as a thin-film coating onto a substrate, is highly inefficient process; only approximately 30 % of an ITO target material is deposited onto the substrate. The remaining 70 % represent spent ITO target material, the grinding sludge, and the after-processing residue left on the walls of the sputtering chamber (Böni and Widmer, 2011). This indicates the potential amount of pre-consumer scrap accumulating at the production sites. ITO recycling is concentrated in China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea - the countries where ITO production and sputtering take place. From sputtering waste, In can be recovered by leaching and precipitation (Lee, 2007).
Recovery of In from the etching waste from plants manufacturing liquid crystal displays was proposed. The etching waste was obtained by neutralization of an etching solution from the patterning process of TCO substrate, which was filtered and dried by filter press to obtain the etching cake. Initially, major impurities, such as Al, Mo, Cr, and Mg, were removed by dissolution using NaOH. The filtered cake was dissolved in concentrated HCl solution and the obtained filtrate was subjected to solvent extraction (PC88A was used as an extractant). PC88A extracts In, Al, Mo, and Fe from the HCl medium, but In can be selectively stripped from the loaded solvent. The resulting In solution was further purified to metal by electrolytic refining and the final purity of the In metal was 99.997 % (Kang, et al., 2011).
Post consumer waste
A hydrometallurgical method was proposed for recovering of Pb, Sn and In from alloy wire scrap containing these metals by acid/alkali leaching. The scrap material was leached with hot HCl–HNO3 solution. Upon cooling down to 10 °C, 71.8 % of the initially present Pb was separated as lead chloride. About 23 % of the remaining Pb content was recovered by cementation with In powder at 45 °C. Tin was recovered from the acidic solution as hydrated tin oxide by using NaOH at pH 2.0–2.8. Indium was recovered from the remaining solution by two different methods. The first method involved precipitation of In as phosphate using H3PO4 at pH 3.9 and subsequent conversion of phosphate into oxide by leaching with NaOH solution. In the second method, sponge metallic In was recovered by cementation with Zn powder at 30 °C. Lead, Sn and In, having purities of >99.0, 99.7 and 99.8 %, respectively, were obtained. The recovery of these metals was found to be 94.7, 99.5 and 99.7 %, respectively (Barakat, 1998).
A hydrometallurgical process was developed for the recovery of In metal from ITO targets, which includes acid leaching, removing Sn from leach solution by sulphide precipitation and depositing sponge In by Zn cementation. The leaching of In reached 99 % with ITO powder size of less than 75 m and initial acid concentration of 100 g/L H2SO4 at 90 °C for 2 h, while only about 8 % of Sn was leached out. Tin in the leach solution was reduced to 10 mg/L by sulphide precipitation under H2S partial pressure of 101.3 KPa and 100 g/L H2SO4 at 60 °C. Pure sponge In from purified In2(SO4)3 solution was obtained using Zn plate cementation at pH 1–1.5 and 65 °C (Li et al., 2011).
A flow sheet has been proposed for recovery of In from LCD screen wastes. It includes dissolving ITO into 1 M solution of H2SO4, then extracting In and Sn by D2EHPA followed by selective stripping of In into 1.5 M of HCl. With this process, HCl solution containing 12.2 g/L of In could be achieved (Virolainen et al., 2011).
Recovery of indium from scrap TFT-LCDs has been proposed (Ruan et al., 2012). The In from the waste material was better leached in H2SO4 (1:1, v/v) acid solution at the optimal liquid/solid ratio of 1:1, while other metals’ leaching concentrations were relatively low. Indium then was selectively extracted from its H2SO4 solutions by 30% D2EHPA with O/A ratio of 1:5 within 5 min, and was completely stripped by 4M HCl from D2EHPA with A/O ratio of 1:5. The final extraction efficiency achieved was more than 97%.
A process combining pyrolysis at 450 ◦C and hydro-metallurgy of the solid residue from the pyrolysis was proposed for recovering of In from the waste LCDs (Wang et al., 2013). The polarizing film was treated by pyrolysis and then indium was recovered from the glass by sulfuric acid immersion at a recovery close to 100%.
