Bismuth

Domestic Production and Use: The United States ceased production of primary refined bismuth in 1997 and is highly import dependent for its supply. Bismuth is contained in some lead ores mined domestically, but the last domestic primary lead smelter closed at yearend 2013, and all lead concentrates now are exported for smelting. In 2017, the estimated value of apparent consumption of bismuth was approximately $22 million.

About two-thirds of domestic bismuth consumption was for chemicals used in cosmetic, industrial, laboratory, and pharmaceutical applications. Bismuth use in pharmaceuticals included bismuth salicylate (the active ingredient in over-the-counter stomach remedies) and other compounds used to treat burns, intestinal disorders, and stomach ulcers. Bismuth also is used in the manufacture of ceramic glazes, crystalware, and pearlescent pigments. Bismuth has a wide variety of metallurgical applications, including use as a nontoxic replacement for lead in brass, free- machining steels, and solders, and as an additive to enhance metallurgical quality in the foundry industry. The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendment of 1996, which required that all new and repaired fixtures and pipes for potable water supply be lead free after August 1998, opened a wider market for bismuth as a metallurgical additive to lead-free pipe fittings, fixtures, and water meters. Bismuth is used as a triggering mechanism for fire sprinklers and in holding devices for grinding optical lenses, and bismuth-tellurium-oxide alloy film paste is used in the manufacture of semiconductor devices.

Recycling: Bismuth-containing new and old alloy scrap was recycled and thought to compose less bismuth apparent consumption, or about 80 tons.

Events, Trends, and Issues: The U.S. domestic dealer price of bismuth, which had trended upward in 2014, started 2015 at $10.90 per pound, decreased steadily throughout the year, and ended the year with a December average of $4.56 per pound. The price then remained relatively stable throughout 2016 and 2017, ranging between $4.00 per pound and $5.17 per pound.

In China, new environmental regulations were reported to have reduced the number of operating bismuth producers, from between 70 and 80 in 2016 to between 40 and 50 in 2017. Small- and medium-sized producers were forced to shut down for upgrades to meet stricter regulations, reducing domestic output by at least 25%.

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