Everyone has heard of gold. The secret to gold’s formula was sought after by alchemists for centuries. It has adorned people in the form of jewellery forever. You can even drink liquor with gold flakes in it. But does anyone know about antimony? It has a special relationship with its more well-known sister element, gold. There’s antimony in them, thar hills.
The name “antimony” was derived from the Greek words “anti” and “monos” (together meaning “not alone”) and is named such because it is rarely found naturally in its pure form Antimony is the 63rd-most abundant element in Earth’s crust. 80% of the world’s antimony is produced from two types of deposits; carbonate replacement deposits and gold-antimony epithermal deposits.
Antimony, a toxic metalloid similar to arsenic, is present at variable levels in most gold-bearing rocks. Antimony is a lustrous silvery-white semi-metal or metalloid. Antimony is non-malleable, hard and brittle and can be crushed to a powder.
Archaeological and historical studies indicate that antimony and its mineral sulphides have been used by humans for around 6000 years. Antimony is a poor conductor of electricity and/or heat compared with most metals. Antimony significantly increases lead’s hardness and mechanical strength when used as an alloying element.
Russia (20%), China (53%) and Tajikstan (19%) dominate the world mine supply with a combined 92% in 2021. Neither the United States nor Canada has any producing antimony mines, although several former mines are being assessed for their redevelopment potential.
Although smaller producers in Mexico, Bolivia, Turkey, and Australia have additional mine development potential.
Uses For Antimony
Most antimony is consumed in producing antimony trioxide (ATO), a compound used in flame-retardant materials. Combined with halogenated particles, ATO suppresses, reduces or delays the spread of flame. It is incorporated into adhesives, paints, plastics, rubber insulation, decorative foams, building materials and textiles, including upholstered furniture. More than 50 percent of the antimony consumed globally is thought to be used in flame retardants.
Antimony is a critical strategic mineral that is used in all manner of military applications, which then gets passed onto the general public. Including the manufacture of armour piercing bullets, night vision goggles, infrared sensors, precision optics, laser sighting, explosive formulations, hardened lead for bullets and shrapnel, ammunition primers, tracer ammunition, nuclear weapons and production, tritium production, flares, military clothing, and communication equipment. It has been said that antimony directly helped American war efforts during WWII.
The “Other” Battery Metal
From wind and hydro turbines to semiconductors and cellphones, Antimony is a key component of the technology that powers our nation, keeps us entertained and on the move. Another primary use of antimony is to harden lead in storage batteries. It is increasingly being used in the semiconductor industry. Antimony is the rising metal in molten salt batteries for mass storage. They hold their charge in all weather conditions, have very long storage lives, do not have thermal runaway issues and are cheaper per Gigawatt hours (GWh) than lithium-ion batteries (LiBs.).
One of the most critical issues facing lithium-ion batteries is the potential for these batteries to overheat. Molten salt batteries use a solid electrolyte that is inert at ambient temperatures and can therefore be stored indefinitely yet provide full power once activated. The primary benefit of antimony molten salt batteries is to provide grid energy storage to balance out intermittent renewable power sources. Still, these batteries could be used in specific electric vehicles and for industrial power backup.
As global renewable energy expands, it will drive the update of the antimony molten salt battery. Due to this demand, antimony is on all major countries’ critical metals lists. Antimony’s recent emergence as the key “green revolution” electricity storage battery component for transformative integration with solar and wind power and leading such battery developer, Ambri Inc., already having raised pre-listing $200 million from investors that include Bill Gates ($15 million), Paulson & Co, Reliance Group, Japan Energy Fund.
Antimony metal price spike from the $1.00 to $2.00/ pound range during the 1970 to 2010 period to the $6.00 to $7.00/pound range coincidentally since the Ambri founding in 2010 as Liquid Metal Battery Corporation.
Antimony Mining in New Brunswick
Most of the antimony mined each year comes from China, which supplies over three-quarters of the world’s total. The remainder is from Russia, South Africa, Tajikistan, Bolivia, and a few other countries, including the United States. Some antimony is produced as a by-product of smelting ores of other metals, mainly gold, copper and silver, in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia.
New Brunswick has a globally leading antimony miner history, with over 4% of world primary mine production in the 1970s and 1980s at the Lake George Mine just 10 km south of Edge’s Mactaquac property same geological setting. Antimony mineralization occurs throughout New Brunswick; however, notable occurrences are concentrated within the Kingsclear, St. Croix, Mascarene, and Annidale belts in southern New Brunswick. Here, antimony deposits commonly consist of stibnite-quartz veins. The most significant deposit of this type is the former Lake George antimony mine which operated until the early 1990s.
Antimony as high as 537 times background in one of several anomalous clusters detected by a reconnaissance 395-sample roadway-focused soil sampling program on the 8,647 acres (3,499 hectares) Mactaquac property, i.e., 1 sample for every 22 acres.
Other deposits that contain substantial quantities of antimony are the Clarence Stream and Bald Hill deposits in southwestern New Brunswick and several volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits in northern New Brunswick, where antimony was recovered as a by-product during mining operations.