A Few Questions on Bismuth


A few people asked some questions after a post on bismuth solders. Here they are:

1. The low melting point of these solders is encouraging. What are realistic field use conditions?

Bismuth solders tend to be brittle, so drop shock environments such as mobile phones would not be recommended. However, thermal cycle performance from 0 to 100C is good, so stationary office equipment, televisions, desktop computers, etc., may be good candidates.

2. I am working with your colleagues on an automotive application and I am curious whether you have any idea how this alloy will perform between -40 and 0°C? We have not been reviewing bismuth-containing alloys due to their lower sheer strength, but may need to look at them in the future.

We can find no information on thermal cycle performance at these low temperatures.

3. I hear that bismuth is rarer than silver. If we start using bismuth in solders, couldn’t that make it very expensive.

An old number from Prismark puts the world solder use at about 50,000 metric tons (MT) per year.  Assume bismuth solders took a 5% market share (I think this would be the highest) that is 2,500 MT of bismuth solder (Bi57Sn42Ag1) or 1,425 MT of bismuth.

Although bismuth’s occurrence in the earth’s crust is 0.009 ppm (silver is 0.075 and gold 0.004 ppm), about 22,000 MT are produced each year.  In comparison, about 2,000 MT of gold, 20,000 MT of silver, 400 MT of indium and 5 MT of rhodium are produced each year.  In comparison to more common metals, total lead production is 8,000,000 MT/year and tin a little less than 700,000 MT.

Realistically, it would seem to me to be unlikely that use of bismuth in solder, at 1,425MT/year out of 22,000 MTs,  would affect the price much, especially if the adaptation rate is more like 1-3%, instead of 5%.

For those interested in how bismuth is produced, this Wikipedia quote may be of interest:

According to the United States Geological Survey, world 2009 mine production of bismuth was 7,300 tonnes, with the major contributions from China (4,500 tonnes), Mexico (1,200 tonnes) and Peru (960 tonnes).[11] World 2008 bismuth refinery production was 15,000 tonnes, of which China produced 78%, Mexico 8% and Belgium 5%.[9]

The difference between world bismuth mine production and refinery production reflects bismuth’s status as a byproduct metal. Bismuth travels in crude lead bullion (which can contain up to 10% bismuth) through several stages of refining, until it is removed by the Kroll-Betterton process or the Betts process. The Kroll-Betterton process uses a pyrometallurgical separation from molten lead of calcium-magnesium-bismuth drosses containing associated metals (silver, gold, zinc, some lead, copper, tellurium, and arsenic), which are removed by various fluxes and treatments to give high-purity bismuth metal (over 99% Bi). The Betts process takes cast anodes of lead bullion and electrolyzes them in a lead fluorosilicate-hydrofluorosilicic acid electrolyte to yield a pure lead cathode and an anode slime containing bismuth. Bismuth will behave similarly with another of its major metals, copper. Thus world bismuth production from refineries is a more complete and reliable statistic.

So I don’t think bismuth supply and price would be affected by its use in solders.


Dr. Ron

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About Dr. Ron

Materials expert Dr. Ron Lasky is a professor of engineering and senior lecturer at Dartmouth, and senior technologist at Indium Corp. He has a Ph.D. in materials science from Cornell University, and is a prolific author and lecturer, having published more than 40 papers. He received the SMTA Founders Award in 2003.

One thought on “A Few Questions on Bismuth

  1. Interesting. Question. If Bismuth comes from the production of Pb, and if the use of Pb is being reduced, won’t the availability of Bi be reduced…and the price would increase?

    Just thinking…

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