Guest Videos: Beryllium–A Strategic Mineral

It’s tempting to call beryllium the “Clark Kent” of the periodic table’s group 2 elements:

bertrandite use

Rob Lavinsky,, viaWikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Beryllium is usually found in bertrandite or beryl crystals and minerals.

The square-jawed, mild-mannered crystals get the job done but would never be mistaken for one of their glamorous associates, say, emeralds or aquamarines.

As a metal, beryllium is dull gray and usually covered with an oxide (“rust,” which is a lighter shade of gray).

But when the need for its unique properties arises, watch out!

And almost all of this “super” material comes from one source–Materion, the company that produced that last video.

Nothing nefarious or supervillainous is going on; there just happens to be a single huge deposit of beryllium in the world, in Utah, and Materion owns it. Unfortunately, it’s called Spor Mountain, not the Fortress of Solitude.

But it does have an awesome origin story (the wave of supervolcanic eruptions at the end of this video segment):

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Aluminum: A Critical Mineral

Most residents of the United States think of foil, beverage cans, and recycling when we hear the word “aluminum” (or “aluminium”); then lots of other things come to mind, including vehicles, aircraft, and various items in our homes and offices.

Aluminum is even more widespread than we realize. As a metal, it’s also used in construction and for electrical power systems, including wires and cables. Many machines are made of aluminum, too.

As alumina–powdery aluminum oxide–it’s present in industrial refractories and many chemicals down to and including the main ingredients in styptic pencils and antiperspirants (alum–a naturally occuring aluminum salt–has been used as an astringent for centuries).

Aluminum is obviously common and inexpensive, so why is it on the US government’s 2018 “endangered minerals” list?

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Guest Video: Critical/Strategic Minerals

An update on this February 2018 post is needed because the US Department of the Interior recently issued its final list of critical minerals (see end of post).

Gold, silver, and gems aren’t the only treasures out there. The materials that make our modern life possible aren’t always pretty, but they are very important. The rare ones, like the platinum group elements, are also expensive.

Recently, the US government put together a list of the minerals that it considers to be most important to the security and economic welfare of the country. While insiders recognize a difference between “critical” and “strategic,” in practice the two are pretty much the same minerals.

This list has a link for each of the 35 minerals, showing how they are used and lots of other information.

In addition, here is a webinar on critical minerals from 2016.

Update: On May 18, 2018, Interior issued its final list, which is the same as the proposed list:

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Guest Video: Vanadium

This element was named after a Norse goddess of beauty because it comes in many colors, which chemists enjoy playing with:

Hard to believe vanadium is also a critical mineral used in metal alloys, as well as a possible cancer drug!

This colorful element is found in multivitamin supplements, though there is no US recommended dietary amount. The quantities are very small–there is a very fine balance between too much and too little of this mineral!

Vanadium apparently isn’t mined out like gold, silver, or even phosphate. According to the USGS 2018 mineral commodity report, it is generally produced as a by-product of various industrial processes. That’s not a very auspicious origin for an element whose compounds “have been shown to be potentially effective against diabetes Type 2, malign tumors including cancer, endemic tropical diseases (such as trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis and amoebiasis), bacterial infections (tuberculosis and pneumonia) and HIV infections.” (Source)

Very little is known yet about vanadium’s effects on our bodies. It sounds promising, though–we can only wait for new discoveries to be made about this chameleon of the periodic table.

Featured image: Steffan Kristensen, public domain.

Guest Videos: People LOVE Bismuth!

This element is on the critical mineral list, and not simply because it soothes an upset tummy.

But bismuth is also a lot of fun.

No, wait! Wait!

I want to see more of those colors!

Believe it or not, bismuth has even inspired artwork.

Featured image: <a href="; target="_blank"Fill, at Pixabay. Public domain.

Graphite – A Strategic Mineral



Not this so much.

What do Elizabethan cannons, your smartphone, #2 pencils, nuclear reactors, diamonds, and carbon nanotubes all have in common?

Graphite – that’s what. Without it, our modern world would cease to exist.

Humanity’s use of graphite is roughly in balance with its production. A million tonnes of natural graphite are mined per year (mainly in China), and another 95,000 tonnes or more of synthetic graphite are produced. About 1.1 million tonnes of graphite are consumed annually, the vast majority of it in Asia (generally in China).
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