Mercury Prices Explained
Mercury prices continue to present headwinds in the market as the commodity’s demand decreases due to safety and health issues. However, metal experts are hopeful of its potential market in the decarbonization initiative as this metal will take a great role in future green energy transformation.
Why are mercury prices fluctuating?
1. Decreasing Demand from the Mining Industry
The mining industry is the largest consumer of mercury, accounting for over 50% of global demand. Mercury is important in gold extraction as it is very effective in extracting gold from ore. This process is called amalgamation.
However, it is a toxic metal that damages the nervous system, lungs, and kidneys when absorbed through the skin and inhaled. This is dangerous for artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM). The development of new and safe mining techniques such as direct smelting and the Gravity-Borax Method (GBM) replaces the traditional use of mercury. Thus, this new process directly impacts the decreasing mercury prices.
2. Closure of Mercury-Dependent Industries
The development of non-mercury technology for chlorine and caustic soda production, and the closure of the mercury-cell chlor-alkali manufacturing facilities led to a significant impact on mercury prices. These industries were once major consumers of mercury. Their closure or shift to alternative technologies contributed to the decrease in its demand, ultimately shrinking its prices.
3. Environmental and Health Concerns
Mercury is a toxic metal which is harmful to both humans and the environment. The increasing awareness and regulation around the health risks of mercury exposure give way to diminishing mercury prices as the production of mercury-based products and their waste disposal are highly dangerous. Additionally, its toxicity influences the development of new alternative metals such as tin, zin, indium, and gallium.
4. Increased Recycling and Safe Storage
The increasing practice of recycling mercury by-products slowly strikes its prices as it means lesser demand for this metal. Additionally, safe storage of surplus mercury is becoming more common. These practices increase the available supply of mercury without the need for new production, adding pressure to mercury prices.
Which variables impact the price of mercury?
- Decreasing Demand from the Mining Industry
- Closure of Mercury-Dependent Industries
- Environmental and Health Concerns
- Increased Recycling and Safe Storage
- Alternative Metals
Where does mercury come from?
Mercury’s usage dates back to ancient Egypt as it’s present in Egyptian tombs. It’s the only elemental metal that is liquid around room temperature. Additionally, it is alloyed with copper, tin, and zinc to form amalgams or liquid alloys.
It’s a rare metal produced from various ores such as cinnabar, corderoite, and livingstonite. The production process of this commodity varies depending on the composition of the ore. Here are the general steps involved:
1. Mining – Mercury ore is typically mined from underground or open-pit mines. The mining process differs depending on the location and type of deposit but typically it involves using explosives to break up the ore and uses heavy machinery to extract the ore from the ground.
2. Crushing and grinding – Once the ore is extracted from the ground, it is crushed and ground into a fine powder. The purpose is to increase the surface area of the ore which makes it easier to extract the mercury.
3. Roasting – Next, the powdered ore is roasted in a furnace at high temperatures. This method drives off the sulfur and other impurities from the ore, leaving behind the mercury. Additionally, the roasting process is generally carried out in a rotary kiln, a long, cylindrical furnace that rotates slowly.
The ore is fed into one end of the stove and heated as it travels through the furnace. After, the mercury vapor is collected at the other end of the kiln.
4. Condensation – The vapor is condensed into liquid mercury. This involves passing the mercury vapor through a series of cooling chambers. The mercury vapor cools and condenses into liquid mercury which is collected at the bottom of the cooling chambers.
5. Purification – The liquid mercury is purified to remove any remaining impurities. This is done by filtering the mercury through a bed of activated carbon or by treating the mercury with chemicals such as nitric acid. Once the mercury is purified, it is ready to be used in a variety of applications.
What are the uses of mercury?
This heavy metal has unique properties such as high density, liquid state at room temperature, and high electrical conductivity. These properties make mercury important to specific applications, however, the innovation of new technologies makes its presence in various industries unimportant.
1. Gold Extraction – Mercury is used in the mining industry to extract gold from ore. The process is called amalgamation. It involves mixing mercury with the ore to form a mercury-gold amalgam. The amalgam is heated to vaporize the mercury, leaving behind the gold.
2. Electronics – Various electronic components such as thermometers, barometers, and switches use mercury in their production. Additionally, it is used in fluorescent lamps and other lighting devices.
3. Dentistry – The dental industry uses mercury in dental amalgams which are fillings for cavities. Dental amalgams are strong, durable, and relatively inexpensive.
4. Medicine – Medical applications use mercury in treating diseases such as syphilis and parasitic infections. This practice became widespread in Europe. Additionally, mercury is incorporated in making vaccines and other pharmaceutical products.
Overall, this metal comes from top mercury producers such as China, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Peru, and Russia.
What is the future price of mercury?
Market analysts and trading platforms presented a bearish outlook for mercury prices over the coming years. For example, the World Bank predicted that the price of mercury would fall by 20% by 2030 due to the major declining demand from the mining industry, the increase in supply from mercury-producing countries, and environmental regulations. These top three factors currently shape mercury prices and will largely contribute to the possibility of its market performance in the future.
However, the Chinese initiative that plans to ban mercury mining in 2032 will drive another economic path for this metal. Additionally, the decarbonization project that aims to shift from fuel consumption to wind, solar, and geothermal power energy needs 3 billion tons of minerals and metals for deployment. This includes rare-earth elements (REEs) and platinum group elements (PGEs). Thus, this initiative will potentially revive decreasing mercury prices.
Overall, the rough price estimate of mercury in 2030 will be between $500 to $700 per flask.