Global Supply & Demand
Supply
Africa and Australia are the leading contributors to the Coltan global supply chain, with each accounting for approximately 30% each, followed by Brazil (15%) and China (8%).

It is important to note that a significant proportion of the supply from Africa originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC holds approximately 80% of total global resources and has been under the spotlight for the past two decades as the Coltan mining operations are subject to illegal practices, as militant organisations control the flow of 'Conflict Coltan' out of the country. Click to learn more on the 'Conflict Coltan War' in the DRC.

The situation in the DRC has recently added pressure to the end user corporations such as Apple Inc, Nokia, Sony, as calls for a stop to the humanitarian extortion are affecting the responsible image of the global technology giants. Companies are now refusing to use 'Conflict Coltan' and place demands on the origin of the metallic raw material. This recent turn of events has added pressure to the Africa supply chain, with a reduction of supply from the region estimated to fall 30% on previous export figures. The future of Africa's Coltan exports will now depend on the resolution of the problems that have scarred the DRC during the past twenty years.

Two recent incidents in the supply chain have caused the shift of Coltan towards the resource rich lands of Africa. In 2007, the US Defence Logistics Agency completely depleted its inventory. Previous the Defence agency released approximately half a million pounds per annum of Tantalum to the global market from the stockpile maintained from the Cold War reserves. At the time, the market was flooded and thus reduced the market price. This reaction caused a knock on effect for the second largest supplier of Coltan, Australia.

The Wodgina Mine in Australia contributed 30% of global supply. In 2008 the mining operation were suspended due to two main market factors. (1) The market was flooded due to the depletion of the US Defence Logistics Agency stockpile, which had a remarkable affect on the trading price. (2) The global economic recession caused demand for technology products to fall, essentially forcing the demand for Coltan ore to fall with it.

Demand
Demand for Coltan hit a peak in the year 2000 as technologies such as the Sony Playstation 2 hit the market. Demand remained strong with the constant innovations in the cell phone markets, LCD television developments, popularity for laptop computers and advancements in aeronautics industry.

The global economic downturn, combined with the US Defence Logistics Agency's flooding of the market, forced the demand for newly mined Coltan to fall in 2008 and resulted in the closure of Australia's major Coltan mining operations.

The market is now short on the half million pounds of annual supply from the US Defence Logistics Agency. The combination of this deficit, the loss of the Australian supply and the ethical demands forced as a result of the 'Conflict Coltan', has resulted in a huge loss of global supply.

The global financial outlook began to recover during the middle of 2009. Consumer spending patterns are showing positive signs as the economic recovery gathers momentum. The demand for Coltan based products is also gathering momentum as capacitor manufacturing companies reported a 30% growth in their first quarter earnings, compared to results in the previous year.

The results of less supply, with a rise of demand have caused the price of Coltan ore to rise. During 2011 alone, the price per pound of refined Coltan (Tantalum) has risen from $38-00 in January, to $85-00 in September. The forecast is expected to continue as the economic laws of supply and demand will continue to set the market price to it's rational value.


Forecast
Since 1990, tantalum demand has increased by an average of 6% per year and is expected to recover to similar levels after the current economic downturn. In the future, demand from the Asia Pacific boasts the highest potential with an estimated growth of 6.75% towards 2015.

Manufacturing of Tantalum capacitors has seen a shift to the manufacturing countries in Asia, predominantly China due to the lower costs in production. The future demand for capacitors is expected to grow as there are currently no alternatives to Tantalum based products due to the property efficiencies and relatively low cost.

The industry's strongest area for explosive growth will most likely be in the aeronautics industry for nickel based super alloys used in the production of turbine engines. 2009 reports estimated that 15% of end-use Tantalum was accounted in the aeronautics industry, with substantial room for growth, as the two largest manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, expand their product lines using super alloy based systems.

Other significant drivers to demand will be in the growth of hard cutting metal tool, which are used in automotive production. This area offers sustained growth with in the developing countries of China and India as the production continues to supply increasing demand.