Bismuth is known for its uses in art, medicine, and its many industrial applications, but where does it actually come from? The word Bismuth is believed to come from the word bisemutum, which is a corrupted latin translation of the German weisse masse, or wismut meaning “white mass.” This etymology has led many people to believe that bismuth primarily comes from Germany, but in fact, the largest supplier of bismuth is actually China.
Bismuth is ranked the 69th most abundant element in the earth’s crust, between silver at 65th and gold at 72nd. The abundance in the Earth’s crust is 0.0085 ppm. The global resources of bismuth are estimated at about 680,000 tonnes, while the world reserves, which are economically mineable resources, rest around 320,000 tonnes. 240,000 tonnes, or 70% of the world bismuth reserves are in China.
(From Left to Right) Bismuth Crystal, Raw Gold and Silver, all rare metals.
You may be surprised to know that even though bismuth has so many uses, it is very rarely mined on its own. Most bismuth is produced as a byproduct of mining other metals such as lead, tungsten, copper, tin, molybdenum, and silver. After the bismuth is extracted from the metal ores, It is refined through several processes to remove impurities before it is smelted into bismuth ingots that are ready for use. The top 5 producers of refined bismuth are China, Laos, Korea, Japan and Mexico (USGS 2021).