The Global Anthropogenic Gallium System: Determinants of Demand, Supply and Efficiency Improvements

Gallium has been labeled as a critical metal due to rapidly growing consumption, importance for low-carbon technologies such as solid state lighting and photovoltaics, and being produced only as a byproduct of other metals (mainly aluminum). The global system of primary production, manufacturing, use and recycling has not yet been described or quantified in the literature. This prevents predictions of future demand, supply and possibilities for efficiency improvements on a system level. We present a description of the global anthropogenic gallium system and quantify the system using a combination of statistical data and technical parameters. We estimated that gallium was produced from 8 to 21% of alumina plants in 2011. The most important applications of gallium are NdFeB permanent magnets, integrated circuits and GaAs/GaP-based light-emitting diodes, demanding 22–37%, 16–27%, and 11–21% of primary metal production, respectively. GaN-based light-emitting diodes and photovoltaics are less important, both with 2–6%. We estimated that 120–170 tons, corresponding to 40–60% of primary production, ended up in production wastes that were either disposed of or stored. While demand for gallium is expected to rise in the future, our results indicated that it is possible to increase primary production substantially with conventional technology, as well as improve the system-wide material efficiency.