Minerals and Their Uses
Every segment of society uses minerals and mineral
resources everyday. The roads we ride or drive on and the
buildings we live learn and work in all contain minerals.
Below is a selected list of commonly used metallic and nonmetallic
minerals, ore minerals, mineral byproducts, aggregates,
and rock types that are used to make products we use
in our daily life.
- Natural aggregates include sand, gravel, and
crushed stone. Aggregates are composed of rock fragments
that may be used in their natural state or after mechanical
processing, such as crushing, washing, or sizing. Recycled
aggregates consist mainly of crushed concrete and crushed
- Aluminum is the most abundant metallic element
in the Earth's crust. Bauxite ore is the main source of aluminum.
Aluminum is used in automobiles and airplanes (36%),
bottling and canning industries (25%), building and electrical
(14%) and in other applications (25%).
- Antimony is a silvery-gray, brittle semi-metal. It rarely occurs
in nature as a native element, but is found in a number of different minerals.
Antimony is used principally for flame retardants as well as in ammunition and
automotive batteries and as a decolorizing agent in glassmaking.
Asbestos is a class of minerals that can be readily
separated into thin, strong fibers that are flexible, heat
resistant, and chemically inert. Asbestos minerals are used
in fireproof fabrics, yarn, cloth, and paper and paint filler.
Asbestos is used to make friction products, asbestos cement
pipes and sheets, coatings and compounds, packing and gaskets,
roofing and flooring products, paints and caulking, and
chemical filters. Fibers are dangerous when breathed, so users
must protect against fibers becoming airborne.
- Basalt is an extrusive igneous rock. Crushed basalt is
used for railroad ballast, aggregate in highway construction,
and is a major component of asphalt.
- Barium is an element, derived primarily from the
mineral barite, and used as a heavy additive in oil-well-drilling
mud, paints, rubber, plastic and paper; production of
barium chemicals; and glass manufacturing.
- Beryllium, an element commonly associated with
igneous rocks, has industrial and nuclear defense applications
and is used in light, very strong alloys for the aircraft industry.
Beryllium salts are used in x-ray tubes and as a deoxidizer
in bronze metallurgy. The gemstones of beryl, a beryllium
mineral, are emerald and aquamarine.
- Bismuth is used in a number of very different applications.
The majority is consumed in bismuth alloys, and in pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
The remainder is used in ceramics, paints, catalysts, and a variety of minor applications.
Bismuth metal is relatively inert and non-toxic. It has replaced toxic lead in many
applications such as plumbing, bullets, birdshot, metal alloys, and soldering.
Bismuth compounds are used in stomach-upset medicines (hence the
trademarked name Pepto-Bismol), treatment of stomach ulcers, soothing creams, and cosmetics.
- Boron compounds are used for many different purposes in industry and the home.
Boron is used to make glass, ceramics, enamels, fiberglass, make water softeners,
soaps and detergents. Other uses are in agricultural chemicals, pest controls,
fire retardants, fireworks, medicine, and various minor applications.
Boron nitride is one of the hardest known substances and is used for abrasives
and cutting tools.
- Bromine, recovered commercially through the treatment
of seawater brines, is used in leaded gasoline, fire extinguishers
and retardants, well-completion fluids, and sanitary
preparations. Bromine is the only liquid nonmetallic element.
- Cadmium is used in plating and alloying, pigments,
plastics, and batteries. Cadmium is obtained from the
ore minerals Sphalerite (Zn,Cd)S and Greenockite (CdS)
The primary use of calcium is not in its silvery-white metal form, but as
calcium carbonate. It used in adhesives and sealants, cosmetics, foods, paint,
paper, pharmaceuticals, plastics, rubber, for the production of lime, and as
crhused stone in construction.
Immense quantities of calcium are found in sedimentary rock deposits of gypsum,
limestone, and shale. Some common calcium-bearing minerals include apatite
(calcium phosphate), calcite (calcium carbonate), dolomite (calcium magnesium
carbonate), fluorite (calcium fluoride), and gypsum (calcium sulfate).
