HIGH PRICES FOR COMMERCIAL METALS
During the mid and late 2000s the prices of most metals soared primarily on the back of strong demand from China. The price of lead and copper rose around 300 percent between 2000 and 2009. See China.
Prices of nickel and copper rose so high that U.S. coins using them were worth more melted down. With that the case U.S. mint officials prohibited melting down pennies and nickels. The penalty for doing so is up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Prices came back down during the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. By January 2009, metals had lost 60 percent of their value from the previous summer. Barclays Capital estimated that 60 percent of the world’s aluminum output was losing money on a cash basis. For nickel it was 30 percent, for zinc 20 percent and copper 10 percent. Prices picked up one the economic situation improved.
Mineral and Energy Production : United States Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity ; Index Mundi indexmundi.com/minerals/ ; Energy Information Administration, Department of Energy eia.doe.gov/emeu/international ; Nationmaster nationmaster.com
Websites and Resources on Mining: Mining.com mining.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Mining Engineering books.google.com/books ; Geology and Hard Rock Mining rmmlf.org/scitech/ ; Mining technology mining-technology.com ;
Aluminum is the second most abundant metal in the earth's crust. Strong, lightweight and rustproof, it reflects heat, is a good conductor of electricity and can easily be combined with other metals to form alloys. It is widely used in automobiles, planes, packaging and housing. Large aluminum buyers include Coca-Cola and Boeing.
Aluminum is an element. It can be cast, rolled, forged, stamped, drawn, extruded and machined. It is used to make aluminum cans, siding, insulation and strong but light parts used in aircraft and cars. About 23 percent of the aluminum used around the world is used packaging, 20 percent is used in transportation, and 17 percent in building.
Nearly all aluminum comes from the ore bauxite (a word derived from Les Baux, France, where large amount of the ore are found). On average one kilogram of bauxite yields 0.211 kilograms of aluminum. Aluminum is also widely found in clays but is not economical to extract.
Bauxite is usually found near the earth's surface and open-pit mining is usually used to extract it. Appearing a variety of colors, it is usually combined with iron, silicon and titanium oxides that have to be removed. At mills near the mines bauxite is crushed and sometimes dried.
Performances of aluminum companies like Alcoa are closely watched by analysts because aluminum is widely used in products ranging from soft drinks to electronics to automobiles and jets and offers clues on how these sectors and the economy in general are doing,
World Aluminum Production, By Country (Thousand metric tons, 2007): 1) China 19,500; 2) Australia 18,844; 3) Brazil 6,890; 4) Jamaica 3,941; 5) United States 3,900; 6) Russian Federation 3,300; 7) India 2,900; 8) Suriname 2,200; 9) Venezuela 1,900; 10) Ukraine 1,700; 11) Kazakhstan 1,556; 12) Spain 1,400; 13) Italy 1,327; 14) Canada 1,220; 15) Ireland 1,100; 16) Germany 850; 17) Greece 750; 18) Guinea 610; 19) Bosnia and Herzegovina 350 [Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program]
World Production Bauxite, By Country (Thousand metric tons, 2007): 1) Australia 62,428; 2) China 30,000; 3) Brazil 22,100; 4) India 19,221; 5) Guinea 18,000; 6) Jamaica 14,568; 7) Russian Federation 6,400; 8) Venezuela 5,900; 9) Suriname 4,900; 10) Kazakhstan 4,800; 11) Greece 2,220; 12) Guyana 1,600; 13) Indonesia 1,251; 14) Sierra Leone 1,168; 15) Ghana 840; 16) Bosnia and Herzegovina 800; 17) Turkey 780; 18) Montenegro 650; 19) Hungary 546.4; 20) Dominican Republic 500 [Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program]
Large amounts of power are necessary to produce aluminum. About 30 to 40 percent of the production costs are for electrical energy. Plants are often built near places with abundant sources of energy: either hydroelectricity, natural gas or oil.
The first step in the refining of aluminum is the removal of impurities from the ore and making bauxite into alumina (aluminum oxide). This is done by mixing powdered bauxite with caustic soda in large tanks. The bauxite turns into a solution of sodium aluminate. The impurities remain solid and are filtered out as "red mud."
