The Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev predicted the existence of germanium that would fill a gap located between silicon and tin in his Periodic Table of the Elements. Because of its position in this Table next to silicon, Mendeleev called it ekasilicon (Es).
It lasted however until 1885 when this element was discovered by Clemens Winkler from a mineral, at a mine near Freiberg, Saxony. Winkler named the new element germanium from the Latin word, Germania, in honour of his homeland.
Germanium's abundance in the Earth's crust is approximately 1.5 ppm. Only a few minerals contain appreciable amounts of germanium, and none in mineable deposits. Most germanium is recovered as a by-product of zinc smelting and from the fly ash of coal-burning.
The major end uses of germanium are in support of the telecommunications industry. It is used as dopant in telecom glass fibre and as semiconductor substrate for the solar arrays of telecommunication satellites. Other applications of germanium are CPV solar systems, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), gamma-ray detectors, infrared-optics, micro-electronics and polymerization catalysts. More recently it also found use in the production of nanowires.
Germanium compounds and products are created during the various stages of the production flowsheet from raw materials to semiconductor substrate. Starting with Germanium concentrate chlorinated and purified into GeCl4, GeCl4 hydrolized to GeO2 and GeO2 reduced to Ge bars. The Ge crystals are grown using Czochralski crystal pulling and further processed into either high purity crystals or Ge semiconductor wafers.
Umicore has unique pyro and hydro metallurgical processes to refine and recycle a wide variety of germanium-containing concentrates, solids, cakes, slurries and solutions. With the Umicore focus on sustainability, we have invested heavily in the R&D of our recycling processes the last couple of years and as a result, approximately 40% of our supply needs are from secondary sources.