It Has Come To My Attention

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Name: Simon Quellen Field
Location: Los Gatos, California, United States

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Precious metal

I am not a commodoties trader, but I buy the metal indium in large quantities, and process it into liquid metal alloys and alloys that melt in hot water.

I used to buy indium for about $50 per pound. Now it costs ten times that.

Indium is about three times more abundant in the earth's crust than silver or mercury, although some sources claim it is about the same as silver. So why has the cost of indium gone from much less than silver to much more than silver?

Big screen televisions.

Big screen displays need to have an electrically conductive coating on the glass that is transparent. Tin oxide can be used, but it is not as conductive as indium tin oxide. That 60 inch big screen TV is coated in indium tin oxide. So is the display in your laptop computer, your cell phone, and your personal digital assistant. And indium tin oxide is 90% indium oxide, and only 10% tin oxide.

Indium is also used in several semiconductors, in welding, and in nuclear control rods. But none of those industies has grown as fast as the number of flat screen displays, or the number of square miles of flat screen display produced since this century began.

And I do my part. The demand for a non-toxic liquid metal to substitute for mercury is surprisingly high, and I sell a lot of it these days. And since I buy indium in bulk, my customers get last year's price, until I run out. Then I will have to swallow hard and write a big check for the next batch.