Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Gallium

December 19, 2017

Gallium is a soft, silvery metallic element with an atomic number of 31 and the chemical symbol Ga. Gallium is used in a wide variety of products that have microelectronic components containing either gallium arsenide (GaAs) or gallium nitride (GaN). GaAs is able to change electricity directly into laser light and is used in the manufacture of optoelectronic devices (laser diodes, light-emitting diodes [LEDs], photo detectors, and solar cells), which are important for aerospace and telecommunications applications and industrial and medical equipment. GaAs is also used in the production of highly specialized integrated circuits, semiconductors, and transistors; these are necessary for defense applications and high-performance computers. For example, cell phones with advanced personal computer-like functionality (smartphones) use GaAs-rich semiconductor components. GaN is used principally in the manufacture of LEDs and laser diodes, power electronics, and radio-frequency electronics. Because GaN power transistors operate at higher voltages and with a higher power density than GaAs devices, the uses for advanced GaN-based products are expected to increase in the future. Gallium technologies also have large power-handling capabilities and are used for cable television transmission, commercial wireless infrastructure, power electronics, and satellites. Gallium is also used for such familiar applications as screen backlighting for computer notebooks, flat-screen televisions, and desktop computer monitors.

Gallium is dispersed in small amounts in many minerals and rocks where it substitutes for elements of similar size and charge, such as aluminum and zinc. For example, gallium is found in small amounts (about 50 parts per million) in such aluminum-bearing minerals as diaspore-boehmite and gibbsite, which form bauxite deposits, and in the zinc-sulfide mineral sphalerite, which is found in many mineral deposits. At the present time, gallium metal is derived mainly as a byproduct of the processing of bauxite ore for aluminum; lesser amounts of gallium metal are produced from the processing of sphalerite ore from three types of deposits (sediment-hosted, Mississippi Valley-type, and volcanogenic massive sulfide) for zinc. The United States is expected to meet its current and expected future needs for gallium through imports of primary, recycled, and refined gallium, as well as through domestic production of recycled and refined gallium. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that world resources of gallium in bauxite exceed 1 billion kilograms, and a considerable quantity of gallium could be present in world zinc reserves.