A new technique for the treatment of waste ITO-glass using aminopolycarboxylate chelants – APCs (such as EDTA or NTA) in combination with a mechano-chemical treatment (i.e. co-grinding with suitable additives) process has been proposed (Hasegawa et al., 2013a). APCs are forming stable complexes with the indium deposited on the ITO-glass, however the rate of recovery was not satisfying. The mechano-chemical treatment facilitates the destruction of crystalline structure with which the ITO fragments are attached and thus helps to achieve increased indium dissolution by the chelants. The processing time of vitrified ITO-glass is decreased in this way. The extraction of indium was better at the acidic condition (pH 5), and it was further intensified when the operating temperature was raised to ≥120 °C. Further, the reclamation of indium from the non-ground LCD-waste was studied using aminopolycarboxylate chelants (APCs) as the solvent in a hyperbaric environment and at a high-temperature. Microwave irradiation was used to facilitate the process, and ≥80% abstraction of indium from the LCD-waste with the APCs (EDTA or NTA) was achieved in the acidic pH region (up to pH 5) at the temperature of ≥120 ◦C and the pressure of ∼50 bar (Hasegawa et al., 2013b).
A chloride volatilization process using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as the chlorination agent was designed to recover In from indium oxide (In2O3) and LCDs powder. The recovery of In from In2O3 was 96.6 %, but with LCDs powder, only 54 % In was recovered (Park et al., 2009).
Industrial scale recycling facility for In-containing post-consumer scrap are only partly installed and initiated, e.g. by pyrometallurgical method in Belgium by Umicore (Hagelüken, 2008; Oosterhof, 2011).
One problematic aspect is the lack of a focused collection and reconditioning of indium-containing products in many regions of the world. The dissipative and widespread applications of In in electric and electronic equipment (EEE) and solar cells mean a challenge regarding recycling logistics and need of the development of a suitable legal framework. Currently recycling of In from LCDs and solar cells is not sufficiently economic, but nevertheless important.
Both the recycling rate of end of life consumer products and of old scrap recycling is less than 1 % at worldwide level (UNEP, 2011).
Byproducts, residues, solid waste and effluents from raw materials processing and water treatment
A number of smelters and flotation factories have accumulated large amounts of tailings and slags over the years and continue to do so. These critical metals-containing materials are more difficult and thus more expensive to treat. However, they can be treated if demand and price warrants. For example, the total residue reserves worldwide amount to over 15000 t of In and another 500 t of In is generated every year in residue form (Mikolajczak, 2009). Indium recovery from tailings was thought to have been insignificant, as these wastes contain low amounts of the metal and can be difficult to process. However, recent improvements to the process technology have made In recovery from tailings viable when its price is high (Buchert et al., 2009).
Zinc leaching residue was processes by combining flotation, reduction roasting and magnetic separation. Silver concentrate grading 3902.1 g/t and having Ag recovery of 77.75 % was obtained by flotation. The volatilization rates of Zn, Pb and In higher than 96 % were obtained by a reduction roasting of the flotation tailings at a temperature of 1100 oC using coal as reducer (Zhucheng, et al. 2007).
A technology for recovering In from copper-smelting ash was developed. Indium in the ash was first transformed to the leaching-slag in leaching process, and then recovered by sulfating roasting. The leaching-slag was mixed with sulfuric acid, the mixture was roasted, and then the calcine was leached with hot water. Above 90 % of In in calcine could be dissolved into the leaching solution. Over 99 % of In in leaching solution was finally enriched by Zn substitution or sulfide precipitation (Zhu et al., 2007).
Slag coming from Zn clinker process and containing In up to 700-850 g/t is leached by two-step acid leaching process. The In leaching rate reaches over 90 % in the whole process. Tertiary and adverse current extractions were applied leading to In extraction rates over 98.5 % and 99 % respectively in the whole process (Lin and Liu, 2006).
Previously abandoned Zn smelter slag and leaching residue were calcined at high temperature and zinc oxide flue dust (ZOFD) was obtained which contains 0.1-0.3 % In. Indium was recovered from ZOFD with H2SO4 by oxidative pressure leaching in an autoclave. Potassium permanganate and hydrogen peroxide were used as oxidants. The experimental results showed that the leaching rate of In can be effectively improved by oxidative pressure leaching. Leaching rate of In was higher than 90 %, which was an increase of 13 % compared with that of atmospheric pressure leaching process without oxidant (Li et al., 2010a).
Secondary pyrite tailings were treated by using an oxidizing-reducing roasting technological flow sheet. It turned out that the two-stage oxidizing roasting technology is suitable for eliminating S and As. The material was enriched in Fe more than 64 % after treatment at temperature over 600 - 700 oC. Then, at reducing roasting at temperature of 1100 oC several valuable metals were recovered, among them – In (Gu et al., 2010).
