Fastmarkets: Vital Materials to double production of germanium-based infrared lenses to help combat coronavirus outbreak

China-based minor metals producer Vital Materials has started to double production of infrared lenses, the company told Fastmarkets.

Vital’s monthly production capacity of infrared lenses is more than 100,000 units of lenses and this will be doubled, with the company targeting 200,000 components by the end of the month.

Each lens contains between 10g and 500g of infrared germanium, depending on the size of the lens, Fastmarkets understands.

The increase in production comes after infrared thermometers, installed at airports, train stations and other public places across China, were recently included on a list of “key materials for epidemic control and prevention” by the country's Ministry of Industry & Information Technology. The list also includes masks and protective suits.

The Chinese government has urged producers across the supply chain to resume output and will introduce targeted measures to ensure work resumes in a coordinated and timely manner.

In September last year, the company acquired the 92.3 tonnes of germanium stocksonce held by the collapsed Fanya Metal Exchange. Chinese company Kunming Rongke was initially named as the buyer of the germanium but Vital confirmed it purchased the material through Kunming Rongke according to its "procedure for the completion of the sale" and 100% of the material belongs to Vital.

For the time being, the renewed demand for infrared thermometers and subsequently infrared lenses has not impacted germanium prices in China, which have been largely stable since the outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) in the country at the start of the year.

Fastmarkets’ weekly price assessment for germanium 99.999% Ge min, in-whs Chinawas 7,000 -7,600 yuan ($1,007-1,093) on Friday March 4, unchanged since February 19. The latest assessment is also largely unchanged from the previous 7,000-7,550 yuan per tonne range it had held since December 18, 2019.

But market participants have expressed skepticism that there would be a significant increase in global germanium consumption as a result of the measures being put in place to prevent the virus spreading.

“There is fresh demand for this application but the amount that goes into the [thermometer] lens is not that big, we are not talking about tonnes of germanium but we would have some extra inquiries of some 100 or 200 kilograms every time, which is not that significant,” a European trader said.

There have been some suggestions that the increase in germanium consumption from infrared lenses could be as much 50 tonnes per month, but more conservative estimates point to an increase of one tonne per month, Fastmarkets understands.

“Demand for downstream industries such as infrared is increasing, but with extra capacity demand and supply will be balanced and the additional demand will not necessarily support spot prices,” a Chinese trader said.

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