WHY ESSENTIAL MINERALS? Every sector of our economy relies on a variety of minerals to generate their end products. The domestic production of these minerals is a vital component to enable a stable and reliable supply chain which is critical for a country’s continued growth and success of its economy. We ensure the companies that mine and process these essential minerals have their voices and stories heard by elected officials and leaders throughout the world.
What is Ball Clay?
Ball clay is extracted using hydraulic excavators, working at “benches” cut into the quarry to access the seams of clay. Individual raw clay selections are carefully blended according to pre-determined recipes to yield a product with a consistent and predictable range of characteristics and behavior. The first stage in processing is then to shred (or “kibble”) the blended clay into smaller, more regular lumps about the size of a golf ball. Much blended clay is sold in this shredded form.
Further processing through drying and grinding yields powdered ball clays, and treatment by calcination produces “chamotte” or “grog,” calcined clay containing a high proportion of silica and alumina. Ceramics manufacturers (particularly in the sanitary ware sector) have also benefited from the development of refined ball clays and chamottes which offer improved performance and reduced manufacturing process costs. Refined clays are available in “noodled” and slurried form.
Ceramics: Ball clays are used in many different industries, but in particular form a vital component in ceramic manufacturing. Used with kaolin, which has limited plastic properties, ball clay provides the cohesion and workability necessary for the creation of ceramic parts. As a result of their sedimentary origin, raw ball clays have a wide range of colors. Many of them are valued by the ceramics industry for their white-firing properties which are determined by the amount of metallic oxides within the clay.
Soil Amendments and Hydroponics: Added to soil, ball clay pellets increase water retention and drainage. In hydroponics, they keep plants hydrated while saving water.
Sanitary ware: Sanitary ware typically includes chamotte and ball clay as essential components, with the ball clay providing plasticity and workability. In addition, sanitary ware includes kaolin, feldspar and quartz.
Tableware: Ceramic tableware uses ball clay combined with kaolin, feldspar, and quartz to provide high plasticity and a good, white-fired color.
Wall and floor tiles: Again, combined with feldspar, kaolin and quartz, ball clays are used for their plasticity and bonding properties.
Glazes: Plastic clays are also used in the production of coatings for ceramic products to ensure the perfect finish.
Refractory clays: The ability to resist the effects of extremely high temperatures makes ball clay and chamotte ideal for use in refractory products such as kiln insulation and furniture.
Construction ceramics: Building materials such as bricks, clay pipes, roof tiles and pavement sealers all contain ball clay.
Electrical porcelain insulators: You will find ball clays in the electrical porcelain components that provide insulation from high-voltage currents.
Chemical applications: Ball clays are used as fine fillers and extenders in polymers, adhesives, plastics, fertilizers and insecticides.
Sealants: Ball clays are also widely used for lining landfill waste disposal sites, and for sealing over them once completed
The use of ball clay in ceramics dates back at least to Roman times.
Today’s common practice of shredding ball clay for commercial use originated in the 1930s using mobile turnip-cutting machines.
What is Barite?
Barite is a naturally occurring, barium-based mineral. Barite is also known as baryte, and in the U.S. state of Missouri it is known as “tiff.” Barite may be found in a variety of colors including yellow, brown, white, blue, gray, or even colorless. Barite’s high density and chemical inertness make it an ideal mineral for many applications.
Medical Industry: An application where many people have heard of barite is within the medical field. A high-purity form of barite is used in the gastrointestinal tract where its density prevents x-ray penetration, and thus is visible on an x-ray. The outline of the gastrointestinal tract thus becomes visible allowing the determination of normal and abnormal anatomy.
Drilling Industry: The overwhelming majority of the barite is used by the petroleum industry as a weighting material in the formulation of drilling mud. Barite increases the hydrostatic pressure of the drilling mud allowing it to compensate for high-pressure zones experienced during drilling. The softness of the mineral also prevents it from damaging drilling tools during drilling and enables it to serve as a lubricant.
Other Uses: Barite is also used in a wide variety of other applications including plastics, clutch pads, rubber mudflaps, mold release compounds, radiation shielding, television and computer monitors, sound-deadening material in automobiles, traffic cones, brake linings, paint, and golf balls.
The name Barite comes from the Greek word “Barys” or “Heavy” because Barite has a high-specific gravity of around 4.5 making it surprisingly heavy for a non-metallic mineral.
What is Bentonite?
Bentonite is a naturally occurring plastic clay that was first found in about 1890 in upper cretaceous tuff near Fort Benton, Montana, U.S. It is a very useful and versatile mineral that is found in a wide variety of products and services. Therefore, Bentonite is often called “the clay of a thousand uses.”
Bentonite is created from the alteration of volcanic ash. Bentonite is highly absorbent, and its volume increases several times when coming into contact with water, creating a gelatinous and viscous fluid. This characteristic makes it a valuable material for a wide range of uses and applications
Agriculture: Bentonite is used as an animal feed supplement, as a pelletizing aid in the production of animal feed pellets, as well as a flowability aid for unconsolidated feed ingredients such as soy meal. It also is used to improve and condition soils when growing crops. When thermally treated, it can be used as a porous ceramic carrier for various herbicides and pesticides.
Cat Litter: Bentonite is used for cat litter, due to its advantage of absorbing refuse by forming clumps (which can be easily removed) leaving the remaining product intact for further use.
Construction and Civil Engineering: Bentonite in civil engineering applications is used in diaphragm walls and foundations, tunnelling, horizontal directional drilling, and pipe jacking. Bentonite is also used in cement and mortars.
Detergents: Laundry detergents and liquid hand cleansers/soaps rely on the inclusion of bentonite, in order to remove the impurities in solvents and to soften the fabrics.
Drilling: Another conventional use of bentonite is as a mud constituent for oil and water well drilling. Its roles are mainly to seal the borehole walls, to remove drill cuttings and to lubricate the cutting head.
Environmental Cleaning: Bentonite’s adsorption/absorption properties are very useful for wastewater purification. Bentonite is used as part of a sealing material in the construction and rehabilitation of landfills to ensure the protection of groundwater from the pollutants. It is also utilized to create components to absorb and remove materials during spills or other environmental emergencies.
Bentonite is used as a binding agent in the production of iron ore pellets. Through this process, iron ore fines are converted into spherical pellets, suitable as feed material in blast furnaces for pig iron production, or in the production of direct reduction iron (DRI). It is also used as a bonding material in the preparation of moulding sand for the production of iron, steel and non-ferrous casting. The unique properties of bentonite allow for the creation of very high-quality castings for metallic components including automobile engines.
Oils/Food Markets: Bentonite is utilized in the removal of impurities in edible oils where its adsorptive properties are crucial in the processing of food-grade oils and fats. Bentonite helps improve clarity and visual appeal in drinks such as beer, wine, and mineral water, and in products like sugar or honey.
