Tantalite is an oxide mineral and is the primary source of the element tantalum, for which it is harvested. Tantalum has become an increasingly important mineral in the electronics industry thanks to its strength and electrical properties. These properties make it useful in a variety of technologies that are in wide use today, including medical devices, cell phones and laptops.
The mineral has been found on nearly every continent, in some of the oldest sections of the continental crust. Tantalum is found in three forms: Ore and Concentrate, Oxide or Salts and Capacitor-grade Powder. This powder is what is used in many electronics applications today.
Like every other raw or man-made material, price is dependent on supply and demand. As the world demand for electronics and advanced technologies has grown, demand for this highly conductive mineral has also risen. Increased demand usually results in a higher price, since it is a finite resource and must be mined.
Tantalum is such a valuable component of today's consumer electronics that it has placed enormous strain on the world's supply of tantalite. When need soars, it is not uncommon for prices to rise to hundreds of dollars per kilogram.
However, the tantalite price is subject to slumps too. The worldwide economic plunge of the early 2000's saw less purchasing of consumer electronics and, as a result, less need for the mineral. During this time, some mines even closed only to re-open as demand soared again.
Other factors that influence tantalite price involve how it is harvested. As more and more consumers require conflict-free sourcing, supplies could slip and cause a rise in pricing. Consumers could see this rise passed on to them in the form of higher priced electronics.
Tantalum is also highly recyclable and is one of the main components that is recycled and reused from old cell phones and laptops. Recycling the mineral eases some of the demand on fresh supplies.
The current tantalite price is hovering between $120 and $130 per pound. Tantalum prices, by comparison, are over $500 per kilogram. These prices alone demonstrate the high value of the powdered form of the mineral.
Tantalum is not going anywhere in the new future. It is so widely used today and is so highly valued that it will be in demand for the foreseeable future. Besides cell phones and laptops, the powder is used in DVD players, digital cameras, LCD screens, tablets, game consoles, nuclear reactors and many more technologies.
The US Frank-Dodd Act will likely have an effect on the price. The Act requires US corporations to "state whether they source 'conflict minerals'" and to "report on steps taken to exclude conflict sources from their supply chains, backed by independent audits." This has led to many companies ceasing to purchase tantalite from some suppliers that were known to be providing conflict minerals. The impact is so large that Chinese manufacturers have stopped the purchase of conflict tantalum so as to retain their American customers and contracts.
If demand for electronics continues to rise and if manufacturers stick to their desire for conflict-free sourcing, prices for both tantalum and the electronics it is used in could rise even more until conflict-free production becomes the new norm and supplies even out.