Tantalum: A metal for Bond villains by Omar Akhtar @FortuneMagazine October 9, 2012, 9:14 AM EST E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons FORTUNE — Tantalum is a rare element in high demand. To control tantalum is to control a key part of the 21st-century supply chain: Half of all tantalum mined goes into electronic capacitors, which store an electric charge. And it is expensive — $130 per pound, vs. its rarer cousin, tungsten, at $28. Here’s what you need to know. What it is A metal on the periodic table, tantalum is nonreactive and won’t corrode, making it good for surgical equipment, implants, and aircraft engines. A little bit of tantalum holds a lot of electrical charge. “It is not easily substitutable,” says Bryan Ellis, CEO of Global Advanced Metals, the biggest supplier of tantalum. Where it’s mined Brazil (26%), Australia (12%), and Mozambique (17%), according to Merchant Research & Consulting. Last year rebels took control of several tantalum mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the government response cut 10% of the global supply. Why it’s expensive Supply is erratic; demand is only increasing. Plus, Dodd-Frank legislation requires suppliers to document where their metals come from, adding as much as 2% to the final cost, says Kay Nimmo of the Tin & Tantalum Supply Chain Initiative. Who it’s benefiting Capacitor suppliers AVX AVX and KEMET KEM . Both companies sell to Intel INTC and Motorola. Global Advanced Metals recently shut down its massive Wodgina mine in Australia owing to production costs, which will cause a price increase. This story is from the October 8, 2012 issue of Fortune.