Calcium metal is produced in Canada, China, France, Russia, and the United
States. Total world output is thought to be less than 6,000 metric tons per
year. United States consumption of calcium metal is small. On a worldwide
basis, more than 100 million metric tons per year of apatite and gypsum are
mined, and calcite and dolomite are produced in billions of metric tons per
- Cement is used for building materials, stucco, and
mortar. Cement is :a mixture of powdered lime, clay, and
other minerals that crystallize to form a hard solid when
water is added (hydraulic cement) or as a binding material in
concrete" (Kesler, 1994). An excellent overview of cement,
its chemistry, and properties can be found in MacLaren and
- Chromium is used in the production of stainless
and heat-resistant steel, full-alloy steel, super alloys and other
alloys. Chromium is obtained from the ore mineral Chromite
- There are many different clay minerals that are used
for industrial applications. Clays are used in the manufacturing
of paper, refractories, rubber, ball clay, dinnerware and
pottery, floor and wall tile, sanitary wear, fire clay, firebricks,
foundry sands, drilling mud, iron-ore pelletizing, absorbent
and filtering materials, construction materials, and cosmetics.
- Half of the consumption of cobalt is used in corrosion-
and abrasion-resistant alloys with steel, nickel, and
other metals for the production of industrial engines. Other
uses of cobalt metal include magnets and cutting tools. Cobalt
salts are used to produce a blue color in paint pigments,
porcelain, glass, and pottery. Cobalt is obtained from the ore
minerals Linneaite (Co3S4), Cobaltite CoAsS,
- Copper is used in electric cables and wires, switches,
plumbing; heating, electrical, and roofing materials; electronic
components; industrial machinery and equipment; transportation;
consumer and general products; coins; and jewelry.
- Industrial diamonds are those that can
not be used as gems. Large diamonds are used in tools and
drilling bits to cut rock and small stone. Small diamonds, also
known as dust or grit, are used for cutting and polishing stone
and ceramic products.
- Diatomite is a rock composed of the skeletons
of diatoms, single-celled organisms with skeletons made of
silica, which are found in fresh and salt water. Diatomite
is primarily used for filtration of drinks, such as juices and
wines, but it is also being used as filler in paints and pharmaceuticals
and environmental cleanup technologies.
- Dolomite is the near twin-sister rock to limestone.
Like limestone, it typically forms in a marine environment
but also as has a primary magnesium component. Dolomite
is used in agriculture, chemical and industrial applications,
cement construction, refractories, and environmental industries.
- Feldspar is a rock-forming mineral. It is used in
glass and ceramic industries; pottery, porcelain and enamelware;
soaps; bond for abrasive wheels; cement; glues; fertilizer;
and tarred roofing materials and as a sizing, or filler, in
textiles and paper applications.
- Fluorite is used in production of hydrofluoric acid,
which is used in the pottery, ceramics, optical, electroplating,
and plastics industries. It is also used in the metallurgical
treatment of bauxite, as a flux in open-hearth steel furnaces,
and in metal smelting, as well as in carbon electrodes, emery
wheels, electric arc welders, and toothpaste as a source of
- Garnet is used in water filtration, electronic components,
ceramics, glass, jewelry, and abrasives used in wood
furniture and transport manufacturing. "Garnet is a common
metamorphic mineral that becomes abundant enough to mine
in a few rocks" (Kesler, 1994).
- "Most germanium is recovered as a byproduct
of zinc smelting. It is also found in some copper ores"
(Kesler, 1994). Applications include use in fiber-optic components,
which are replacing copper in long-distance telecommunication
lines, as well as in camera lenses and other
glasses and infrared lenses.
- Gold is used in dentistry and medicine, jewelry and
arts, medallions and coins, and in ingots. It is also used for
scientific and electronic instruments, computer circuitry, as an
electrolyte in the electroplating industry, and in many applications
for the aerospace industry.
- Granite can be cut into large blocks and used as
a building stone. When polished, it is used for monuments,
headstones, countertops, statues, and facing on buildings. It
is also suitable for railroad ballast and for road aggregate in
- Graphite is the crystal form of carbon. Graphite
is used as a dry lubricant and steel hardener and for brake
linings and the production of "lead" in pencils. Most graphite
production comes from Korea, India, and Mexico.
