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By far, indium metal’s major use is for thin-film coatings on glass and liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). The use of ITO in organic
LEDs and plasma displays are relatively small segments of the coating use but are expected to have strong growth during the next
several years (O’Neill, 2003). The use of indium in coating, which was mainly in the form of indium oxide and ITO, constituted
nearly two-thirds of total domestic indium use in 2002.
Two kinds of coatings contain indium—conductive and infrared-reflective. LCDs for portable computer screens, television screens,
video monitors, and watches, which were the major commercial applications, use electrically conductive coatings. These electrically
conductive coatings are also used to defog aircraft and locomotive windshields and to keep glass doors on commercial refrigerators
and freezers frost-free. Indium coating on window glass takes advantage of indium’s infrared reflective properties and limits the
transfer of radiant heat through the glass. This property of indium can be used to heat and cool buildings more efficiently.
The technologies of glass coatings and semiconductors have been the largest areas of research and development for indium during
the past several years. Although coatings remained the most widespread use for indium, the production of electrical components and
semiconductors is expected to be a major growth application for indium during the next several years.
About one-fifth of the indium consumed was used in combination with other metals to form low melting-point alloys and solders.
The alloys are used in electrical fuses and fusible links and as gripping tools for the grinding of delicate materials. The advantages of indium-containing solders are that they have lower melting points, are more flexible over a wider temperature range, and inhibit the leaching of gold components in electronic apparatus.
Alkaline batteries combined with semiconductors and other electronic uses are also a fast growth segment of the indium market.
This segment accounted for about 15% of the domestic indium use in 2002. The alkaline batteries used indium to prevent buildup of
hydrogen gas within sealed battery casings.
Current Research and Technology
A comprehensive reference work on indium geology and mineralogy entitled Indium—Geology, Mineralogy, and Economics was
published in 2002. The authors present a petrologic and mineralogic framework for the investigation of indium metallogeny and
discuss miscellaneous indium occurrences throughout the world. The work includes a brief summary of the economic aspects of
indium production and use and closes with an extensive outline of the characteristic features of more than 100 indium-bearing deposits
(Schwarz-Schampera and Herzig, 2002).
The study of materials for electronic components, which is certainly one of the most active areas of global research, has continued at
a feverish pace. Some of the highlights of this research with potential for discovering new uses and thus increasing world demand for
indium include a new nickel-ITO (Ni/ITO) coating compound, a new indium-gallium arsenide (InGaAs) laser diode, development of
electronic devices to detect anthrax and other biological agents, and development of new InP technology.
Researchers in Taiwan have been studying Ni/ITO as a replacement for the conventional nickel-gold (Ni/Au) as an ohmic contact
on p-contact gallium nitride. The results of their experiments show the Ni/Au to improve the transmittance of the contacts, to reduce
the specific contact resistance, to maintain the forward voltage at 20 milli-amperes while increasing the power output, and to reduce
the lifetime luminous intensity decay for LEDs constructed with these materials (Compound Semiconductor, 2003b).
Sanyo Electric of Japan developed a new InGaAs laser diode that it plans to produce in volume by mid-2003. This new chip can
maintain a vertical structure with electrodes sited at the top and bottom of the device. The implantation of the device in the p-type
cladding layer allows for greater optical and current confinement, thus stabilizing the layer and reducing noise (Pool, 2002).
Cree, Inc. (NC) was awarded $14.5 million to develop LEDs and laser diodes to assist in the detection of anthrax and other
biological agents. This funding comes from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and forms part of a 4-year contract that totals $26.5
million (Compound Semiconductor, 2002a).