Pharmaceuticals and Cosmetics: Bentonite is used as filler in pharmaceuticals, and due to its absorption/adsorption functions, it allows paste formation. Such applications include industrial protective creams, calamine lotion, wet compresses, and anti-irritants for eczema. In medicine, bentonite is used as an antidote in heavy metal poisoning. Personal care products such as mud packs, sunburn paint, baby and face powders, and face creams may all contain bentonite.
Paints, Dyes, and Polishes: Bentonite serves as a thickening and/or suspension agent in varnishes, and in water solvent paints. Its adsorption properties are used for the finishing of indigo dying cloth, and in dyes (lacquers for paints and wallpapers).
Paper: Bentonite is crucial to paper making, where it is used in the absorption of wood resins that tend to obstruct the machines and to improve the efficiency of conversion of pulp into paper as well as to improve the quality of the paper. Bentonite also offers useful de-inking properties for paper recycling. In addition, acid-activated bentonite is used as the active component in the manufacture of carbonless copy paper.
Bentonite is used as an antidote against heavy metal poisoning.
What is Borates?
Borates are naturally occurring minerals containing boron, the fifth element on the Periodic Table. Trace amounts exist in rock, soil, and water. Plants need borates to grow and people need them as an important part of a healthy diet as well as an essential ingredient in many everyday products.
The element boron does not exist by itself in nature. Rather, it combines with oxygen and other elements to form boric acid, or inorganic salts called borates. Despite the millions of tons of industrial borates mined, processed, and distributed around the world every year, far larger quantities of boron are transferred around the planet by way of natural forces. Rain, volcanic activity, condensation, and other atmospheric activities redistribute at least twice as much boron as all commercial practices combined.
Agriculture: Boron is an essential micronutrient for plants and is vital to their growth and development. Plant pollination, seeding, and fruiting are not possible without sufficient boron. In areas of acute deficiency, borate fertilizers can increase crop yields by 30 to 40 percent.
Ceramics: Borates have been an essential ingredient in ceramic and enamel glazes for centuries, integral to affixing glazes or enamels, and enhancing their durability and luster. Borates are an essential mineral in ceramic tile bodies, allowing manufacturers to use a wider range of clays, heighten productivity and decrease energy use.
Cleaning and Personal Care Products: Borates are used to produce laundry detergents, household or industrial cleaners, and personal care products. Their unique properties enhance stain removal, whiten and brighten fabrics, and soften water. They also control bacteria and fungi in personal care products.
Diet: People absorb boron by eating vegetables and fruit and by drinking water. There is general agreement in the scientific community that boron is nutritionally important to maintain optimal health.
Fiberglass: Borates are an important ingredient in both insulation fiberglass – which represents the largest single use of borates worldwide – and textile fiberglass, used in everything from circuit boards to surfboards. In all uses borates act as a powerful flux to lower glass batch melting temperatures. They also control the relationship between temperature, viscosity, and surface tension to create durable fiberglass.
Flame-Proofing and Anti Corrosives: Combined with zinc, borates are used to retard flames and suppress smoke in polymers. They act as a flame retardant in cellulose insulation. Borates also interact with surfaces containing iron to form a coating that protects against corrosion. They are used as additives in products as diverse as antifreeze and aerosol cans.
Glass, Cosmetics, and Coatings: Borates increase the mechanical strength of glass – from cathode ray tubes to cookware – and they are used in the production of ultra-thin LCD screens and ceramic tiles and glazes. In paints, adhesives, and cosmetics, borates bond with other particles to keep different ingredients evenly dispersed and control viscosity. Fireworks and film processing solutions also rely on borates.
Polymer Additives: Zinc borates are used as a fire retardant in plastics and rubber applications. They also function as smoke and afterglow suppressants, anti-tracking agents, and can be used in polymers requiring high processing temperatures. Zinc borates can be found in polymers ranging from electrical parts and automobile interiors to wall coverings and carpeting.
Wood Treatments: Borate-treated wood is a safe and long-lasting method to protect homes and other structures from wood-destroying organisms. Borate-based preservatives are used to treat solid wood, engineered wood composites, and other building materials such as studs, plywood, joists and rafters. Borates prevent fungal decay and are deadly to termites, carpenter ants, and roaches, but are safe for people, pets, and the environment.
- Borates are added to swimming pool water to stabilize the pH, reduce chlorine use, and prevent the growth of algae.
- Borates are found in almost all plants and fruits.
What is Calcium Carbonate?
Calcium carbonate is one of the most useful and versatile materials known to man. This family of essential minerals comprises more than four percent of the earth’s crust and is found worldwide. It is produced by the sedimentation of the shells of small fossilized snails, shellfish, and coral over millions of years.
The most common forms of calcium carbonate are chalk, limestone, and marble. Although all three varieties are chemically identical, they differ in many aspects, including purity, whiteness, thickness, and homogeneity.
Paper, Plastics, Paints, and Coatings: Calcium carbonate is an essential mineral in the paper, plastics, paints, and coatings industries. It is used as a filler and, due to its special white color, as a pigment. In the paper industry it is valued for its brightness and light-scattering characteristics. As a filler it is used to make paper bright and smooth. As an extender, it can represent as much as 30 percent of the weight of paints. Calcium carbonate is also used as a filler in adhesives, and sealants.
Personal Health and Food Production: Calcium carbonate is widely used as a dietary calcium supplement, antacid, phosphate binder, and as a base material for medicinal tablets. It is also found in products such as baking powder, toothpaste, dry-mix dessert mixes, dough, and wine.
Building Materials and Construction: Calcium carbonate is critical to the construction industry, both as a building material (e.g., marble), and as a key ingredient of cement. It contributes to the making of mortar used to bond bricks, concrete blocks, stones, roofing shingles, rubber compounds, and tiles.
Agriculture and Water Treatment: Calcium carbonate is the active ingredient in agricultural lime, used to reduce the acidity of soils. It is also used in many animal feeds. Calcium carbonate also benefits the environment through water and waste treatment.
- Eggshells are composed of up to 95 percent calcium carbonate.
- Chalk has been used as a writing tool for more than 10,000 years and is a fine, microcrystalline material.
- Large deposits of pure white “statuario” marble found in Carrara, Italy, were used by the Michelangelo to create his sculptures.
- Stalactite and stalagmite formations in caves are created when water containing calcium carbonate drips, leaving some mineral at the tip of the drip at the roof of the cave and where it falls on the floor.
What is Feldspar?
The name feldspar encompasses a wide range of related minerals. Collectively, they are the most abundant group of minerals in the world, forming about 60 percent of the earth’s crust. Feldspars are particularly abundant in igneous rocks like granite. Most often, commercial feldspar is mined from pegmatite or feldspathic sand deposits.
Glass: Feldspar is an important ingredient in the manufacture of glass. It is used as a fluxing agent, reducing the melting temperature of quartz and helping to control the viscosity of glass. The alkali content in feldspar lowers the glass batch melting temperature, thereby reducing production costs.
