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Concerns for the Tin Supply

Lisme writes,

Hi Dr. Lasky,

As tin is the major material used in lead free soldering, and it's source is decreasing each year, is there any prediction of other metal/substance that can replace it?

Thanks&Regards,

Lisme

Lisme,

I don't want to minimize the concern for the tin supply. Tin Technology predicts almost a 10% short fall this year. World demand is 380,000 tons and supply about 350,000 tons. Unrest in Indonesian, a major supplier, exacerbates the situation.

Tin is currently at over $14/kg, but short of its inflation adjusted high of $35/kg in the 1980 timeframe. The solder industry uses about 15% of the world's tin supply.

We are all also concerned for the oil supply. However, the image above is misleading. We aren't running out of oil, we are running out of cheap oil. My two price points on the image suggests the real situation. There is no oil at $15 per barrel, but one can get a very large supply if one is willing to pay a high price for it. The higher prices of today have encouraged development of new sources of oil from tar sands and shale oil. The world is similarly not running out of tin long term, but the price will likely be higher.

How does a higher price affect electronics? Electronics is over a $1 trillion dollar industry, solder for electronics is less than $1 billion, so the $1000 laptop you bought a few months ago had only about $1 in solder in it.

Again, I don't want to minimize the high price of tin and short supply. It especially affects solder suppliers. But solder has a second order effect on the price of electronics and I can't see a drive to leave tin as a base for solder because of its recent price increases. Especially since tin is the foundation of all common solders. It is tin that forms intermetallics and hence the "soldering" with copper.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

PS: I bet my friends in the Occam Movement will enjoy this posting!