The sodium aluminate is placed in precipitating tanks or pools. As it cools crystals of aluminum hydroxide appear. The aluminum hydroxide is heated in kilns to remove the water, producing alumina.
Electrolysis performed in a smelter is used make the alumina into aluminum. The alumina is dissolved in a solution. A strong electric current is put through the solution. The oxygen is removed and nearly pure aluminum is deposited at the bottom of the container. The aluminum is remelted to remove remaining impurities and produce aluminum that is more than 99 percent pure.
Guinea and Australia have 40 percent of the world reserves. Other major producers are China, Russia, Jamaica and Brazil. Aluminum is also mined in the United States, Surinam, Guyana, France, Tajikistan and Hungary. A cartel was formed in the early 1990s to deal with problems presented by Russia sitting on a huge stock of aluminum.
China is the largest supplier of aluminum. It has 23 smelters. Forty-one smelters were closed there in 2005 because of high energy costs and efforts by the government to control pollution. In 2004, China produced more aluminum than any other nation, and production of the metal in China accounted for almost 5 percent of all the power used is China that year.
Prices roses in the 2000s to around $1900 a ton in 2005 and $2100 a ton in 2006 as a result of increased demand, particularly from China, and a shortage of smelters to make the medal as smelters were closed because of high energy costs.
During the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 the value of aluminum plummeted. Barclays Capital estimated that 60 percent of the world’s aluminum output was losing money on a cash basis. By August 2009, thing were beginning to pick up again as demand for aluminum picked up on the tails of increased demand for cars, planes and buses and increased demand from China.
The largest aluminum company is Russia’s OAO Rusai, attained that status in 2006 through a three-way merger with Russian rival Sual and the alumina assets of Switzerland-based Glencore. Becaime of $30 billion giant with a 12 percent global share. Owned by billionaire Olget Deripaska, the company has smelters and refineries in Russia, China, Guyana, Australia, Jamaica, Italy and Sweden.
Pittsburgh-based Alcoa is the world’s third largest aluminum makers. It makes 20 percent of the world’s bauxite and alumina, 10 percent of the aluminum and make about 80 percent of its profits from alumina and aluminum production In 2002, it was ranked as the world’s largest mining company ranked by market value. By 2008 it wasn’t even in the top ten, It cut 13,500 jobs, 13 percent of its workforce, during the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. Alcoa has a refutation for being one of the world’s most environmentally friendly miners.
Alcoa lost a lot of money during economic slowdown in 2008 and 2009, including $497 million in the first quarter of 2009 alone. To brings itself back to good health it cut thousand of jobs, sold businesses and curbed production. Alcoa returned to profit in the July-September quarter 2009 on the back of painful job cuts and increased demand for aluminum.
Alcoa and Canada-based Alcan used to be the largest aluminum makers. In 2007 Alcoa launched a $27.5 billion hostile takes over bid of Alcan that Alan shareholders rejected. Alcoa upped their bid to $33 billion but was out bid by Rio Tinto that offered $38.1 billion July 2007, making the let lever ever in the mining business.
Cadmium is a metal used in the making of batteries and the plating and coating of metals. It is similar to zinc and often used as a superior substitute to zinc. The main producers are the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia and Germany.