Ceramics: Feldspar is the second most important ingredient in the manufacture of ceramics, after clay. Feldspar does not have a strict melting point, since it melts gradually over a range of temperatures. This attribute facilitates the melting of quartz and clays. Feldspar improves the strength, toughness, and durability of ceramics used for table and sanitary wares.
Fillers: Feldspars are used as fillers and extenders in applications such as paints, plastics, and rubber. Beneficial properties of feldspars include good dispersibility, high chemical inertness, stable pH, high resistance to abrasion, low viscosity at high filler loading, and resistance to frosting. It is also used as an aggregate in roadways and tarmacs.
Enamel Coatings and Glazes: Feldspar assists the enamel composition, assuring the absence of defects and the neatness of the end products: e.g., enamel coatings (frits), ceramic glazes, ceramic tile glazes, sanitary ware, tableware, and electrical porcelain.
Flooring: Feldspar is an essential mineral in the flooring industry. It is used as a flux to lower temperatures during the firing and formation of tiles.
- The name feldspar is derived from the German word “feld” meaning field, and “spath” meaning a rock with no ore content.
- Feldspar has been found on the moon and Mars.
What is Industrial Sand?
Industrial sand is an indispensable ingredient in the production of thousands of everyday products.
Industrial sands are high purity-silica products with closely controlled sizing. Silica is the name given to a group of minerals composed solely of silicon and oxygen (SiO2), the two most abundant elements in the earth’s crust. It exists in many different shapes and crystalline structures.
Quartz is the most common silica crystal and the second most common mineral on the earth’s surface. It is found in almost every type of rock: igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. While quartz deposits are abundant, high purity and commercially viable deposits occur less frequently. Silica sand deposits are most commonly surface-mined in open pit operations, but dredging and underground mining are also employed. Extracted ore undergoes considerable processing to increase the silica content by reducing impurities. It is then dried and sized to produce the optimum particle size distribution for the intended application.
Silica is hard, chemically inert and has a high melting point, attributable to the strength of the bonds between the atoms. These are prized qualities in applications like foundries and filtration systems. Quartz may be transparent to translucent and has a vitreous luster, hence its use in glassmaking and ceramics.
Glassmaking: Industrial sand is used to produce flat glass for building and automotive use, container glass for foods and beverages, and tableware. In its pulverized form, ground silica is required for production of fiberglass insulation and reinforcing glass fibers. Specialty glass applications include test tubes and other scientific tools, incandescent and fluorescent lamps, television, and computer CRT monitors.
Metal Casting: Industrial sand is an essential part of the ferrous and non-ferrous foundry industries. Metal parts ranging from engine blocks to sink faucets are cast in a sand and clay molds to produce the external shape, and a resin bonded core that creates the desired internal shape. Following the casting process, core sand can be thermally or mechanically recycled to produce new cores or molds.
Metallurgical: In metal production, silica sand operates as a flux to lower the melting point and viscosity of metal slags to make them more reactive and efficient. Ferroalloys are essential to specialty steel production, and industrial sand is used by the steel and foundry industries for de-oxidation and grain refinement.
Chemical Production: Silicon-based chemicals are the foundation of thousands of everyday applications ranging from food processing to soap and dye production. Industrial sand is the main component in chemicals such as sodium silicate, silicon tetrachloride and silicon gels. These chemicals are used to make products ranging from household and industrial cleaners as well as fiber optics. It is also used to remove impurities from cooking oil and brewed beverages.
Building Products: Industrial sand is the primary structural component in a wide variety of building and construction products. Whole grain silica is put to use in flooring compounds, mortars, specialty cements, stucco, roofing shingles, skid resistant surfaces and asphalt mixtures to provide packing density and flexural strength without adversely affecting the chemical properties of the binding system. Ground silica performs as a functional extender to add durability and anti-corrosion and weathering properties in epoxy-based compounds, sealants and caulks.
Paint and Coatings: Micron-sized industrial sands are used in paints and coatings to improve their appearance and durability. They also contribute critical performance properties such as brightness and reflectance, color consistency, and oil absorption. In marine and maintenance coatings, the durability of silica imparts excellent abrasion and corrosion resistance.
Ceramics & Refractories: Ground silica is an essential component of the glaze and body formulations of all types of ceramic products, including tableware, sanitary ware, and floor and wall tile. Silica products are also used as the primary aggregate in refractories to provide high temperature resistance in industrial furnaces.
Filtration and Water Production: Industrial sand is used in the filtration of drinking water, the processing of wastewater and the production of water from wells. Chemically inert, silica will not degrade or react when it comes in contact with acids, contaminants, volatile organics or solvents. Silica gravel is also used as packing material in deep-water wells to increase yield by expanding the permeable zone around the well screen and preventing contamination.
Oil and Gas Recovery: Industrial sand is pumped down holes in deep well applications to open rock fissures and increase the flow rate of natural gas or oil. Silica’s hardness and its overall structural integrity combine to deliver the required crush resistance of the high pressures present in wells more than 8,000 feet deep.
Agriculture and Recreation: The natural grain shape and controlled particle size distribution of silica provides essential permeability and compaction properties for drainage, healthy plant growth and stability. Industrial sand even finds its way into sports and recreation. Silica sand is used for golf course bunkers and greens as well as the construction of natural or synthetic athletic fields. Silica sand is also used to repair sports turf and to facilitate everyday maintenance like root aeration and fertilization.
Material made up of a certain size of grain qualifies as sand, this categorization can include sugar and salt.
What is Kaolin?
Kaolinite is a mineral belonging to the group of aluminosilicates. It is commonly referred to as “China Clay” because it was first discovered at Kao-Lin, China. The term kaolin is used to describe a group of relatively common clay minerals dominated by kaolinite and derived primarily from the alteration of alkali feldspar and micas.
Kaolin is a white, soft, plastic clay mainly composed of fine-grained plate-like particles. It is formed when the anhydrous aluminium silicates found in feldspar-rich rocks, like granite, are altered by weathering or via hydrothermal processes. The process that converted the hard granite into the soft matrix found in kaolin pits is known as “kaolinization.” The quartz and mica of the granite remain relatively unchanged while the feldspar is transformed into kaolinite. The refining and processing of the fine fraction of the kaolinised granite yields predominantly kaolinite with minor amounts of mica, feldspar, traces of quartz and, depending on the origin,organic substances and/or heavy minerals.
Individual kaolins vary in many physical aspects, which in turn influence their end use. Of particular commercial interest is the degree of crystallinity, which influences the brightness, whiteness, opacity, gloss, film strength, and viscosity.
Kaolin’s whiteness and plasticity make it extremely suitable for extensive use as a filler, extender, ceramic raw material, and pigment. It is also a raw material important to refractories, and to catalyst, cement, and fiberglass industries.
Kaolin is a unique essential mineral that remains chemically inert over a relatively wide pH range, and it offers excellent coverage when used as a pigment or extender in coated films and filling applications. In addition, it is soft and non-abrasive and has a low conductivity of heat and electricity.
