Antimony

Statistics and Information (from U.S.G.S. Mineral Commodity Summaries, 2013):
Antimony in its elemental form is a silvery white, brittle crystalline solid that exhibits poor electrical and heat conductivity properties. Commercial forms of antimony are generally ingots, broken pieces, granules, and cast cake. Other forms are powder, shot, and single crystals.

Estimates of the abundance of antimony in the Earth’s crust range from 0.2 to 0.5 parts per million. Antimony is chalcophile, occurring with sulfur and the heavy metals, lead, copper, and silver. Over a hundred minerals of antimony are found in nature. Stibnite (Sb2S3) is the predominant ore mineral of antimony.

The most important use of antimony metal is as a hardener in lead for storage batteries. The metal also finds applications in solders and other alloys. Antimony trioxide is the most important of the antimony compounds and is primarily used in flame-retardant formulations. These flame-retardant applications include such markets as children’s clothing, toys, aircraft and automobile seat covers.

U.S. Domestic Production and Use:
There was no antimony mine production in the United States in 2012. Primary antimony metal and oxide was produced by one company in Montana, using foreign feedstock. The estimated distribution of antimony uses was as follows: flame retardants, 35%; transportation, including batteries, 29%; chemicals, 16%; ceramics and glass, 12%; and other, 8%.

U.S. Recycling:
Traditionally, the bulk of secondary antimony has been recovered as antimonial lead, most of which was generated by and then consumed by the battery industry. Changing trends in that industry in recent years, however, have generally reduced the amount of secondary antimony produced; the trend to low-maintenance batteries has tilted the balance of consumption away from antimony and toward calcium as an additive.

Import Sources (2008–11):
Metal: China, 74%; Mexico, 12%; Peru, 3%; and other, 11%. Ore and concentrate: Italy, 45%; Bolivia, 26%; China, 23%; and other, 6%. Oxide: China, 63%; Mexico, 15%; Belgium, 9%; Bolivia, 9%; and other, 4%. Total: China, 67%; Mexico, 15%; Belgium, 7%; Bolivia, 4%; and other, 7%.

Events, Trends, and Issues:
In 2012, antimony production from domestic source materials was derived mostly from recycling lead-acid batteries. Recycling supplied only a minor portion of estimated domestic consumption, and the remainder came from imports.

Only one domestic smelter in Montana continued to make antimony products. The company that operated the domestic smelter progressed further with the development of its Mexican operations. Its 150-ton Puerto Blanca mill and Madero smelter were being supplied by more than seven Mexican antimony mines. Four furnaces were operating at the Mexican smelter, and three of them were being retrofitted for increased production. They were designed to handle low-grade antimony oxide ore, which predominates in Mexico. The Mexican combination flotation and gravity mill was delivering concentrates to the smelter. The mill recovered the sulfides and some of the oxides not recoverable by flotation methods. A large precrusher was being installed to handle oversize rock from the Los Juarez property.

In China, the world’s leading antimony producer, the Government continued to shut down antimony mines and smelters in an effort to control environmental issues and resolve safety problems. The price of antimony remained in a fairly narrow band during 2012. The price started the year at about $5.70 per pound, rose to $6.30 per pound by early July, and finished September at about $5.80 per pound. Prices continued to be influenced by production constrictions in China, combined with moderate world consumption increases.

Several new antimony mine projects were being evaluated and developed in Armenia, Australia, Canada, China, Georgia, Italy, Laos, Russia, and Turkey.

World Resources:
U.S. resources of antimony are mainly in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada. Principal identified world resources are in Bolivia, China, Russia, and South Africa. Additional antimony resources may occur in Mississippi Valley-type lead deposits in the Eastern United States.

Substitutes:
Compounds of chromium, tin, titanium, zinc, and zirconium substitute for antimony chemicals in paint, pigments, and enamels. Combinations of cadmium, calcium, copper, selenium, strontium, sulfur, and tin can be used as substitutes for hardening lead. Selected organic compounds and hydrated aluminum oxide are widely accepted substitutes as flame retardants.