Environmentally Friendly Lead Substitute, Automotive and Medical Products

Bismuth is a soft metal with very high density and low melting temperature that is safe for human consumption except in immense doses. Bismuth is primarily used in the automotive sector and medical products. Widely known as the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol®, it is seeing increased use as an environmentally friendly lead replacement in many new applications.

One example is its use as a lead substitute in the world’s first mass produced bismuth added free-cutting steel. This product was developed by South Korean steel producer POSCO in response to tightening environmental regulations and to improve health conditions for workers that would otherwise be exposed to lead toxicity risks. Free-cutting steel is used for heavily machined components found in car engine parts and electronics. Its excellent processability improves the manufacturer’s productivity and extends tool life. POSCO’S initial customer, LG Electronics, is using this environmentally friendly product in all the television products it manufactures.

China has been the world’s dominant supplier for decades accounting for approximately 60% of world reserves and 75% of world production. This concentration of supply along with a crustal abundance similar to that of silver has contributed to bismuth being identified by the British Geological Survey as an economically important metal at very high risk to supply disruptions. Notably, Fortune Minerals’ NICO project contains more than 10% of global bismuth reserves, positioning it as a potential reliable North American-based source of this important industrial metal.

Unique Properties:

  • Non-toxic
  • Expands when cooled
  • One of the lowest melting points among metals
  • Very low thermal and electrical conductivity

Use as non-toxic lead replacement driving growth

Bismuth demand is poised to grow significantly on account of its non-toxic nature, combined with physical properties that allow it to be substituted in place of more harmful metals. Regulations and legislation are in place to support lead substitution, including laws governing plumbing for drinking water that require the elimination of lead, and the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive for the elimination of lead in electronics, including solders used in circuit boards.

Bismuth is used to replace lead in cosmetics, paint pigments, free-machining steel, galvanizing alloys, ceramic glazes, radiation shielding, ammunition, greases, golf balls, fishing sinkers, plumbing solders and brasses, and electronics solders.

Bismuth - A Window to the Future

Medical, Health and Safety applications

In addition to bismuth’s non-toxic nature its antibacterial properties support its use in items like Pepto-Bismol®, bandage dressings and some medical devices. It replaces lead in cosmetics to produce the pearlescent effect in lip glosses and eye shadows and is used extensively in fire detection and extinguishing systems.

Dimensionally stable alloys

Bismuth, like water, is one of the few elements that expands when cooled making it important in the manufacture of dimensionally stable alloys and compounds, including metal castings and coatings that could crack from shrinkage during cooling such as automotive anti-corrosion alloy electro-plated on premium automobiles and galvanizing. Bismuth is also used for frit coatings on automotive glass to protect windshield seals from degradation from exposure to ultraviolet radiation and changing temperatures. In fact, most of the 90 million cars produced annually contain about 2 ounces of bismuth in the windshield frit.  


Bismuth is showing promise in many developing applications in the superconductor, energy conservation, synthetic fuels and nanoparticles sectors. Examples include its use in in a more effective contrast agent for CT Scanners to provide enhanced radiotherapy treatment for cancer, in a bismuth telluride alloy in thermo-electric devices that convert waste heat from motors, furnaces and engines into electricity, and in perovskite solar cells.

Information presented in this website was accurate at the time of posting; however, some information may be superseded by subsequent disclosures. The reader is cautioned to review all postings to ensure they are aware of any updated information.

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