- Processed gypsum is used in industrial or building
plaster, prefabricated wallboard, cement manufacture, and for
- Halite (salt) is used in the human and animal diet,
primarily as food seasoning and as a food preservation. It
is also used to prepare sodium hydroxide, soda ash, caustic
soda, hydrochloric acid, chlorine, and metallic sodium, and it
is used in ceramic glazes, metallurgy, curing of hides, mineral
waters, soap manufacture, home water softeners, highway
deicing, photography, and scientific equipment for optical
Iodine is used as an antibacterial agent in soaps and cleaning
products in restrooms, in iodized salt to prevent goiter, and
in first aid boxes as an antiseptic.
- Iron Ore
- Iron ore is used to manufacture steels of various
types and other metallurgical products, such as magnets, auto
parts, and catalysts. Most U.S. production is from Minnesota
and Michigan. The Earth's crust contains about 5% iron, the
fourth most abundant element in the crust.
- Lead is used in batteries, construction, ammunition,
television tubes, nuclear shielding, ceramics, weights, and
tubes or containers. The United States is largest producer
(mainly from Missouri), consumer, and recycler of lead metal.
- "A sedimentary rock consisting largely of the
minerals calcite and aragonite, which have the same composition
CaCO3". Limestone, along with dolomite,
is one of the basic building blocks of the construction industry.
Limestone is used as aggregate, building stone, cement,
and lime and in fluxes, glass, refractories, fillers, abrasives,
soil conditioners, and a host of chemical processes.
- Batteries made from lithium metal or lithium carbonate are used
in smoke alarms, pacemakers, defibrillator machines, many other
types of portable medical equipment, and in emergency communications
equipment, including computers and cell phones.
- Magnesium (see dolomite) is used in cement,
rubber, paper, insulation, chemicals and fertilizers, animal
feed, and pharmaceuticals. Magnesium is obtained from the
ore minerals Olivine (Fe,Mg)2SiO4, Magnesite MgCO3, and
- Manganese is essential to iron and steel
production. Manganese is obtained from the ore minerals
Braunite (Mn,Si)2O3, Pyrolusite MnO2,
- Mercury is extracted from the mineral cinnabar
and is used in electrical products, electrolytic production of
chlorine and caustic soda, paint, and industrial and control
instruments (thermometers and thermostats).
- Mica minerals commonly occur as flakes, scales, or
shreds. Sheet muscovite (white) mica is used in electronic
insulators, paints, as joint cement, as a dusting agent, in welldrilling
mud and lubricants, and in plastics, roofing, rubber,
and welding rods.
- Molybdenum is used in stainless steels (21%),
tool steels (9%), cast irons (7%), and chemical lubricants
(8%), and in other applications (55%). It is commonly used to
make automotive parts, construction equipment, gas transmission
pipes, and as a pure metal molybdenum is used as filament
supports in light bulbs, metalworking dies, and furnace
parts because of its high melting temperature (2,623°C).
- Nickel is vital as an alloy to stainless steel, and it
plays a key roll in the chemical and aerospace industries.
Leading producers are Canada, Norway, and Russia.
- Phosphate rock
- Primarily a sedimentary rock used to produce
phosphoric acid and ammoniated phosphate fertilizers,
feed additives for livestock, elemental phosphorus, and a
variety of phosphate chemicals for industrial and home consumers.
The majority of U.S. production comes from Florida,
North Carolina, Idaho, and Utah.
- Platinum Group Metals (PGMs)
- PGM's include platinum,
palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium, and ruthenium. These
elements commonly occur together in nature and are among
the scarcest of the metallic elements. Platinum is used principally
in catalytic converters for the control of automobile and
industrial plant emissions; in jewelry; in catalysts to produce
acids, organic chemicals, and pharmaceuticals; and in dental
alloys used for making crowns and bridges.
