Germanium – a rare and expensive material

Regardless of NASA’s ‚Opportunity‘ rover, or ESA’s robotic exploration of Mars by ExoMars, Germanium has been and will be playing a critical role in the PV solar panels installed in aerospace to maintain electricity supply. Compared to its most used counterpart on Earth, Silicon, Germanium solar cells achieve up to 40% efficiency, an unimaginable record for Silicon solar cells. However, along with 19 other raw materials, Germanium has been classified as ‚critical‘ by EU, meaning that its high importance is linked with a high supply risk in Europe. In 2014, only 165t of Germanium were produced globally, more than 70% from China. Therefore, it is essential for Europe to recycled Germanium.

 

Besides the applications in PV industry, Germanium is a critical material for other applications such as fiber optics (30%), infrared optics (20%), and polymerization catalysts (20%) according to the data from Guberman, D.E., 2015. Germanium. U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries. Worldwide, about 30% of the total germanium consumed is produced from recycled materials. During the manufacture of most optical devices, more than 60% of the germanium metal used is routinely recycled as new scrap. Germanium scrap is also recovered from the window blanks in decommissioned tanks and other military vehicles.  (data from U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2016).

 

Germanium dioxide prices reached $1,170 per kilogram in October 2015. The germanium metal price began the year 2015 at about $1,900 per kilogram, remained there until June, and then steadily declined to $1,760 per kilogram by end of the year. The price declines were partially attributed to the cessation of a buildup of germanium in Fanya Metal Exchange warehouses and to the end of purchases by the State Reserve Bureau in China. It is expected that the Germanium metal price will stay between $1700 and $1900 in the coming years (data from Global and China Germanium Industry Report, 2013-2016).