Any touchscreen device that consumers used, including the iPhone, has a transparent touch-sensitive material applied to it called Indium Tin Oxide or ITO for short. This material is mined from Meta Indium and is essential for the touchscreen to function. However, it seems that the source of the material is becoming scarce and is on the verge of running out, leaving the industry designers frantically trying to produce an alternative to the conductive coating.

ito

ITO is running out

The sources of ITO have been predicted to run out in the next 10 years, with prices rising over the previous year by as much as 25 percent. In preparation, the industry experts have been presenting their alternative ideas at the Semicon West in San Francisco this week which include compounds such as carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires, both of which appear to be feasible replacements.

So much so that according to some sources, manufacturers could begin to use these alternatives as soon as next year:

Some manufacturers are already planning on incorporating ITO alternatives into their devices. Foxconn might beginusing carbon nanotubes in the non-Apple devices it makes by the end of 2013, and Samsung is working on prototypes that use graphene, according to Martinez.

With ITO supplies raising alarm bells of manufactures across the world. it is reassuring to see that steps have already been taken to try and source an alternative to ensure that production and innovation is not halted by the lack of supply. Despite speculation that the new compounds could begin to hit the production line, there is still a lot of work to be done in correctly synthesizing a suitable alternative to fully replace ITO, but the big question remains – Should it have been allowed to get this close to running out, or should something have been done sooner to prevent such a situation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

2 COMMENTS
  1. Full disclosure: I work at The Indium Corporation (www.indium.com).

    The following is offered in a constructive and collegial manner. Additional facts are welcomed.

    The above article is built upon numerous errors, and the conclusion is misleading.

    However, there is some correct information included. Let’s explore.

    #1: Indium prices do rise … and fall. Indium is a commodity and is
    traded in public markets. Additionally, as a natural material, indium’s
    current and perceived future value helps drive its “desirability” to
    companies who would extract and refine it. Accordingly, as prices rise,
    companies are financially encouraged to invest in obtaining indium to
    sell. As prices fall, companies are disincentivized to refine and offer
    indium – just like any other material. This is a classic economic cycle
    which affects most commodities (think milk, nurses, corn, oil,
    engineering graduates, etc.).

    #2:
    According to the US Geologic Survey, indium is approximately three
    times more abundant in the earth’s crust than silver. And silver is
    extracted at 60x the rate of indium – yet we don’t hear cries of panic
    about silver “running out”. Indium is certainly more complicated to
    isolate, refine, and bring to market than silver, and is
    priced accordingly – while normal market conditions operate. Our
    company’s research and analyses indicate that indium will remain
    available for consumer product use for well over 100 years. Please study

    our report
    http://www.indium.com/inorganic-compounds/availability-of-indium-and-gallium/
    and those of the USGS http://minerals.usgs.gov/ds/2005/140/indium.pdf
    and http://minerals.usgs.gov/ds/2005/140/silver.pdf and offer any
    corrections that you might have.

    It is unquestionable that
    emerging technologies, like carbon nanotubes, are exciting and very promising. It
    is important, both technologically and ethically, to make comparisons
    and contrasts in the most informed, logical, and fair manners. You can learn more at http://www.indium.com/metals/indium/supply/.

    And, if you want a totally independent view on this topic, please scan
    this article from Forbes, that begins with, “I’ve been alerted by Bishop
    Hill to a slightly silly piece at the BBC that claims that Apple and
    all other electronics companies are going to have terrible problems when
    indium runs out in 2017”. http://goo.gl/O7vGs.

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