World Refinery Production, By Country (Metric tons, 2007): 1) China 4,000; 2) Korea, Republic Of 3,400; 3) Kazakhstan 2,100; 4) Canada 2,100; 5) Japan 1,933; 6) Mexico 1,617; 7) Russian Federation 810; 8) United States 735; 9) Germany 640; 10) India 580; 11) Netherlands 495; 12) Peru 420) 420; 13) Australia 351; 14) Poland 350; 15) Bulgaria 320; 16) Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of 200; 17) Brazil 200; 18) Norway 150; [Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program]
Lead is the 82nd element on the Periodic Table. It has many industrial uses but can be very dangerous to human life.Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times: “As one of the 100-plus elements of which the Earth is built, lead is certainly “natural.” But it is relatively uncommon, and only became a ubiquitous feature of our everyday human landscape because we pulled it up from the ground and put it there. Like any element, lead is a substance that cannot be broken down by chemical means, an aggregate of large numbers of the same type of atom, in this case very heavy atoms. The dense core of a lead atom bulges with more than 200 nuclear particles, nearly four times the number in an iron nucleus. Lead is considered the heaviest of the so-called stable elements, meaning atoms that are not radioactive and don’t tend to spit out nuclear particles periodically the way uranium does. But stable does not mean inert, and lead interacts readily with other elements, particularly sulfur, an association that makes lead easy to find and mine, but also makes it a particularly inhospitable bully. [Source: Natalie Angier, New York Times, August 21, 2007]
About 8 kilograms of ore, rock, soil and sand needs to be excavated to produce one kilogram of lead. [Source: Japanese Environmental Ministry]
In the U.S. about 75 of the lead consumed is used in transportation (batteries, gasoline additives, and other uses). It is also used in emergency power supply, construction sheeting, sporting ammunition, and TV tubes. The U.S. consumes and uses more than 20 percent of the world production of lead. Other major producers include Australia, China, and the former U.S.S.R.
The price of lead rose around 300 percent between 2000 and 2009.
World Mine Production Of Lead In Concentrate, By Country (Metric tons, lead content, 2006): 1) China 1,500,000; 2) Australia 641,000; 3) United States 444,000; 4) Peru 329,154; 5) Mexico 120,000; 6) Poland 85,000; 7) Canada 82,000; 8) India 77,600; 9) Sweden 62,100; 10) Ireland 54,100; 11) Russian Federation 50,000; 12) Morocco 44,800; 13) South Africa 41,857; 14) Kazakhstan 40,200; 15) Iran, Islamic Republic Of 25,000; 16) Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of 20,000; 17) Turkey 20,000; 18) Bulgaria 20,000; 19) Brazil 18,000; 20) Macedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic Of 17,000; 21) Greece 15,000; 22) Argentina 12,800; 23) Bolivia 12,000; 24) Honduras 10,215; 25) Namibia 10,000 [Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program]
Lead and History
Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times: “Lead was indeed one of the first metals mined, for it doesn’t take much to convert raw lead ore into a usable commodity. Lead is easily purified away from the odiferous sulfur, and it has such a low melting point that a hunk of it can be softened in a campfire and shaped into a wondrous variety of objects---pots, pans and water pipes, all displaying lead’s trademark resistance to corrosion and discoloration. “Lead was a civilizing metal, there were so many things it could do,” said John Emsley, a chemist and author of “The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison.” [Source: Natalie Angier, New York Times, August 21, 2007]
“The ancient Romans mined lead on a huge scale, mostly from deposits in England and Spain, spinning it into vast subterranean waterworks, hammering it into pewter tableware, cheaply doping their silver coins, kohl-lining their eyes. A bad harvest year--- Boil the sour grapes in lead vessels, and the release of lead acetate would sweeten the wine. (In fact, the sweet flavor of some lead compounds is thought to aggravate the danger of lead-painted toys, adding the temptation of sweetness to young children already inclined to explore the world with their mouths.) [Ibid]
“Time and again lead proved its versatile mettle. Paint pigment made from white lead was said to have an exceptional brightness and unequaled “covering power,” and well into the 20th century, old-school housepainters insisted that nothing clung to wood as faithfully as lead paint. The refractive index of lead made it the ideal element to stir moltenly with glass to form crystal, and the finest facets on the most luxurious chandeliers owe their diamond spangle to a recipe that may be 30 percent lead. With the advent of automobiles and inefficient engines that rattled and balked, engineers solved the problem by adding lead to gasoline, raising the combustion point and silencing “knock.” [Ibid]
Health Problems of Lead
Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times: “As far as we know, neither we nor any known life form needs the slightest amount of lead to survive. And for humans, especially infants and young children, consumption of even moderate amounts of the metal can have serious consequences. Developing brains seem to be extremely sensitive to the effects of the metal. [Source: Natalie Angier, New York Times, August 21, 2007]
