Germanium and indium are two important elements used in electronics devices, flat-panel display screens, light-emitting diodes, night vision devices, optical fiber, optical lens systems, and solar power arrays. Germanium and indium are treated together in this chapter because they have similar technological uses and because both are recovered as byproducts, mainly from copper and zinc sulfides.
The world’s total production of germanium in 2011 was estimated to be 118 metric tons. This total comprised germanium recovered from zinc concentrates, from fly ash residues from coal burning, and from recycled material. Worldwide, primary germanium was recovered in Canada from zinc concentrates shipped from the United States; in China from zinc residues and coal from multiple sources in China and elsewhere; in Finland from zinc concentrates from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and in Russia from coal.
World production of indium metal was estimated to be about 723 metric tons in 2011; more than one-half of the total was produced in China. Other leading producers included Belgium, Canada, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. These five countries accounted for nearly 95 percent of primary indium production.
Deposit types that contain significant amounts of germanium include volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposits, sedimentary exhalative (SEDEX) deposits, Mississippi Valley-type (MVT) lead-zinc deposits (including Irish-type zinc-lead deposits), Kipushi-type zinc-lead-copper replacement bodies in carbonate rocks, and coal deposits.
More than one-half of the byproduct indium in the world is produced in southern China from VMS and SEDEX deposits, and much of the remainder is produced from zinc concentrates from MVT deposits. The Laochang deposit in Yunnan Province, China, and the VMS deposits of the Murchison greenstone belt in Limpopo Province, South Africa, provide excellent examples of indium-enriched deposits. The SEDEX deposits at Bainiuchang, China (located in southeastern Yunnan Province), and the Dabaoshan SEDEX deposit (located in the Nanling region of China) contain indium-enriched sphalerite. Another major potential source of indium occurs in the polymetallic tin-tungsten belt in the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes Mountains of Bolivia. Deposits there occur as dense arrays of narrow, elongate, indium-enriched tin oxide-polymetallic sulfide veins in volcanic rocks and porphyry stocks.
Information about the behavior of germanium and indium in the environment is limited. In surface weathering environments, germanium and indium may dissolve from host minerals and form complexes with chloride, fluoride, hydroxide, organic matter, phosphate, or sulfate compounds. The tendency for germanium and indium to be dissolved and transported largely depends upon the pH and temperature of the weathering solutions. Because both elements are commonly concentrated in sulfide minerals, they can be expected to be relatively mobile in acid mine drainage where oxidative dissolution of sulfide minerals releases metals and sulfuric acid, resulting in acidic pH values that allow higher concentrations of metals to be dissolved into solution.