The two largest applications of kaolin are the coating of paper to hide the pulp strands and the production of high- grade ceramic products. It is also used in many other industrial processes:
Paper: In this industry, kaolin is used both as a filler in the bulk of the paper and to coat its surface. Kaolin’s whiteness, opacity, large surface area and low abrasiveness make it an ideal raw material for paper production. Its use allows a reduction in the amount of expensive woodpulp required, enhances the optical properties of the paper, and improves its printing characteristics. When used as a coating on the surface of the paper, kaolin’s whiteness improves paper brightness and opacity, while the size and the shape of the individual kaolin particles give the gloss and printed paper quality required for many different kinds of paper. Examples include papers for magazines and brochures, art paper, cartons, and boxes.
Ceramics: Kaolin converts to mullite and glass when fired to temperatures exceeding 1,800° F. It is used in to make whitewares, which consists of tableware, sanitary ware, and wall and floor tiles.
Fillers: When kaolin is used as a pigment, it is divided broadly into filler and paper-coating grade clays based on their brightness and viscosity. Its main properties, especially its whiteness or near whiteness, make it very suitable as a filler or pigment. In addition, it remains inert over a wide pH range, is nonabrasive, has low heat and electrical conductivity and offers brightness and opacity.
Paint: In its hydrous or calcined forms, kaolin can improve the optical, mechanical, and rheological properties of a paint. Calcined kaolins are widely used in satin and matte paints where they can deliver increased opacity, whiteness, and scrub resistance. Kaolin is particularly useful as a partial replacement for titanium dioxide (TiO2) pigment.
Rubber: Kaolin adds strength, abrasion resistance and rigidity to rubber. Calcined kaolin, with or without a silane chemical surface treatment, finds extensive use in high value thermoplastic elastomers for a variety of applications and in rubber insulation on high voltage power lines.
Plastics: Kaolin is used in plastics to provide smooth surfaces,dimensional stability, and resistance to chemical attack, to conceal fiber reinforcement patterns and to reduce shrinkage and cracking during polymer compounding and shape forming. It is also used as a rheological modifier and a functional filler to improve mechanical, electrical and thermal properties. A major application is in PVC cables where its main function is to improve electrical properties.
Refractories: Refractories are produced from natural materials, combinations of compounds and minerals, such as kaolin, which are used to build structures subjected to high temperatures, ranging from simple tosophisticated products, e.g., from fireplace brick linings to re-entry heatshields for the spacecraft. In industry, they are used to line boilers andfurnaces of all types—reactors, ladles, stills, kilns and so forth.
Fiberglass: The fiberglass that is used as a strengthener in a multitude of applications requires the use of kaolin for its manufacture. Kaolin allows for the strengthening of the fibers integrated into the material. It also improves the integration of fibers in products requiring strengthened plastics such as cars, boats and marine products, sporting goods and recreational products, aviation and aerospace products, circuit board manufacturing, as well as fiberglass insulation, air filters, tanks and pipes, and building and construction products.
Cosmetics and pharmaceuticals: Kaolin is used in both human and veterinary medicinal products, for example to treat digestion problems and as a constituent of poultices. It helps protect the epithelial lining in human digestive tracts, giving the body space from the food and internal waste it needs to heal. It can also be used as an excipient in personal care products including in cosmetics. It also is found in several dietary products, plasters, foot-powders and in the specialized treatment of some lung disorders.
Agriculture: Kaolin-based fertilizers are EPA approved to protect agricultural crops, act as an insecticide, and reduce environmental stresses caused by the sun and heat.
Kaolin can constitute up to 33 percent of matter by weight in a glossy magazine.
Substituted for synthetic silica as an abrasive in toothpaste, natural kaolin has the same ability to clean, but without damaging the enamel.
Kaolin is among the minerals added water spas to detoxify and invigorate.
Colonial era currency printers used kaolin to strengthen paper, making banknotes more durable.
What is Lithium?
The lightest known metal, lithium is the leading element of the alkali metals group. It is the least dense metal and the least dense solid element at room temperature. Lithium is a good conductor of heat and electricity, as well as a highly reactive element. It is soft enough to be cut with a kitchen knife, and so low in density—roughly the same as pine wood—that it is one of only two metals that float on water.
Lithium is found in igneous rock, with the largest concentrations in granites. Granitic pegmatites provide the greatest abundance of lithium-containing minerals, with spodumene, petalite and lepidolite being the most commercially viable sources. Due to its solubility as an ion, lithium also is present in ocean water, salt lakes, and geothermal brines. In a process cheaper than mining and processing of lithium-bearing hard rock, brines are pumped to the surface where the lithium concentration then is raised through solar evaporation in a system of ponds, a process that can take up to 18 months.
Brazilian naturalist and statesman Jozé Bonifácio de Andralda e Silva discovered the mineral petalite on the Swedish isle Utö in the 1790s. In 1817, Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson first succeeded in isolating one of lithium’s salts from petalite. Not until 1855 did British chemist Augustus Matthiessen and German chemist Robert Bunsen separate the lithium element by running a current through lithium chloride.
Clean Energy Technologies: The prevalent application of lithium is in rechargeable batteries for smartphones, laptops, digital cameras, and electric vehicles. Three properties make lithium ideal for this application: 1) it is highly reactive because it readily loses its outermost electron, making it easy to get current flowing through a battery; 2) its light weight (versus other metals such as lead) makes it more practical for small objects such as phones and in vehicles where range is a consideration; and, 3) because lithium ions and electrons move easily back into negative electrodes, lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable.
Lithium hydride is used as a means of storing hydrogen for use as a fuel. Lithium also assists in the perfection of silicon nano-welds in electronic components for electric batteries. Lithium niobate is used extensively in telecommunication products such as smartphones and optical modulators. Lithium fluoride forms the basic constituent of the fluoride salt mixture in liquid fluoride nuclear reactors.
Industrial Applications: Lithium metal is made into alloys with aluminum and magnesium, improving their strength and making them lighter for aircraft, bicycle frames, and high-speed trains. Lithium hydroxide and lithium peroxide are used to purify the air and remove carbon dioxide in confined areas, such as aboard spacecraft and submarines. Lithium chloride is also used in air conditioning and industrial drying systems. It is used for specialized optics in infrared, ultraviolet, vacuum ultraviolet applications. Alkyl lithium compounds are used as catalysts in the polymer industry. Lithium oxide is widely used to decrease the melting temperature of glass, and for glazes used in ovenware. Lithium fluoride is used as an additive to aluminum smelters, reducing melting temperature and increasing electrical resistance. Lithium is used to manufacture all-purpose, high-temperature lubricating greases. In fireworks, a mixture of lithium, strontium and other chemicals yields a brilliant red color.
Military Applications: Lithium is used with magnesium in an alloy for armor plating. Metallic lithium and its complex hydrides are used as solid fuel and as high-energy additives to rocket propellants. Lithium hydride and deuteride serve as a fusion fuel in staged thermonuclear weapons.
Health Treatments: Lithium salts were the first drugs approved by the FDA to treat mania and depression, and today the element helps stabilize the mood swings associated with bipolar disorder.
