Indium

Indium

Project time: 2021 – 2023

Budget: 1.46 million SEK

Funding: Mistra Innovation 23

Indium is a silvery metal that is very soft and malleable. Together with tin, the metal can be used to create indium tin oxide with properties that make it one of the most important components in the electronics industry. The goal of the project is therefore to build a recycling unit in a continuous production without waste.

Indium is a silvery metal that is very soft and malleable. Together with tin, the metal can be used to create indium tin oxide with properties that make it one of the most important components in the electronics industry. What is unique about the Indium compound is that it is both transparent and conductive when applied in a thin layer on a surface, necessary features in touch screen and flat screen applications. Indium compounds are also important for the green transition as they are a part of the manufacturing of solar cells, LED lamps and batteries.

Indium is listed on the EU’s list of critical raw materials, it is a relatively unusual substance in the earth’s crust and is refined as a by-product from zinc.

An alternative to extracting new indium is to instead recycle it from discarded electronics and solar panels. A process which, however, requires several costly pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical treatment steps, which means that today there is no commercially viable technology.

The application of indium tin oxide takes place in special vacuum chambers where the oxide settles as a thin film over the substrate, for example a glass for a touch screen. The disadvantage of the application technique is that only 40 to 60 percent of the indium tin oxide is used. The rest will be waste that is today not recycled in Europe.

The goal of the project is therefore to build a recycling unit in a continuous production without waste. If the project is successful, it will be possible to create a European market for indium tin oxide, which would mean that the need to extract new indium is reduced.

The challenge is both to develop the technology used and assure a profit in the process. There are hopes that the technology in a future step can be used to recycle indium from end-of-life products.

The project is run in collaboration with Chalmers, RHP Technology, Dr. Fritsch Sondermaschinen and Mat4Green Tech AB.

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