ITRI’s markets manager Peter Kettle has addressed a special session of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention in Toronto, saying that ITRI sees the storage, generation and conservation of energy as key drivers for new applications for the metal over the next 3 to 30 years.
While the current largest market for tin is lead-free solders, looking ahead it appears likely that the main growth area will be in energy-related applications. In the short term, the biggest growth has been in lead-acid batteries with global tin use in this application in 2014 estimated at some 26,000 tonnes, a little over 7% of total refined tin consumption. Despite the advent of competitive products, the lead-acid battery is still the cheapest and best way to store energy in massively growing markets such as electric vehicles, renewable energy and cloud storage backup.
Tin may have some new use in lithium-ion batteries as a nanotin product added into the carbon electrode. Although silicon has a higher charge capacity and currently features most prominently in the field, there is growing interest in tin with a demonstrated benefit of using both materials together. Tin also continues to be featured prominently in research on materials for next generation magnesium-ion and sodium-ion batteries.
Smaller, but potentially significant markets for tin include new generation, low cost, solar cell materials and thermoelectric materials – such as tin selenide – which convert waste heat into electricity and are frequently referenced in scientific publications. Other areas of interest that could be part of the future tin story are hydrogen fuel production, fuel cells and fuel catalysts that can greatly reduce emissions as well as boosting efficiency.