Because virtually all rocks contain trace amounts of the element, lithium got its name from lithos, the Greek word for “stone.”
Natural lithium is white to gray in color, but when thrown into fire it flares bright crimson. And like sodium, if you drop lithium into water it bursts into a red flame.
Lithium is one of only three elements (hydrogen and helium being the others) created when the universe formed but, according to the Big Bang Theory, the universe should hold three times as much lithium as can be accounted for in the oldest stars, a conundrum known as the Missing Lithium Problem.
The first major application of lithium was in high-temperature lithium greases for aircraft engines during World War II.
What is Magnesia?
Magnesia is a term used to describe various essential minerals from magnesium-rich sources. Magnesium makes up two percent of the earth’s crust and is the eighth most plentiful element. It is the third most abundant element found in sea water. The two most important magnesium minerals are magnesite and brucite. Magnesite is the most common source of magnesia and serves many important commercial applications. Magnesia is produced from magnesite ore or is extracted from seawater and brines as magnesium hydroxide.
The two most commercially important magnesia products are dead-burned magnesia and caustic-calcined magnesia.
Steel and other refractory materials: Dead-burned magnesia, also known as refractory magnesia, is the primary component in refractory materials. Refractory materials are nonmetallic substances that are extremely heat resistant. They are used as the linings in furnaces, kilns, and reactors. The steel industry is the largest user of refractory magnesia.
Agriculture: Caustic-calcined magnesia promotes plant and livestock health. In fact, it is an essential mineral for both. In plants, magnesium is vital for photosynthesis. In animals, magnesium prevents an often-fatal disorder known as hypomagnesia, or grass tetany.
Environmental Protection: Caustic-calcined magnesia is used to treat industrial wastewater by removing silica and precipitating heavy metals. It is used to reduce air pollution by stripping sulfur dioxide from industrial air emissions. Its absorbent properties are used to clean up hazardous chemical spills, and it is used to render metal-bearing wastes nonhazardous.
Construction and Industrial Applications: In construction, caustic-calcined magnesia is used to make magnesium oxychloride and oxysulfate cements that are widely used in the flooring industry. Other industrial applications include use by the oil drilling industry in drilling muds, and by the rubber industry as a vulcanizing agent.
Healthcare and Wellness: Magnesia is used in comforting consumer products such as milk of magnesia and Epsom salts.
- Magnesium was first discovered outside the Greek city of Magnesia.
- A Nobel Prize was awarded to Richard Willstatter in 1915 for describing magnesium as an essential element in the structure of chlorophyll in plants.
What is Phosphates?
The term “phosphates” refers to a class of common, naturally occurring salts found in sedimentary rock formations. These are mined and refined to produce phosphorous, a vital natural element for plant and animal growth. Phosphates can be combined with other elements to create a wide variety of products in agriculture, building and construction projects, cleaning, metalworking, pharmaceutical and personal care products, and water treatment.
Agriculture: Phosphates are used in fertilizer and provide important nutrients for plant growth. Phosphates also are used in animal feed and provide important nutrients for animal development.
Building and Construction: Phosphates is a component of Asphalt, which is one of the most widely used materials for road construction. Phosphate asphalt modifies the grade of the road surfaces to meet performance standards. Phosphates are used in forming cement and delay the hardening of cement when it is poured at great depths. Gypsum wallboards also contain phosphates which help firm the composition of wallboard. Phosphates are also a key component of paints, pigments, and dyes, where they act as dispersing agents to ensure that the elements of paints that create the color are evenly distributed throughout the product.
Cleaning: Phosphates can soften water, remove oil and greases, dissolves fats, and keep staining or soiling elements from adhering to surfaces. These features make phosphates ideally suited for automatic dishwasher detergents, car washing, cleaning products for vinyl siding, heavy duty industrial cleaning substances, solutions that remove calcium from dairy milking equipment, and paint and wall cleaners.
Metalworking: Phosphates have a variety of metalworking applications, including deburring, removal of grease and oils, blasting metal surfaces and chemical cleaning. They also can be used to create metal finishes that are applied to metal surfaces to prevent rust and corrosion, as well as to ensure that paints better adhere to the metal.
Pharmaceutical and Personal Care: Phosphates are used in bath salts as a water softening agent as well as in effervescent tablets. They also serve as an electrolyte in Intravenous Fluid in hospitals, as a tartar control element in mouthwashes and toothpastes, and as a key ingredient in tablet and vitamin supplements to provide calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous.
Water Treatment: Phosphates prevent the build-up of substances inside boilers, allowing them to operate more efficiently. Phosphates also are crucial to water softeners and serve as coatings inside water pipes to prevent leaching of lead and iron.
The name phosphate is derived from the Greek “phosporas” meaning bringer of light.
What is Potash?
Potash is a potassium-rich salt that is mined from underground deposits. Potash plays a central role in helping feed the world’s growing population. Approximately 95 percent of world potash production is used as fertilizer, the rest is used in a variety of chemical and manufactured products.
Fertilizer: Potash’s key element, potassium, is an important element because when there is a potassium deficiency in the soil, fertilizers containing potassium are used to help boost crop yields and improve the quality of the plant. Potassium protects plants from extreme temperatures. It helps plants to fight stress and disease and deter pests such as weeds and insects. Potassium stops wilting, strengthens roots and stems, and assists in transferring food. It activates plant enzymes to ensure plants use water efficiently. Higher levels of potassium in the soil help crops withstand stressful conditions.
Potash has several other uses including food for both animals and humans, de-icing compounds for roads and highways, glass manufacturing, soap products, and water treatment.
Animal Feed and Human Food: Potash is added as a supplement to boost the amount of nutrients in the feed, which in turn promotes healthy growth in animals. It is also known to increase milk production. The food industry utilizes potash (potassium carbonate) as a general-purpose additive. In most instances, it is added as a source of food seasoning. Potash is also used in brewing beer.
De-Icing Compounds: Potash is a major ingredient in de-icer products that clear snow and ice from surfaces such as roads and building entrances. While other chemicals are available for this same purpose, de-icers made with potash have an advantage by also offering a fertilizing value for grass and other vegetation near treated surfaces.
Glass: In glass manufacturing, potash is used as a flux, lowering the temperature at which a mixture melts. Because potash confers excellent clarity to glass, it is commonly used in eyeglasses, glassware, televisions, and computer monitors.
Soap Products: Potash is a precursor to many ‘potassium soaps,’ which are softer and less common than sodium hydroxide-derived soaps. Potassium soaps have greater solubility, requiring less water to liquefy versus sodium soaps. Caustic potash is also used to manufacture detergents and dyes.
Water Treatment: Potash (potassium chloride) is used as an environmentally friendly method of treating hard water. It reduces the total amount of discharged chlorides in sewage or septic systems more efficiently than other alternatives.
In ancient times, ashes were collected from burned hardwoods, put into a pot with water (hence the name “Pot-Ash”), and then leached to produce lye. At this point, the lye solution was a basic phase of potash and could be used to manufacture products such as soap.