- Potash is an industry term that refers to a group of
water-soluble salts containing the element potassium, as well
as to ores containing these salts (Kesler, 1994). Potash is used
in fertilizer, medicine, the chemical industry, and to produce
decorative color effects on brass, bronze, and nickel.
- Pyrite (fools gold) is used in the manufacture of sulfur,
sulfuric acid, and sulfur dioxide; pellets of pressed pyrite
dust are used to recover iron, gold, copper, cobalt, and nickel.
- Quartz crystals are popular as a semiprecious
gemstone; crystalline varieties include amethyst, citrine,
rose quartz, and smoky quartz. Because of its piezoelectric
properties (the ability to generate electricity under mechanical
stress), quartz is used for pressure gauges, oscillators, resonators,
and wave stabilizers. Quartz is also used in the manufacture
of glass, paints, abrasives, refractories, and precision
- Sandstone is used as a building stone, road bases
and coverings, construction fill, concrete, railroad ballast, and
snow and ice control.
- Silica / Silicon
- Silica is used in the manufacture of computer chips,
glass and refractory materials, ceramics, abrasives, and water
filtration; and is a component of hydraulic cements, a filler
in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, paper, and insecticides; as an
anti-caking agent in foods; a flatting agent in paint, and as a
- Silver is used in photography, chemistry, electrical
and electronic products (because of its very high conductivity),
fine silverware, electroplated wire, jewelry, coins, and
brazing alloys and solders.
- Photoluminescent exit signs use a class of newly developed
phosphorescent pigments that are based on strontium oxide aluminate chemistry.
- Sulfur is of importance to every sector of the world's manufacturing processes,
drugs, and fertilizer complexes. Sulfur is used as an industrial raw material
through its major derivative, sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid production is
the major end use for sulfur. Most sulfur goes into fertilizer; oil
refining is another major use as well as a source of sulfur.
- The primary use for talc is in the production of paper.
Ground talc is used as filler in ceramics, paint, paper, roofing,
plastics, cosmetics, and in agriculture. Talc is found in many
common household products, such as baby (talcum) powder,
deodorant, and makeup. Very pure talc is used in fine arts and
is called soapstone. It is often used to carve figurines.
- Tin is used in the manufacture of cans and containers,
electrical equipment, and chemicals.
- Titanium is a metal used mostly in jet engines,
airframes, and space and missile applications. In powdered
form, titanium is used as a white pigment for paints, paper,
plastics, rubber, and other materials.
- Trona is used in glass container manufacture, fiberglass,
specialty glass, flat glass, liquid detergents, medicine,
food additives, photography, cleaning and boiler compounds,
and control of water pH. Trona is mined mainly in Wyoming.
- Tungsten is used in steel production, metalworking,
cutting applications, construction electrical machinery
and equipment, transportation equipment, light bulbs, carbide
drilling equipment, heat and radiation shielding, textile dyes,
enamels, paints, and for coloring glass.
- Uranium is a radioactive material used in nuclear
defense systems and for nuclear generation of electricity. It
also used in nuclear-medicine x-ray machines, atomic dating,
and electronic instruments.
- Some of the uses of zeolite minerals include
aquaculture (for removing ammonia from the water in fish
hatcheries), water softener, catalysts, cat litter, odor control,
and removing radioactive ions from nuclear-plant effluent.
- Zinc is used as protective coating on steel, as die
casting, as an alloying metal with copper to make brass, and
as chemical compounds in rubber and paint. Additional uses
include galvanizing iron, electroplating, metal spraying,
automotive parts, electrical fuses, anodes, dry-cell batteries,
nutrition, chemicals, roof gutters, cable wrapping, and
pennies. Zinc oxide is used in medicine, paints, vulcanizing
rubber, and sun-block lotions.
- Zirconium is a metal recovered from zircon. "Zircon
is used in mineral form in refractory products, where it is
valued for its high melting temperature of 2,550°C. Some zircon
is processed by chemical leaching to yield elemental zirconium.
The best known use for zirconium metal is in nuclear reactors,
where zirconium contains the fuel" (Kesler, 1994).
Copyright © 2003-2010 Calvin & Rosanna Hamilton. All rights reserved.