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Widely used in capacitors for computers and mobile phones, tantalum is certainly an important component in many modern technologies. However, the metal is also known for issues related to conflict minerals, since a large portion of tantalum production comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Looking elsewhere in the world, the US has not produced tantalum since 1959, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), but the metal is still processed by US companies who import it from outside producers.
Here are the top eight tantalum-producing countries from 2014, as reported by Resources Investing News, quoting the USGS:
Mine Production: 250
Rwanda produces the majority of the world’s tantalum, but their standing is fraught with controversy. It is an open secret that much of the Rwanda’s mineral production arrives from other countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission instituted new rules that force companies to disclose when they use minerals from conflict zones in their products. As a result, Congolese miners generally sell their wares to neighboring countries that do not carry the stigmas associated with mining in the Congo, according to a report from Bloomberg.
For this reason, it is difficult to ascertain how much tantalum is actually produced by Rwandan mines.
Mine Production: 180 tons
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the world’s biggest tantalum producers, and the metal is just a small part of the country’s valuable mineral resources. National Geographic estimated that Congo produces up to 50 percent of the world’s tantalum, though mining practices in the country are known for being unethical and corrupt.
The SEC rule aimed at discouraging conflict mineral does not seem to have diminished Congo’s production of tantalum, as production in 2014 represented a 10-ton increase over the previous year. The nature of mining in the Congo makes it impossible to know what tantalum reserves the country possesses, but it’s likely that tantalum production and the controversy surrounding it will continue in the Congo for years to come.
Mine Production: 98 tons
Brazil is the largest tantalum producing country that does not have the stigma of conflict mining. Overall, Brazil is home to 36,000 tons of tantalum reserves.
The country’s largest tantalum mine is the MIBRA project, owned by Advanced Metallurgical Group N.V. (AMS:AMG). In light of issues facing tantalum from Rwandan and Congolese suppliers, Brazil has the potential to become a major source of tantalum for companies around the world in the coming years.
Mine Production: 85 tons
Tantalum production in Mozambique dropped over the past year, as the country produced 115 tons of the metal in 2013, and just 85 tons in 2014. The largest licensed tantalum project in the country is the Muiane Project, which is wholly owned by Pacific Wildcat Resources (TSXV:PAW). According to MBendi information services, the Muiane Project is Mozambique’s most developed tantalum source.
Mine Production: 60 tons
China is a major tantalum producer and is the biggest supplier of tantalum metal to US companies. Almost 30 percent of the tantalum metal exported to the US comes from China according to the USGS, and the country’s production has held steady year over year.
Mine Production: 60 tons
Tying with China in terms of annual tantalum production was Nigeria. The country is thought to harbor large reserves of the mineral, but unfortunately, development efforts have been stymied by continued conflicts in the country.
Mine Production: 40 tons
Ethiopia ramped up tantalum production significantly in the past year, with output increasing from 8 tons annually to 40 in just 12 months. Weak results from 2013 reflect a mine shutdown that occurred due to high levels of uranium in the available tantalum. Production is likely to increase further as companies expand mining efforts at the Kenticha Tantalite Deposit, according to the Ethiopian Ministry of Mines.
Mine Production 14 tons
Rounding out the top eight is Burundi. The country borders Rwanda and Congo, and Newsweek reported minerals from the country are often sourced from conflict mines.