What is Quartz?
Quartz is one of the most common and well-known minerals on the planet. In a high-purity form, this essential mineral is durable and chemically inert. It demonstrates excellent heat resistance as well as electrical properties.
Composed of silicon and oxygen atoms, quartz is the second most abundant mineral in the planet’s crust. It is present in granite and other igneous rocks and is common in sedimentary rocks such as sandstone and shale, as well as schist, gneiss, quartzite, and other metamorphic rocks.
Aluminum, Iron, and Steel: High-purity quartz pebbles are processed into silicon. In this form, it is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of ferro-alloys and silicon for aluminum alloy and silicone production.
Electronics: High-purity quartz is widely used to transfer mechanical energy in electronics, radios, and watches. Electric currents from batteries and other power sources causes high-purity quartz to oscillate very accurately at high frequencies.
Interior design: Quartz is combined with resins and polyesters to make durable counter tops, walls, and floors. It is also a component in most granite counters, giving them a shiny high-gloss appearance.
Iron Refractories: High-purity quartzite (a secondary form of raw quartz) is used as liners for coreless induction furnaces to smelt and hold iron.
Photovoltaics: High-purity quartz is an ideal material for manufacturing cup or bowl-shaped containers called “crucibles” used to hold and heat materials for casting the silicon photovoltaic cells that make up solar panels and semiconductors. Quartz is an essential mineral in the production of monocrystalline silicon solar cells—which are the highest efficiency among photovoltaic products. Photovoltaics generate electricity and can power anything from small electronics to homes and big businesses. These products last up to 30 years but can be reused or refurbished if recycled properly.
Zero-Energy Buildings: Energy-efficient windows are made from quartz (silica). These windows are essential in the construction of zero-energy buildings. Extremely pure quartz is also a vital resource for solar cell producers and in the semiconductor industry. The solar cell industry requires highly refined raw materials, including very pure quartz.
- The word quartz stems from the German word “quarz” which is derived from the Slavic word for hardness: “kwardy.”
- Many ancient and modern cultures believe quartz provides healing powers and can ward off headaches and other ailments.
What are Rare Earth Elements?
The rare earth elements (REEs) are a set of seventeen metallic elements. They include the fifteen lanthanides grouped together on the periodic table of the elements, plus scandium and yttrium. In nature, REEs do not exist individually, like gold or copper metals often do, but instead occur in minerals as either minor or major constituents, primarily in bastnaesite, monazite, loparite and lateritic ion-adsorption clays. REEs are categorized as either light—those with the lowest atomic numbers—or heavy, which have higher atomic numbers and are less common and more expensive.
REEs are not as rare as their name implies. They were deemed rare during the 18th and 19th centuries because they were relatively rare compared to other “earths” (materials that could not be changed further by heat) such as lime and magnesia. Thulium and lutetium are the two least abundant REEs, yet they are still 200 times more abundant in the Earth’s crust than gold. The most abundant REEs are cerium—which is as abundant as copper—and yttrium, lanthanum and neodymium, which are similar in abundance to commonly used metals such as chromium, nickel, zinc, molybdenum, tin, tungsten, and lead. However, it is highly unusual to find REEs in concentrations high enough for economical extraction—which makes them rare in terms of their availability.
Refining involves physical separation of an REE from its host ore by various chemical techniques, sometimes involving thousands of steps. Each REE and its respective ore is different and requires different chemical techniques for refining (depending on melting point and vapor pressure, as well as other physical properties of the element). This intensive processing comes at a huge cost, raising the price of the element substantially.
The demand for rare earth elements saw its first explosion in the mid-1960s, as the first color television sets used europium to produce color images. Demand for REEs then rose steadily with technological advancements in defense, aviation, industrial, and consumer electronics products. Today, and for the foreseeable future, clean energy, advanced medical technologies, and defense applications promise to accelerate demand markedly.
Promising new research holds the potential to extract REEs and critical minerals from waste materials such as acid mine drainage, waste coal, heavy mineral sands tailings, fly ash from power plants, e-waste, and slag from steelmaking—while simultaneously cleaning up the environment.
Light Rare Earth Elements and Their Uses:
Cerium (Ce): Automobile catalytic converters, glass polishing and coloring, metal alloys, water purification, and flints.
Europium (Eu): Fluorescent lighting, phosphors, lasers, and as a relaxant in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.
Gadolinium (Gd): Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agent, nuclear reactor rods, lasers, x-ray tubes, computer memory, high refractive index glass, neutron capture, steelmaking, and as a relaxant in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.
Lanthanum (La): Night-vision optics, as a hydrogen absorber in rechargeable batteries, high refractive index glass, camera lenses, and catalysts for petroleum refining.
Neodymium (Nd): The strongest magnets known (neodymium-iron-boron magnets), smartphones, electric vehicles, permanent magnets for wind turbines and data storage systems, medical and industrial lasers, laser range-finders, capacitors, missile guidance systems, electric motors, communications, and glass and ceramics colorant.
Praseodymium (Pr): Permanent magnets for wind turbines and data storage systems, in alloys with magnesium to form aircraft engines, lasers, film studio lighting, yellow ceramic pigment, and flint steel.
Promethium (Pm): Luminous paint, nuclear batteries, and as a beta radiation source.
Samarium (Sm): Permanent magnets that are corrosion-resistant and stable at high temperatures, lasers, precision-guided weapons, white-noise generation in military stealth technology, lasers, masers, and nuclear reactor control rods.
Scandium (Sc): Light alloys for the aerospace industry, radioactive tracers, and lamps. (Though not technically classified as a light rare earth metal, scandium is found in most REE deposits, and with atomic number 21 is the lightest REE.)
Heavy Rare Earth Elements and Their Uses:
Dysprosium (Dy): Permanent magnets for wind turbines, data storage systems and surgical robots, lasers, magnetostrictive alloys, and cooling of nuclear reactor fuel rods.
Erbium (Er): Laser repeaters, amplifiers in fiber-optic data transmission, glass colorant, and vanadium steel.
Holmium (Ho): Highest-power magnets, lasers, and calibration of spectrophotometers.
Lutetium (Lu): Positron emission tomography (PET) scanners, high refractive index glass, catalysts, and LEDs.
Terbium (Tb): TV screens and solid-state hard drives, phosphors for lighting, high-power/high-temperature magnets, lasers, fluorescent lamps, magnetostrictive alloys, and sonar systems.
Thulium (Tm): Lasers, metal halide lamps, portable x-ray machines, andceramic magnetic materials.
Ytterbium (Yb): Fiber optic technology, solar panels, infrared lasers, stainless steel, and nuclear medicine.
Yttrium (Y): Yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) lasers, as a red phosphor, superconductors, fluorescent tubes, LEDs, cancer treatment, alloying agents, ceramics, and in the polymerization of ethylene. (Although light, with atomic number 39, yttrium is included with heavy REEs for its similar chemical and physical properties.)
