Looking Down under for a Circular Economy of Indium

Tim T. Werner, Luca Ciacci, Gavin Mark Mudd, Barbara K. Reck, Stephen Alan Northey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Indium is a specialty metal crucial for modern technology, yet it is potentially critical due to its byproduct status in mining. Measures to reduce its criticality typically focus on improving its recycling efficiency at end-of-life. This study quantifies primary and secondary indium resources ("stocks") for Australia through a dynamic material-flow analysis. It is based on detailed assessments of indium mineral resources hosted in lead-zinc and copper deposits, respective mining activities from 1844 to 2013, and the trade of indium-containing products from 1988 to 2015. The results show that Australia's indium stocks are substantial, estimated at 46.2 kt in mineral resources and an additional 14.7 kt in mine wastes. Australian mineral resources alone could meet global demand (∼0.8 kt/year) for more than five decades. Discarded material from post-consumer products, instead, is negligible (43 t). This suggests that the resilience of Australia's indium supply can best be increased through efficiency gains in mining (such as introducing domestic indium refining capacity) rather than at the end of the product life. These findings likely also apply to other specialty metals, such as gallium or germanium, and other resource-dominated countries. Finally, the results illustrate that national circular economy strategies can differ substantially.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2055-2062
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2018

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