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13 May 2014

Gallium market to grow 40% by 2020 as general lighting rises from 18% to 33% of demand

Demand for gallium will rise rapidly between 2014 and 2020 as general lighting moves away from incandescent and fluorescent lamps to light-emitting diodes, but this strong growth is unlikely to result in any tightness in supply as the market is oversupplied and likely to remain so, forecasts market research firm Roskill Information Services Ltd in the latest edition of its report ‘Gallium: Global Industry Markets & Outlook’.

Production dominated by China

Chinese capacity for primary gallium production (as a by-product of alumina) is estimated to have risen from a third to 80% of the global total between 2009 and 2013. Despite the increase in capacity, world production of primary gallium is estimated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to have fallen by about 100 tons in 2013 to 280 tons. Some 220 tons of this was produced in China, where stocks are accumulating. Recycling, particularly in Japan, is an important element of supply.

Consumption mainly in Japan, but China is catching up

By far the largest market is in Japan, but its share of the global market is estimated to have fallen from as high as 80% in the mid-2000s to about 50% in 2013. While Japan is likely to remain the world’s dominant gallium market for some years, the growth of the optoelectronics and electronics industries in China, together with the abundant domestic supply of gallium, indicates that the Chinese market will eventually become the largest. The global gallium market is forecast to rise by 40% to about 422 tons per year (tpy) by 2020, with use in general lighting rising from 18% to 33% of total demand. Gallium’s use for electronic power management will remain the largest market, but will decline from 50% to 43% of the total, forecasts the report.

Use of GaN expanding rapidly

The use of gallium nitride (GaN)-based integrated circuits and LEDs is widening and increasing, with a number of companies researching and developing its potential, notes the report. The use of gallium compound LEDs (particularly GaN-based) in all types of solid-state lighting (SSL) applications has become a major use for gallium. The SSL market comprises architectural, commercial, consumer portable (e.g. torches), industrial, outdoor and residential, signals (e.g. traffic lights) and motor vehicles. Architectural lighting has been the largest market, but may be overtaken by outdoor and residential lighting.

GaN power semiconductors can operate at higher temperatures, power levels, voltages and frequencies than gallium arsenide (GaAs) and silicon. There are power applications for GaN in power distribution, industrial and heavy electrical systems, and turbines, heavy machinery, advanced industrial control systems and electro-mechanical computing systems. GaN can also work across a very broad range of other high-frequency, high-power and microwave electronic devices used in cable TV, aerospace applications, utility grids, electric vehicles and wireless applications such as base-stations. GaN semiconductors are also used in LEDs for backlighting of LCD flat panel displays in computers, TVs and mobile telephones, and in signage, adds the report.

GaAs semiconductors and semi-insulators remain an important market

GaAs has historically been the most widely used gallium compound semiconductor. Its main modern uses are in power amplifiers - principally for mobile phone ICs - and in LEDs for backlighting of televisions, computers and phones.

Speed is the main advantage of GaAs. It is a faster, more efficient substrate material than silicon for ICs as electrons travel about five times faster in GaAs than they do in silicon. In addition, GaAs can operate over a wider range of temperatures than silicon, and has much higher radiation hardness. It is hence particularly useful for space applications and military hardware.

Thin-film PV cells potentially a growing market for gallium

A small amount of gallium is used in thin-film copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) photovoltaic (PV) cells. Thin-film technology is being researched intensively, because it is much lighter and more flexible than silicon crystal, and its use is growing. The semiconducting materials used to absorb the sun’s rays are deployed as thin films only a few microns deep. Amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium (di)selenide (CIS) compete with CIGS in the thin-film market, notes the report.

Impact of changes in gallium market on prices?

Despite growing demand for use in LED lighting, and a widely held expectation that GaN-based LED lighting will become the norm in the next ten years, gallium prices in 2013 and the early part of 2014 fell to their lowest ever levels in real terms. This is because gallium supplies from a combination of both primary and secondary sources are deemed more than sufficient to meet any likely demand. With only 11 producers of primary gallium in the world (seven of which are in China), it is possible that a producer price, based on costs and a profit margin, could come into force. This may lead to a gradual increase in prices from the very low levels seen in first-half 2014, reckons the report.

Tags: Gallium

Visit: www.roskill.com/gallium

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