Advances in the characterization of industrial minerals
The use of minerals by man is as old as the human race. In fact the advancement of human civilization has been intimately associated with the exploitation of raw materials. It is not by chance that the distinction of the main historical eras is based on the type of raw materials used. Hence the passage from the Paleolithic and Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age is characterized by the introduction of basic metals, mainly copper, zinc and tin, to human activities and the Iron Age was marked by the introduction of iron. Since then the use of metals has increased and culminated in the industrial revolution in the mid-eighteenth century which marked the onset of the industrial age in the western world. However, during the past 50 years, although metals were equally important to western economies as they had been previously, the amount of metals extracted annually in western countries has decreased significantly and metal mining activity shifted mainly to third world countries (in Africa, South America, Asia) and Australia, due to economic and environmental constraints. At the same time the role of industrial minerals has become increasingly important for the western economies and today, in developed EU countries, the production of industrial minerals has surpassed by far the production of metals. In some EU countries, metal mining activities have stopped completely. The importance of industrial minerals is expected to increase further in the future.
Industrial Minerals: Significance and Important Characteristics
Published:January 01, 2010
Industrial minerals and rocks are Earth materials utilized because of their characteristic physical and/or chemical properties and not because of their metal content and which are not energy sources. According to this definition they cover a broad spectrum of minerals and rocks which form at all geological environments. The relative importance of industrial minerals to the economy of the various countries reflects the economic maturity of that country and today they constitute the most important raw materials exploited in the developed industrialized countries. The unit value of many industrial minerals is small compared to that of metals and depends on the geographic site from which they are extracted, i.e. they have a large place value. The small unit value also dictates the extent of processing and beneficiation. As they are used by the industry because of their physical and chemical properties, different industrial minerals may often compete for the same applications. In some cases the industrial practice requires production of synthetic industrial minerals, such as zeolites and diamonds, with tailored properties and therefore high added value. Due to increasing environmental awareness, there is need for utilization of waste materials from mining activities, which are also in the mineral form and can thus be considered as industrial minerals. The economic significance of industrial minerals is expected to increase further in the future.