“The Greek physician Hippocrates described circa 400 B.C. a severe case of “colic” in a lead miner, and the Roman engineer Vitruvius noted that men who worked in lead smelters had disturbingly wan complexions. Over the centuries, doctors described disorders like “wrist drop,” in which housepainters using leaded paint would suddenly lose control of their wrist musculature, and “dry gripes,” a complaint among early American colonists that was linked to the drinking of West Indian rum that, as a result of its processing, was brimming with lead. [Ibid]
“Not until the 20th century were epidemiological studies carried out that showed the particular dangers that lead posed to children, evidence that helped usher in bans in many countries against lead paint, leaded gasoline, lead-glazed pottery and the like. Titanium has replaced lead as the gold-standard white pigment in paint, and, apart from its superior safety profile, is considered more than a match for lead in brilliance and opacity, if not low price. With the introduction of cleaner additives in the 1970s, lead-laden fuels were phased out in the United States, though leaded gasoline is used in developing countries where people drive old knockabout cars. [Ibid]
“Scientists, too, have made great strides in mapping lead’s impact on the body. They have shown that after it infiltrates a cell, lead seeks out those regions of proteins where sulfur abounds and pushes aside smaller characters that stand in its way. But being bulkier than whatever it displaces, and chemically inappropriate besides, lead twists the entire protein into a sad, worthless shape. As it turns out, this distorting effect has a particularly severe effect on so-called transcription factors, proteins that control when genes flick on and flick off. In gestation, genetic timing is critical. This could help explain why even modest exposure to our old “civilizing” friend might corrupt the whole script of a developing brain. [Ibid]
Magnesium is the lightest common metal. It weighs one third less than aluminum. It is used primarily in making alloys in which lightness is more important than strength.
Magnesium is used to make alloys used in aerospace, automobiles and other industries. Magnesium powder produces a bright white flame and is used in fireworks, flares and flashbulbs. Magnesium oxide is used in oil refinery, steel, glass and cement production. Magnesium compounds are important ingredients in plastics, fertilizers, and all sorts of other things.
Magnesium is found in a large number of compound in nature. It is also an essential element of enzymes that help animals digest food. Many soils and seawater have magnesium in it. Most magnesium is obtained by performing electrolysis of seawater. It also extracted from the ores gamnetite and dolomite.
Ferromagnanese is used in special steels. The price of it rose more than 225 percent between March 2002 and March 2007.
Primary World Production, By Country (Metric tons, 2006): 1) China 627,000; 2) Russian Federation 37,000; 3) Israel 25,000; 4) Kazakhstan 21,000; 5) Brazil 18,000; 6) Canada 16,300; 7) Ukraine 2,500; 8) Serbia 1,500 [Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program]
Mercury is the only metallic element that is liquid at ordinary temperatures. It is named after the Roman messengers of the gods and is sometimes called quicksilver, meaning fluid silver. Even though mercury is a liquid it does not behave like water. If some is placed on a paper its forms a ball. If the ball is fragmented, smaller balls are formed.
Mercury has been known since ancient times. It was used in a wide variety of medicines, often to the detriment of the user. Alchemist often used it in concoction intended to make gold. Mercury is highly toxic. It is passed through the food chain, especially in the sea, and has been blamed in causing birth defects and disease in animals and people.
Because of its uniform expansion under a great range of temperatures from it melting point to its boiling point, mercury is used to make thermometers, barometers and scientific instruments. Mercury mixes easily with many powdered metals and is important for mining and refining gold and other metals. Mercury compounds are also used in pesticides and fungicides and to make red pigments.
Some free mercury is found. Most of it occurs in a bright red mercuric sulfide called cinnabar. The mercury can easily be extracted by heating the ore and condensing the vaporized mercury. Most of the world's mercury mines comes from Spain and Italy. The still productive mine in Almadén, Spain is said to have been worked since 800 B.C. Other major mines are located in former Yugoslavia and the United States.
Tin is a metal used primarily in cans and electrical construction and as coating resistant to corrosion. It is mixed with copper to make bronze.
The Bronze Age was between the Copper Age and the Iron Age. The discovery of reliable tin-producing sites was essential to starting the Bronze Age. See Bronze Age.
Tin has traditionally been used in the food industry because it is resistant to food acids. To make tin cans, steel sheets are plated by dipping them into molten tin. In some cases the tin is only 0.000015 of an inch thick. Kitchen utensils receive a thicker coat through electroplating. Tin roofs are made by immersing steel sheets in a molten mixture of lead and tin.