Each battery that powers an electric or hybrid-electric vehicle contains several pounds of rare earth compounds.
Lanthanum makes up as much as 50 percent of a smartphone’s camera lens.
The spindle of a disk drive attains high stability in its spinning motion when driven by a rare-earth magnet.
Each F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet requires 920 pounds of rare earth materials.
What is Salt?
Salt – sodium chloride (NaCl) – is one of the most abundant minerals on earth. Much more than a food enhancer and preserver, salt is used to keep our roads and sidewalks safe, and it is an essential element in the livestock, water softening, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries.
There are three primary methods for obtaining salt in North America:
- Underground salt mining from deposits of ancient seabeds
- Solar evaporation
- Mechanical evaporation
Safety: Salt keeps roads, parking lots, and walkways safe in wintertime. Using salt as a de-icing agent carries numerous advantages: it is abundant and easy to store, it is budget-friendly and has a low environmental impact when used properly. The sensible use of salt during winter weather ensures our safety, and uninterrupted mobility across supply chains to keep our economy strong.
Chemical Production and Water Treatment: Salt is one of the most important materials in the chemical industry. It is an essential to produce chlorine and caustic soda. Chlorine is an extremely effective disinfectant mostly known for its use in purifying drinking water and in swimming pools. Many chemicals, plastics and medicines depend on chlorine during the manufacturing process, all made possible by salt. Caustic soda is an essential ingredient in many industrial operations, including pulp and paper, detergent, textiles, and chemical processing. Salt is also used in the manufacturing of thousands of other commodities such as glass, paper, rubber, and textiles as well as in water softening systems for industry and domestic use.
Livestock and Agriculture: Farmers and ranchers use salt as a dietary supplement for their livestock, either through specially feeds or the use of salt blocks.
Food and Health: The human body is not capable of producing its own salt, and humans depend on various sources of salt in food to ensure their necessary daily intake. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association guidance for salt for people 14 years or older, with balanced nutrition, is limited to 2,300 milligrams per day. Salt is also used as a food preservative. Additionally, it is used by the pharmaceutical industry in a variety of applications including intravenous saline solutions and drug manufacturing.
After aviation fuel is purified, producers use salt to remove any remaining traces of water.
The history of salt traces back to as far as 6050 BC. Salt was used as part of religious offerings and to preserve mummies in Egypt. It was a valuable good traded between the Phoenicians and their Mediterranean empire.
The word “salary” derives from the Latin “sal.” In Roman times, salt was such a valuable commodity that army soldiers were sometimes paid with salt instead of money.
What is Soda Ash (Trona)?
Soda ash, also known as sodium carbonate, is an alkali chemical refined from the mineral trona or naturally occurring sodium carbonate-bearing brines (both referred to as natural soda ash), the mineral nahcolite (referred to as natural sodium bicarbonate, from which soda ash can be produced), or manufactured from one of several chemical processes (referred to as synthetic soda ash).
A series of refining steps are required to produce soda ash from trona ore. First the raw ore from the mine is crushed and screened. The material is then fed to rotary calciners and heated. In this process, the trona decomposes to form crude soda ash, which is dissolved in water. The insoluble shales are separated from the solution and the soda ash solution is treated to remove organic materials yielding a high-purity saturated solution of sodium carbonate.
Next, the solution is fed to crystallizers where water is evaporated, and sodium carbonate monohydrate crystals are formed. The industry-familiar term “mono-process” originates from this process step. The crystals are dewatered and washed using cyclones and centrifuges, and the solution is recycled to the evaporator units for further recovery of soda ash. The monohydrate crystals are fed to rotary kilns where they are dried to finished soda ash. Finally, product is screened and sent to storage silos awaiting rail and truck loadout.
Soda ash has several diversified uses that touch our lives every day.
Glass Manufacturing – The largest application for soda ash is in the making of all forms of glass, whether it is in the production of containers, fiberglass insulation, or flat glass for the housing, commercial building, and automotive industries.
Water Treatment – Soda Sod ash also is used to clean the air and soften water. As environmental concerns grow, demand increases for soda ash used in the removal of sulfur dioxide and hydrochloric acid from stack gases.
Food Processing – Producers use soda ash as an intermediate to manufacture products that sweeten soft drinks (corn sweeteners), and when converted into sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, it is used in baked goods and other foods.
Detergents and Paper Products – Household detergents and paper products are a few other common examples of readily identifiable products using soda ash.
Medicine – Sodium bicarbonate is used to relieve physical discomfort. It is used as in inert component in many pharmaceuticals. It is also used in dialysis machines to support patients with kidney failure.
- The term soda ash originated from the burning and leaching of sodium-rich kelp and seaweed to produce a crude “soda ash.”
- Early Egyptians used natural soda ash as a desiccant in the mummification process.
- The first natural soda ash operation in the United States was in 1868 near Fallon, Nevada.
What is Talc?
Talc is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in products ranging from ceramics to paper. It is also used in the manufacturing of plastics, adhesives, ink, glidant, lubricant, rubber, wastewater treatment, and polymers. Talc is a hydrated magnesium sheet silicate
Talc is practically insoluble in water, weak acids, and alkalis. It is neither explosive nor flammable.
Agriculture and Food: Talc is an effective anti-caking agent, dispersing agent, and die lubricant. It therefore helps animal feed and fertilizer function more efficiently. In pre-mixes and agricultural chemicals, is an ideal inert carrier. Talc also is used as an anti-stick coating agent in several popular foods including chewing gum, boiled sweets, cured meats, and for rice polishing. In olive oil production, as a processing aid, it increases yield and improves the clarity of the oil.
Ceramics: Talc imparts a wide range of functions to floor and wall tiles, as well as sanitaryware, tableware, refractories, and technical ceramics. In traditional building ceramics (tiles and sanitaryware), it is used as a flux, to reduce firing temperatures and cycles. In refractory applications, chlorite-rich talc is transformed into cordierite to improve thermal shock resistance.
Coatings: In interior and exterior decorative paints, talc improves hiding power and titanium dioxide (TiO2) efficiency. Talc makes paint easier to apply and improves cracking resistance and sagging. In anti-corrosion primers, talc is used to improve corrosion resistance and paint adhesion. Talc also brings benefits to inks, jointing compounds, putties, and adhesives.
Paper: Talc is used in both uncoated and coated paper, where it improves printability and reduces surface friction, providing substantial improvements in paper mill and print house productivity. It also improves mattness and reduce ink scuff in offset printing. Used as pitch control agents, talc “cleans” the paper making process by adsorbing any sticky resinous particles in the pulp. As opposed to chemical pitch-control products that pollute the process water, talc is removed together with the pulp, enabling the papermaker to operate more easily in closed-circuit. In specialty papers such as colored papers or labels, talc helps to improve quality and productivity.
Personal Care: As it is soft to the touch and inert, talc has been valued for centuries in beauty care products. Today it also plays an important role in many cosmetic products, providing the silkiness in blushes, powder compacts and eye shadows, the transparency of foundations and the sheen of beauty creams. In pharmaceuticals, talc is an ideal excipient, used as a glidant, lubricant, and diluent. Soap manufacturers also use talc to enhance skin care performance.
