Czech mountain found to contain indium deposits

Krušné Hory

German scientists have reportedly discovered deposits of the rare metallic element indium in the Krušné Hory mountains on the north-eastern Czech border. In fact, it could turn out to be the world’s biggest deposit. But what does this discovery mean for the Czech Republic and what exactly is indium?

Krušné Hory
Indium is a malleable and very mildly radioactive metal which has found frequent use in the electronics industry, particularly in the computer industry. Now, a team of scientists from Germany’s Technical University at Freiberg in Germany have discovered a reportedly large deposit of the rare metal in the Krušné Hory mountain range that forms the border between their country and the Czech Republic. Indeed, the find may point to the largest known single reserve of the metal anywhere on Earth. And as indium metal is extremely rare, it also extremely expensive, currently selling for around 700 euros a kilo – a ten-fold increase on prices a mere five years ago.

I spoke with Dr Thomas Seifert of the Department of Economic Geology and Petrology at Freiberg Technical University, which has been undertaking a survey of the area. Freiberg has a long history with indium, which was discovered there in 1863.

“We found 1000 tonnes, and this is not only in one deposit, but a summary of all the deposits in western, eastern and central Krušné Mountains. These mineralizations are about 290-315 million years old and they are in the German part of the Erzgebirge [Krušné Mountains], as well as the Czech part.”

But even with these high market prices, the costs involved in extracting the metal, which is in a mineral form and mixed with zinc and tin, which are suffering from low prices, may be prohibitive, and it would take roughly three years to begin extraction.

“I think that the prices for metals will increase again, and then we will have high tin, zinc and indium prices, at which point I think it will be realistic to mine indium, here in the Erzgebirge. Environmental problems are very much in focus in our university. We try to use green mining methods and so we are very careful. If we mine indium together with tin and zinc in the future, it will be underground mining and now the technologies are so highly developed that the environmental impact is very, very low.”