Tin is valuable in making alloys because it has a relatively low melting point (449.4̊F). It is used to make bronze, pewter, solder and other low-melting point alloys. Tin chlorine is used in dying and weighting silk. Tin allots are used in making toothpaste tubes.
World Mine Production, By Country (Metric tons, 2006): 1) China 125,000; 2) Indonesia 90,000; 3) Peru 38,470; 4) Bolivia 18,000; 5) Brazil 12,000; 6) Viet Nam 3,500; 7) Niger 3,100; 8) Russian Federation 3,000; 9) Malaysia 3,000; 10) Congo, The Democratic Republic Of The 2,800; 11) Australia 2,000; 12) Nigeria 1,500; 13) Myanmar 700; 14) Rwanda 300; 15) Portugal 230; 16) Thailand 165; 17) Lao People's Democratic Republic 70; 18) Mexico 25; 19) Burundi 4 [Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program]
Tin Mining and Processing
The main tin-bearing ore is cassiterite, or tin stone, a dioxide of tin. It is often found with zinc, copper, bismuth and iron.
Tin is crushed into a powder and roasted to remove sulphur and arsenic. At the smelter, the ore is heated with carbon to remove the zinc, copper, bismuth and iron. Tin can also be refined with electrolysis. Sulphur is often released during tin processing.
The main producers of tin are Brazil, Bolivia, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also produced in the Thailand, Nigeria, the Congo and Australia.
Bolivia was once the leader. The Bolivian tin mining companies were also outhustled by more efficient tin-mining operations in Malaysia that took away Bolivia's market share. Much of the tin in Malaysia was panned like gold by women up until only a few years ago.
Tin-producing countries suffered terrible when the price of tin dropped from $5.60 a tons to $2.40 a ton in the 1980s.
Tin and Bolivia
Bolivia was once called the tin roof of the Andes. In the 1960s the metal accounted for 94 percent of Bolivia's exports. Bolivia's two most famous mines’siglo XX and Catavi---were founded at the beginning of the 20th century by legendary tin baron Simón Patiño, who amassed a huge fortune when the demand for canned food caused the price of tin to skyrocket. Patiño was eventually hounded into exile by Bolivian tax officials.
Bolivia suffered terribly when the price of tin dropped from $5.60 a tons to $2.40 a ton in the 1980s. The Bolivian tin mining companies were also outhustled by more efficient tin-mining operations in Malaysia that took away Bolivia's market share.
By the 1990s Bolivia's mining industry was largely in ruins. Self-employed miners clung to a desperate, dangerous and low-paying way of life. Many mines were closed and the mining regions of Potosí and Oruru became among the poorest in Bolivia, with the country's highest infant mortality and lowest life expectancy rates. The number of workers at state-owned Unificada mine, which once kept its refinery operating 24 hours a day, dropped, from 2,500 in the 1980s to 400 in 1992. Many miners workers worked in private mines under appalling, dangerous conditions.
Bolivian Tin Mines in the 1980s
During the winter the shafts of Bolivian tin mines are freezing cold and the tunnels are humid and hot and punctuated with occasional devil images. The tunnels are blasted with dynamite, and the ore is removed with compressed drills and placed on small cars that take it out of the mine.
