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ITRI’s “Tin for Tomorrow: Contributing to a Global Sustainable Future”

- By: John P Sykes
Posted in: Blog, Commodities, Mining


The International Tin Research Institute (ITRI) has released a new free report on the tin industry and its role in “sustainable development”. The report also includes the essentials of tin economics and looks pretty smart.

I do a considerable amount of consultancy for ITRI in designing their tin mine cost model and contributing to their industry reports and presentations, so I’m pleased to see some of my work underlying this report. It can be downloaded for free here.

The short report covers how tin relates to all three aspects of sustainability (often drawn as a Venn diagram): the economy, environment and communities. This is undoubtedly in response to bad press received about the industry in relation to conflict minerals and mining conditions in Indonesia, however, it is worth pointing out that ITRI is trying to address and manage these issues through a variety of methods, including efforts as varied as conflict minerals supply chain monitoring schemes, testing to ensure tin chemicals comply with European Union REACH legislation and fundamental scientific research into “green” uses of tin as a fuel additive and in solar cells.

The report starts with a basic history of tin from its use in the “Bronze Age” (bronze is an alloy of copper and tin) through to its predominant use nowadays in the “Digital Age” as tin solder in electronics and electricals. Next the demand structure is broken down looking at established uses such as packaging and electronics and growing sectors (many of which are “green” economy focused) such as lithium-ion batteries, fuel catalysts, solar cells and animal health care products.

The tin market is then discussed and the movement from a “tin packaging” dominated industry to a “tin solder” dominated industry and its role in rejuvenating demand and tin prices over the last decade. Later in the report a whole section is devoted to lead free solder which has transformed tin demand and can also be seen as a considerable step forward in creating more environmentally friendly products.

Other demand related sections include a description of ITRI’s work in ensuring tin packaging chemicals comply with the EU’s REACH legislation and tin use in a number of exciting “green” economy products including in solar panels where tin may begin to substitute for gallium, for antimony in fire retardants, as well as improving lithium-ion batteries and in combination with zinc creating anti-bacterial animal welfare products. Another significant section discusses the recently discovered possibility of tin as a fuel additive reducing fuel consumption by 10%.

Looking at the other side of the fundamentals sections breaking down who the main producers are by country and company, along with a description of the production process from mining through to refining, including discussions of alluvial and artisanal mining, both of which are important in tin. The issue of supply side sustainability is then discussed and the role of environmental and corporate social responsibility in the industry.

Tin mining cannot be mentioned without a discussion of conflict minerals, so the report also describes ITRI’s efforts in this field, through the ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi), which aims to tag all tin mined in the war torn Great Lakes region of Central Africa, so that end users can prove their tin was not sourced from mines controlled by militia groups.

The report undoubtedly puts a very positive spin on the metal, however it is part of balanced reading on the subject and in particular highlights the complexity of what a sustainable future looks like, where we’ll have to understand not just what we use materials for, but also where they come from.