Over 40% of global tantalum mineral resources are in Brazil, with another 21% in Australia; Africa also hosts considerable tantalum resources, although probably nowhere close to the 80% of the global total that was often reported during the 2000s. The tantalum market, estimated at 3.75Mlb Ta2O5 in 2011, is supplied by production from conventional and artisanal mining operations (75% of supply), by material recovered from tin slags (7%) and by scrap recycling (18%). Conventional mines, such as in Australia, Brazil and Ethiopia, make up about half of primary supply, while the other half comes from artisanal production, principally in Central Africa, Brazil and Nigeria. The latter form of mining is highly flexible and can quickly react to changing market conditions.
The electronics industry accounts for 50-60% of tantalum consumption, with superalloys the other major end-use at around 20%. World consumption of tantalum reached an all-time high in 2008, before the global economic downturn caused demand to fall by 40% in 2009. A strong recovery was seen in 2010, particularly from the capacitor industry, with demand returning to a level approaching that of 2008. The market eased in 2011 and will probably weaken further in 2012 before returning to a 5%py growth trend and recovering fully by mid-decade. The potential for another fall in demand for tantalum in 2012 and 2013 cannot be discounted, however.
There are two main mechanisms for tantalum mineral prices: long-term contracts from conventional miners and spot sales for material from artisanal mines and elsewhere. Spot market prices for tantalum showed few dramatic movements during most of the 2000s, but the downturn in demand, significant downstream inventories and the continuing availability of low cost tantalum from Central Africa caused market prices to fall in mid-2009. Improving market conditions in 2010 boosted both market and contract prices and they peaked at an average of US$140/lb in 2011. As the tantalum market began to ease again, market prices slipped back to a level of around US$100/lb by the start of 2012
In the period to 2016, the tantalum market will swing from undersupply to oversupply and probably back again. Market and contract prices may have further to fall in the short-term, before returning to 2012 levels mid-decade.
World: Supply/demand balance for tantalum to 2015 (000lb Ta2O5