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Tantalum

Tantalum (Ta) is a rare, hard, corrosion-resistant, blue-grey, lustrous transition metal. It is primarily found in the mineral tantalite, and usually occurs along with niobium, an element which shares many chemical and physical characteristics with it. Tantalum containing minerals are mostly found in pegmatite ore bodies. Tantalum-bearing tin slags (a by-product of tin smelting) are an additional source of tantalum.

World Reserves and Production
World reserves of tantalum are estimated at 153,000 (2011): the largest reserves are located in Brazil (87,000t) and Australia (40,500t), followed by China and South East Asia (7,800t), Central Africa (3,200t) and other African regions (12,500t). World 2010 production is estimated to be approximately 2,000t, the largest producers are Brazil, Australia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Congo and Zimbabwe.

Deposits
Volta Grande (Brazil): The Volta Grande deposit is a pegmatite ore body, with the open-pit mine producing tantalum and niobium products along with feldspar and tin. The ore body has a resource of 6.32Mt grading 375ppm of Ta2O5. The plant has a capacity to produce 135tpa Ta2O5 (60% recovery), with potential to expand to 230tpa.

Marropino (Mozambique): The Marropino deposit is a pegmatite ore body with associated colluvial/eluvial deposits. The ore body has a resource of 11Mt grading 234ppm Ta2O5. 2011 saw a fourfold increase in production to 90tpa, following an intense period of commissioning, with further increases planned following the construction of a new plant.

Applications
Tantalum is primarily used in electronic capacitors, which are widely used in equipment such as mobile phones and laptops. Tantalum-based capacitors have significant advantages over other materials in terms of response times, weight and space-saving for high-end telecommunications, data storage and medical devices. Tantalum is also used in the production of cutting tools, high temperature alloys, optical glass for camera lenses, ink-jet cartridges and in X-ray phosphors.

Market
Global tantalum production reduced significantly from 2008 to 2009 after three large mines (Wodgina in Australia, Tanco in Canada and Marropino in Mozambique) were closed, due to the global economic conditions during which processors turned to using large stockpiles. Demand has largely returned to pre-GFC levels and with industry inventories being depleted, demand and prices have recovered also.