Plastics: Talc imparts a variety of benefits to polypropylene, including higher stiffness and improved dimensional stability. It is used in automotive parts (under-the-hood, dashboard, bumper interior and exterior trim), household appliances, and white goods. In polypropylene food packaging applications, talc is a highly effective reinforcing filler.
Rubber: Talc reduces the viscosity of rubber compounds, thereby facilitating the processing of molded parts. In sealants and gaskets, talc provides compression resistance. In pharmaceutical stoppers, talc creates a barrier against liquids. In cables, it functions as an insulator.
Wastewater treatment: Specialty talc can improve the performance of wastewater treatment plants. Talc is a natural, environmentally friendly mineral additive. Talc particles act as a ballast for flocs of bacteria, accelerating sedimentation. The use of talc improves the efficiency of wastewater treatment plants offsetting costly plant expansions. Because talc is an inert mineral, it preserves the fertilizing value of sewage sludge.
Talc is the softest mineral on earth.
Talc’s melting point is over 2,730-degrees Fahrenheit.
What is Uintaite?
Uintaite is a naturally occurring, glossy black hydrocarbon resin found only in America’s Uinta Basin, which straddles the states of Utah and Colorado. It is an organic material that originated from the solidification of petroleum and is found in oil-bearing sediments in dikes (veins), sills, and fracture fillings. Uintaite is a member of the asphaltite group of hydrocarbon bitumens, but not a pyrobitumen (like coal and lignite) and, therefore, is considered a non-energy mineral commonly found in association with the oil shale and tar sand deposits that are used for energy production. Uintaite is non-hazardous, non-toxic and non-mutagenic, rich in nitrogen and beta-carotenes, and low in sulfur. Explosive by nature, uintaite extraction requires underground hand mining with pneumatic hammers, which is labor intensive, complex and costly.
In 1885, renowned geologist William Phipps Blake gave the substance its official scientific name—uintaite. One year later, Samuel H. Gilson began mining uintaite. Today, only two companies mine uintaite, and only in northeastern Utah, U.S.
Nanotechnologies: Uintaite is considered the premier raw material for high-tech nanotechnology applications that include filtration of rare earth minerals, naturally occurring radioactive material, and heavy metals, as well as for carbon capture, battery technology, and graphene.
Energy: Production of uintaite also supports domestic energy security and cleaner oil and gas extraction. Though it is a non-energy mineral, the primary market for uintaite is in oil and gas applications, as a fluid-loss additive in drilling fluids (“mud”). Uintaite prevents the migration of drilling fluids into underground formations, including aquifers. It also maintains wellbore stability, reducing the occurrence of stuck pipe and drill bits, which can be very costly and pose a safety hazard to oilfield workers. Because it is a naturally occurring, non-hazardous natural resource, uintaite helps protect our environment in applications that otherwise require synthetic polymers that have a much larger carbon footprint.
Cement: As a lightweight, self-healing component of slurries used in cementing applications, the presence of uintaite lightens cement slurries and expands when it encounters methane, which has the effect of filling any gaps or fissures within the cement, greatly reducing, or eliminating gas migration into the wellbore (and possible contamination of aquifers).
Construction: As a critical component of specialty paving and roofing materials, uintaite replaces refined asphalts and polymers and increases the use of recycled materials such as used motor oil, recycled asphalt, and used cooking oil. Uintaite’s lower high-temperature viscosity, lower water content, and fewer volatile materials enable it to produce significantly less fumes during asphalt production. This reduces the concentration of chemical substances in the air (MAK value), which promotes a more healthful workplace.
Other Uses: Additional products include fiberboard, roofing, newsprint, lithographic and gravure inks, UV-resistant paints, coatings, and foundry sand additive. In asphalt paving, uintaite is the critical component for high-modulus applications that also require fuel resistance, such as airports, seaports, bridges, and other high-traffic areas. The presence of uintaite permits the increased use of recycled motor oil, recycled asphalt, and agricultural triglycerides (vegetable oils). In building materials, uintaite replaces polymers and oxidized asphalt for the manufacture of asphalt roofing tiles.
In the past, uintaite has been used in phonograph records, fingerprinting powders, and as a safe and effective lining for beer barrels.
From 1914-1925, Ford’s Model T “Tin Lizzie” was only offered in black paint that incorporated uintaite. As Henry Ford said at the time, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it’s black.”
During World War II, metals foundries substituted uintaite for linseed oil, which grew scarce and costly when the U.S. exported large quantities to combat famine in Russia.
What is Wollastonite?
Wollastonite is comprised chemically of calcium, silicon and oxygen. Natural wollastonite may contain trace or minor amounts of various metal ions such as aluminum, iron, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. It is rarely found by itself and generally contains other minerals like calcite, garnet and diopside that are removed during processing.
Plastics: In plastics, wollastonite improves the durability of composites. It also enhances electrical insulating properties, adds fire resistance, and improves dimensional stability. Finer particle size grades provide improved scratch and impact resistance compared to other materials.
Construction: Wollastonite is a substitute for asbestos in fire-resistant building products used in the construction industry. It is used in interior and exterior construction boards, roof tiles, shaped insulation products, sheets, panels, and sidings. As a functional additive, wollastonite improves flexural and impact strengths. Its low thermal conductivity and high aspect ratio structure also makes wollastonite an attractive addition for applications requiring fire resistance.
Paints and Coatings: In coatings, Wollastonite particles act as a good flattening agent allowing paint to settle out after application to produce a dry film of uniform thickness. The interlocking particles improve toughness and durability of paints with excellent tint retention, scrub, and corrosion and weather resistance. High brightness and whiteness reduce pigment loa, reducing pigment costs. Wollastonite can also act as a pH buffer for improved in-can paint stability over long periods of time.
Ceramics: Wollastonite is used in a variety of ceramic applications including ceramic glazes and bodies, enamels, frits, fluxes, and sanitary ware. This essential mineral is a source is used in alkaline glaze formulations, improving the strength of glazes.
Metallurgical: In metallurgical applications, Wollastonite is used due to its low water solubility and low loss on ignition. Wollastonite is commonly added to formulated powders for steel casting and welding. The addition of Wollastonite to metallurgical fluxes provides ready fusibility, good insulating qualities and low viscosity. When molten steel is poured continuously from a ladle or tundish, a Wollastonite casting powder is applied to maintain surface defects, prevent oxidation of the steel, and to lubricate the mold wall.
Friction: Due to its physical structure and non-hazardous properties, Wollastonite is used as a reinforcing additive in many friction applications. It is also a partial/full replacement for asbestos, milled fibers, chopped glass, and synthetic materials. Its primary application is in semi-metallic and non-asbestos formulations for truck blocks, drum linings, disc pads and friction paper.
In the 7th and 8th centuries, the Chinese were the first to use Wollastonite to make porcelain.