Few metals have influenced human history so profoundly as tin (Sn). The early demand for tin created ancient trade routes and lured tribes across continents. Tin catalyzed wars and underpinned the wealth of nations. It became the subject of legends and songs, paintings and poems—and court cases.
Cassiterite (SnO2) is the most important tin ore. As with most minerals, it originates in a huge reservoir of magma (molten rock) that slowly cools and crystallizes into hard rock at or near the earth's surface. If the magma contains enough tin, cassiterite can become part of the rock. Secondary tin deposits form after the rock disintegrates, which frees the cassiterite grains to join sand and gravel in semi-consolidated placer deposits. About half of the world's tin production comes from placers in southeast Asia.
Main Uses. Tin is malleable and generally nontoxic, has a low melting point, and resists corrosion. This combination of properties gives it many industrial applications. It appears in the coating of indium–tin oxide on liquid crystal displays in TVs, cell phones and other electronics. It is alloyed into bronze and some types of brass. As well, it is manufactured into tinplate, the corrosion-resistant coating applied to some items made of iron, steel or zinc.
The largest consumption of tin is in soldering agents, which are used to join metals. Tin creates a strong, adhesive bond with many metals, and its presence in solders boosts tensile and shear strength. The growing market for lead-free, tin-based solders means greater sales of high-purity (99.99%) tin, a product that is already crucial in the electronics sector.
Outlook. Economic forecasts show that tin demand will rise sharply, due mainly to expansion of the solder and tinplate markets in Asia. Some reports predict that tin reserves will plummet within a few decades due to high demand. Other sources, including the International Tin Research Institute, believe that supplies will last longer, particularly given the surge in tin recycling.
The following links give further information on tin uses, production, technological advances and market data.
Mineral Commodity Summary (2010): Tin by United States Geological Survey.
Mineral Information (2010): Tin by United States Geological Survey.
2007 Canadian Minerals Yearbook: Tin by Natural Resources Canada.
Tin by J.F. Carlin, Jr. in 2007 Minerals Yearbook, USGS, 9 p.
International Tin Research Institute. Offers comprehensive information on the uses, history, chemistry, metallurgy, markets and global production of tin, as well as a research database of the latest tin-based technologies.