Nyrstar’s Middle Tennessee Mines in Gordonsville, Tennessee, announced this week that it will temporarily pause production operations on 30 November 2023. This decision comes in direct response to significantly weakened market conditions and inflationary impacts on input costs and operating margins.
During the suspension of operations, Nyrstar plans to conduct drilling to explore and define additional zinc, germanium, and gallium resources to position the company to increase the supply to Nyrstar’s Clarksville smelter upon completion of a planned investment to enable on-site germanium and gallium recovery.
China’s recent export restrictions on gallium and germanium have prompted producers in the ROW to explore the viability of ramping up production.
Gallium “feedstock” is produced through primary production (although as a by-product) and secondary production (recycling). Primary production (~71% of global supply in 2022) sees gallium obtained as a by-product during the refining process of other metals, specifically during the production of alumina from bauxite or through zinc residue processing.
While bauxite is the most important primary source of gallium, a small amount of gallium is produced as a by-product of zinc extraction from sphalerite ores (ZnS). During this process, the sphalerite is first roasted to zinc oxide (ZnO) and then leached with sulphuric acid and gallium is contained in impurities which are separated from the leach solution.
On a regional basis, China is now by far the largest producer of gallium feedstock with a >96% market share in 2022. It has been steadily growing its market share, having accounted for 81% of global output in 2013. This huge market share, coupled with export restrictions, has prompted concerns in the ROW and the Nyrstar news suggests that mining majors are actively exploring potential opportunities to increase Western supply.
Source: project blue