Describing his journey into a Cerro Potasí tin mine, Loren McIntyre wrote in National Geographic: "The heart of Cerro Rico is veined with tin, and skewered now with vertical shafts. Tunnels branch out from them, but only one reaches daylight: the entrance on level zero. I followed it a mile into the cerro, my hard hat banging icicles and a 440-volt trolley wire. Then down by cable 800 feet to level eight's convoluted tunnels, so thunderous and muggy from blasting that miners call them the 'devil's gut.' My guide wouldn't go deeper; he said the devil hangs out on nine. He wanted me to ignore faceless miners; they might be demons in disguise." [Source: Loren McIntyre, National Geographic, April 1987]
"We entered a drift where operators, stripped to their skivvies, were jackhammering holes to insert explosives," McIntyre wrote. "A little way into picture taking, my arms got heavy. The deeper I breathed, the dizzier I became. Chagrin was the last sensation I recall...I came to in a sick bay with bloodstained walls on level zero. A lame dwarf (a paramedic goblin) brought coca-leaf tea and a soiled aspirin tablet. He pronounced I had succumbed to carbon monoxide gas.” [Ibid]
Miners often live with their families near the mines in one-room adobe houses with corrugated sheet-metal roofs. Because the veins are so deep, the miners spend a great deal of time in the mines: sleeping, eating, cooking and conducting meetings. One their one day off the miners often get loaded on aguardiente---raw cane alcohol. Many miners have died before reaching the age of 50 of silicois, tuberculosis and alcohol-related diseases. [Ibid]
Zinc is used as a protective coating on steel, as a die casting, as an alloying agent, and as a component of chemical compounds in rubber, toiletries, medicines and paints.
Zinc is mixed with copper to make brass and coated on iron to galvanize it. Alloys used in diecasting often contain 90 percent zinc. Sheets of pure zinc are used in roofing and linings for refrigerators. Zinc oxide is used give paint body and as sun screen for skin. It is added too rubber to make it heat resistant.
Zinc vaporizes at a lower temperatures than other minerals. At a smelter it is distilled from crushed ore and condensed to a liquid and poured in molds. Zinc can also be separated from ore using electrolysis. The processing of zinc and lead can produce significant amounts of gold, silver, selenium, mercury, cadmium, indium, germanium and gallium.
About 36 kilograms of ore, rock, soil and sand needs to be excavated to produce one kilogram of zinc. [Source: Japanese Environmental Ministry]
Zinc is mined in 50 different ores and is found all over the world. Even so it is regarded as a strategic metal because a single country doesn't have the quantities needed in war time. The leading world producers are 1) Canada, 2) Australia, 3) the former U.S.S.R., 4) Peru, 5) China and 6) the United States.
By Country (Metric tons, zinc content of concentrate and direct shipping ore, 2006): 1) China 2,600,000; 2) Australia 1,380,000; 3) Peru 1,201,794; 4) United States 727,000; 5) Canada 710,000; 6) Mexico 480,000; 7) Ireland 425,700; 8) India 420,800; 9) Kazakhstan 400,000; 10) Sweden 192,400; 11) Russian Federation 190,000; 12) Brazil 176,000; 13) Bolivia 175,000; 14) Poland 135,600; 15) Iran, Islamic Republic Of 130,000; 16) Morocco 73,000; 17) Namibia 68,000; 18) Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of 67,000; 19) Mongolia 50,450; 20) Turkey 50,000 [Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program]
Sulfur is a nonmetallic element and an essential ingredient for making a lot of chemicals, pesticides medications and other things. It is used in matches, fireworks, medicines, chemicals, paper manufacturing, refining sugar, and vulcanizing and processing natural rubber.
Sulfur is yellow when hard and share many chemical properties with oxygen. It produces a blue flame when burned, the source of its old name "brimstone" ("burning stone"). The rotten egg smell is produced by hydrogen sulfide.
Sulphur is mined in both in its pure form and in compounds. It is produced in a relatively pure form by volcanos and is often mined from around active volcanos. It also is extracted from sulfur compounds called pyrites. Sulphur is often mined by dissolving deposits with hot water. The water is piped into the earth and removed with pipes, The water is allowed to evaporate, leaving behind sulfur.
