Tantalum is a critical material for high-performance applications. Global production is relatively small and limited to a few key regions and producers. The regional distribution of tantalum production is currently in significant flux.
Tantalum is used in high-performance capacitors, superalloys and other applications consumed widely in aerospace, military and consumer electronics.
While capacitors will remain the most significant application (accounting for around 36% of the 2.4kt Ta of estimated demand in 2019), the most considerable growth will come from chemical applications and tantalum mill products. With the ongoing electrification of homes and vehicles, tantalum will play an increasingly important role in future — from ensuring safety in autonomous vehicles to maintaining performance in the next generation of electrical devices and communications technology.
Overall, supply for tantalum grew by an estimated 8.2%py between 2010 and 2019 (from 1,031t to 2,101t Ta2O5). Spurred by increasing demand and the opportunity for new lower-cost by-product streams, Roskill forecasts global supply to grow by 4.3% in its lower-case scenario to 2029 (to 3,214t Ta2O5) and by 5.2%py (to 3,490t Ta2O5) in its higher-case scenario.
Over the next decade, demand for tantalum is forecast to grow at 4.6%py to reach 3,595t Ta, higher than throughout much of the previous decade, underpinned by growth in the significant market of capacitors.
Capacitors, common to all electronic devices, are the largest application and accounted for 37% of total consumption in 2019. Tantalum capacitors are typically high value and used in niche high-performance applications such as aerospace, military, medical and automotive applications.
In the longer term, the tantalum capacitor market will continue to grow with rapid electrification rates and with the growing need for higher–performance components in applications such as electric/autonomous vehicles, 5G network infrastructure, and electrified household devices. Overall, demand for tantalum in capacitors could grow by 5.3%py over the next decade.
Healthy demand growth for tantalum over the decade to 2029 (forecast at 4.9%py) will encourage an increase in tantalum supply, mainly from existing producers.
Trends in the significant market of semiconductors (ultimately driven by the uptake of electrical devices, both new and replacement) will underpin the need for sputtering targets. The semiconductor market is highly variable year to year but expected to see recovery in 2020 following lower demand in 2019. Demand will continue to grow in semiconductors and the smaller markets of magnetic data storage and inkjet printers by 2029. In the long-term, physical data storage will face pressure from the adoption of online cloud storage, although physical hardware will still be required to run these services, which are likely to use tantalum in the form of capacitors.
Mill products are a niche application where tantalum is vital, mainly for use in anti-corrosive products. One central area of growth is the US chemical industry associated with the rapid increase in petrochemical production from low-cost tight oil. In the long-term, the market could shift towards greater use of tantalum coatings over whole products of tantalum. This would decrease the specific consumption of tantalum per item, but reducing costs is expected to increase the number of applications in which tantalum can be used cost-effectively.
Cemented carbides will continue to decline but at a slowing rate as this market reaches further maturity, with tantalum demand in this sector falling by 1.7%py to 2029.
*Information from Roskill Tantalum: Outlook to 2029 (15th Edition)