Project Blue reflections from the International Tin Conference in Malaysia

News Analysis




Project Blue reflections from the International Tin Conference in Malaysia

Last week, Project Blue attended the International Tin Conference in Penang, Malaysia. Some of the key themes from the conference are highlighted below.

Tin’s importance now and in the future

The importance of tin in the energy transition and digitalisation cannot be overstated. Tin solder is a vital component in electronics and electrical appliances, and its utilisation in “glueing” metals together in batteries, computing frameworks in electric vehicles, and energy storage systems is just as crucial as the materials it joins that underpin these industries. Tin solder also directly contributes to renewable energy infrastructure through its use in solar panel production. Furthermore, tin used in the anodes of sodium-ion batteries has proven to yield significantly better results than conventional hard carbon-based anode materials used in lithium-ion batteries, as demonstrated by Dr Bing Cao, CEO and co-founder of Nanode Battery Technologies, and Dr Darren Tan, CEO and co-founder of UNIGRID Battery. Existing and emerging tin consumption will drive tin demand to new heights over the next decade. According to Project Blue, tin demand is expected to grow by 2.4% per year over the next decade. However, with new insights into emerging applications, this growth rate could increase.

Supply concerns and price volatility

The current state of the market and potential future trends were also discussed. Throughout the conference last week, the average London Metal Exchange (LME) tin cash price was approximately US$36,000/t, reflecting an increase of over 33% since the beginning of the year. This price surge is primarily a result of concerns surrounding supply and increased speculative activity on the LME and Shanghai Futures Exchange. On the supply side, the Man Maw mine region in Myanmar’s Wa State is currently under a mining suspension, leading producers in the area to process surface ore stockpiles. The volume of surface stocks available for processing is unknown, causing market uncertainty. In early 2024, Indonesia experienced delays in refined tin exports as tin enterprises awaited export licences. Refined tin exports from Indonesia resumed in March, but the volume of traded units has been slow to recover, resulting in lower movements of refined tin compared to last year. On the trading side, speculative positions for tin have reached a record high in 2024, potentially contributing to a supply squeeze. The combination of supply concerns and speculative positions on futures exchanges has been driving the upward trend in prices.

Supply for the future

The increasing demand for tin and the current supply uncertainty are causing concern in the tin market. According to the ITA, a supply deficit of up to 50kt is expected as early as the end of the decade. To address the supply shortfall, key tin mine developers provided updates on their projects at the conference. These project developers included Simon Taylor, Executive Chairman and CEO of Stellar Resources (Heemskirk Project in Australia), Andrew Radonjic, Managing Director of Venture Minerals (Mount Lindsay Project in Australia), and Joe David, Managing Director of Elementos (Oropesa Project in Spain and Cleveland Project in Australia). It was exciting to hear that these projects are progressing well and are expected to start production in the near future to help meet the growing demand for tin. However, even though these projects are anticipated to address the supply shortfall, additional investment in other tin projects will be necessary for the tin market to keep pace with increasing demand. Furthermore, supplementary supply derived from secondary tin production is expected to become increasingly sought after as this material is more likely to have a better environmental impact, while its use is more socially responsible and sustainable than supply derived from primary tin production and supports the development of a closed-loop supply chain.

Mine Tour

Malaysian Smelting Corporation (MSC) hosted a mine tour of its Rahman Hydraulic Tin (RHT) Mine in Perak State at the end of the week, which Project Blue attended. The tour included a brief history of the RHT Mine and site visits to the open pit mine and beneficiation plant. The RHT Mine features a 63.4ha designated open pit area that is 150m deep. According to MSC, the mine is expected to operate for another 10 years, with plans to excavate an additional 150m of material. Mining activities at the RHT Mine involve drilling, blasting, and trucking ore to the on-site beneficiation plant, where the ore is treated using gravitational separation. On average, 6,000t of ore is processed daily to yield 11t of tin-in-concentrate with a grade of 70% Sn.