Glass is used in all kinds of things. The advantage it has over other materials is that its clear, long lasting, relatively heat resistant and cheap. The substances from each its made’sand, soda or potash, and lime---are abundant and easily obtained. Glass can easily be worked and can be completely sterilized. Machines the produce glass products can produce a lot of units at a low coast. [Ibid]
See Egyptians, Greeks, Venice, Italy, Middle Ages. [Ibid]
The sand used to make glass has to be perfectly white, 99 percent silica, and not to fine.. Impurities can have an adverse affect. A little iron will cause the glass to turn green. The best sand often comes from river beds and sandstone beds. [Ibid]
“Silica melts at extremely high temperatures. An alkali such as soda ash or potash is added to lower the melting temperature. Glass made from silica and potash is called water glass because it dissolves in water. A stabilizing agent such as lime is added to make it rigid and durable. Various agents are added for color: cubric oxide (copper) or cobalt oxide for blue; iron or chromium compounds for green; selenium, cuprous oxide for red. [Ibid]
To make glass the ingredients described above are mixed together in a devise that resembles a large cement mixer and then added to a furnace for melting. The temperature inside the furnace sometimes reached 3,000̊F. Glass is often fashioned into various objects using molds. Water is poured in the molds to keep the glass from sticking. Special procedures and machines for used in making sheet glass, light bulbs, bottles and other things. [Ibid]
Glass that is blown in a glassworks is heated in a furnace until it become glowing orange and is slightly cooler than the melting point temperatures. A craftsman called a gatherer pulls a mass of glass called the gather and twirls it until it is globular mass. Sometimes the glass is rolled on an iron slab. Then he blows a bubble into the glass and spin the glass to get the shapes they want. With a few simple tools he can fashion a stem or handle or some other feature. "You never force hot glass," master glass blower Jan-Erik Ritzman of the Kosta glasswork told National Geographic, "With hot glass, you have to work it until you finish. You can't stop. You can't go back.” [Ibid]
To make a glass vase William Ellis wrote in National Geographic, "a five foot long pipe is thrust into a furnace and twirled around to collect a gob of glass, much as a fork is twirled to make spaghetti. At a temperature of 2100̊F the mixture of...silica, sodium carbonate, and calcium oxide, or simply sand, soda and lime...was rude with glaring color, and thick and inching...Astonishingly a vase began to take shape as I blew into the pipe...I stood atop a box holding the pipe so that it pointed straight down, allowing the blown liquid to swell at the base and pull down to start the form of a neck." Afterwards the vase is then placed in an anealing oven to cool for four hours. [Source: William Ellis, National Geographic, December 1993 ╢]. [Ibid]
Aluminum, steels, cement, pulp, silicon, glass and chemicals are industries that require a lot of energy. [Ibid]
Gretchen Parker wrote in National Geographic: “Most of us know it as the gas that floats party balloons, blimps, and giant superheroes in holiday parades. But helium also purges rocket engines for NASA and the military and is crucial for diving equipment, particle accelerators, and MRIs. [Source: National Geographic, February 2011]
“The deflating news, says the National Research Council, is that we’re running out. Most of the world’s helium comes from beneath America's Great Plains, where it's trapped in natural gas. The U.S. began stockpiling it in the 1960s, but in 1996 opted to recoup its investment and sell off the reserve by 2015. After that, other producers---including Russia, Algeria, and Qatar---will control what’s left of the global market: perhaps a mere 40 years' worth. [Ibid]
Scientists, including Nobel Prize---winning physicist Robert Richardson, think increasing the price would help conserve the element. Richardson knows that charging big bucks ($100) for a little balloon is a partypooping idea. But it would also encourage the major helium users, like NASA, to recycle---and help the world hold on to its up, up, and away. [Ibid]
Antimony, a material used in the making of semiconductors. China has 90 percent of global supply of it. An accident at an antimony mine in China in October 2009 killed 26 workers.
Barite is an important mineral used in oil drilling fluids. The main producers are China, India, Mexico and Morocco.
Fluorspar is used in oil refining, chemical production and metallurgical and chemical industries. The main sources are: Mexico, South Africa, China and Canada. The U.S. imports 87 percent of its fluorspar. China has reserves of 21 million tons.
Mica is a group name for nine silicate minerals, which crystalize in thin sheets and are prized in electronic and electrical equipment and processes. This is because of its high dialectic (non-conducting) strength and low power-factor losses. The major sources of sheet mica are: India, Belgium, Brazil and Japan. The United States doesn't have any.
Graphite is a soft mineral used to make pencil leads and lubricants. It is slippery and used to line molds used in casting. It conducts electricity and resists heat and has a number of other applications. The major sources of graphite (used in metallurgical processes) are: Mexico, China, Brazil, Madagascar, Korea, Austria, Russia and Germany. The United States only has low quality deposits
China consumes 47 percent of the world’s cement. The cement industry requires a lot of energy.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012