Indium (III) has been extracted from H2SO4 system at pH 1.5 by adsorption on coated solvent impregnated resins (CSIRs), which had been prepared by the formation of PVA–boric acid protective layer on solvent impregnated resins (SIRs) containing 2-ethylhexyl phosphoric acid mono (2-ethylhexyl) ester (EHEHPA). The In loaded on CSIRs was effectively eluted by HCl solution (0.5–2.0 mol/L), and the recovery was over 98.9 % (Yuan et al., 2010).
The calix[6]arene based cation exchange resins have been developed and successfully tested for selective recovery of In from acid effluents containing substantial quantity of Zn and Fe. The extracted In was easily and almost quantitatively back extracted with dilute HCl solution and the extractant was regenerated without any physical/chemical damage. Pre-concentration and mutual separation of In from Zn was achieved using the column separation technique (Babu et al., 2012).
Recovery of In from the real etching wastewater obtained from ITO etching process has been proposed. The method is based on chelation - supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2) extraction. The applied chelating agent was 2,2-dimethyl-6,6,7,7,8,8,8-heptafluoro-3,5-octanedione (HFOD). The percentage of In recovery from etching wastewater was over 90.8 % (Liu et al. 2009).
The etching waste solution from the fabrication process of flat-panel displays (FPDs) contains about 2% of indium. A technique is developed for the selective recovery of indium from the etching waste, which is produced during the patterning of indium tin oxide (ITO) layer on the flat-panel displays (Hasegawa et al., 2013c). The process includes the application of a solid phase extraction (SPE) assembly, known as molecular recognition technology (MRT) gel, consisting of a metal-selective ligand immobilized to silica gel or polymer substrates. Several commercial SPE-types (TE 02, TE 03, TE 07, TE 13, PM 02, C 100, PA 1, PB 1, SC 1, SA 1) were evaluated for their ability to separate selectively indium from the matrix elements. The indium retention or recovery with TE 02 MRT-SPE from the real etching waste solution was in the range of 97 to 99%. A three-step elution with 0.3 mol/L HNO3, 6 mol/L HCl and 1 mol /L HCl/10 mmol/L EDTA was required to accomplish the sequential selectivity in the process.
Extraction of strategic materials from the concentrated brine, rejected by a desalination unit based on RO has been proposed. The first step is extraction of phosphorus through purification by alum. The next step is the recovery of caesium through a liquid–liquid extraction approach, based on the use of Calixarenes. Indium and Ga were then recovered by another liquid–liquid extraction with the help of organic acids. Three different acids (bis(2-ethylhexyl) phosphoric acid - D2EHPA, 2-ethylhexyl phosphonic acid mono-2-ethylhexyl ester - EHPNA and bis(2-ethylhexyl) phosphinic acid - PIA-226) diluted in kerosene were applied. Organic phase was stripped with HCl solution by countercurrent process of 15 stages. Indium with a purity of 97.4 % and Ga with a purity of 99.8 % were recovered from the chloride solution (Le Dirach et al., 2010).
Municipal solid waste bears rare elements, among them – In (Morf et al., 2013). The total content of indium in the MSW-input processed in the SWI in Hinwil, Switzerland, in 2010 is 0.29 mg/kg. The estimated annual flow of indium in the waste input of the same plant is 58 kilograms/year. Indium is concentrated mainly in the non-ferrous fraction <5 mm (14.5 mg/kg) and in the ash from the electrical precipitators - ESP-Ash (6.8 mg/kg). This is why ESP-ash may be interesting for the recovery of In.

The economic development, communications, renewable energy technologies, and our every-day comfort dependent on supply of many critical materials - among them In is very important.
Recycling of manufacturing waste and of post-consumer products is a significant source of In. It needs establishment and enlargement of recycling capacities including efficient collection system, development and realization of new recycling technologies and drawing attention of the public to the importance of recycling of special metals. However, we have not to forget that recycling decreases but not stops depletion of metals.
Use of unconventional sources, such as by-products, residues, old mine dumps, tailings, solid waste and effluents from raw materials’ processing and water treatment can help in securing future availability of high tech metals. In general, those materials bear indium in amounts higher than the primary sources, and in the case of solid-phase sources the material is already mined out and crushed.

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This work was supported by the project FK-012/2013 at the University of Mining and Geology – regulation No 9 for Scientific and Research Projects.

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