Do you know that according to an estimate, each person living in the United States of America uses around three million pounds of metals, minerals, and rocks for one purpose or another?
While we know that minerals, metals and rocks are important parts of our daily lives, the figures are surprising, right?
Carl Ege from the Utah Geological Survey seemed to know this already. This is why, in his book “What are Minerals Used For?” he said that majority of people are not aware that minerals are important part of our everyday life.
Before we delve into the details of what role minerals play in our daily life and how they are used, let’s first understand what minerals basically are?
The Word Mineral
As we all know, the word ‘mineral’ is used in daily life for referring to two different substances; dietary minerals and elements that are found inside the earth. This article, however, is targeted towards the second type of minerals.
How Do We Define Minerals?
Minerals are natural, homogenous substances that have crystalline structure and are found inside the earth’s crust. In simple words, they can be understood as naturally occurring elements.
The International Mineralogical Association put forward a standard definition of minerals in 1965. According to it, “a mineral is a chemical compound or an element that is formed as a result of various geological processes and features a crystalline structure”.
The above given definition tells us that a naturally occurring substance must fulfill the following criteria in order to be considered as a mineral:
- It is formed naturally, as a result of various geological processes. There is no such thing as a synthetic mineral. Even gemstones that are prepared in the lab are not considered minerals, for example cubic zirconia.
- It occurs in solid state. A mineral does not exist in any other state, but solid only.
- The crystalline structure is another criterion that a substance must fulfill in order to qualify as a mineral. Each type of mineral is formed by unique geometric arrangement of atoms that gives them a different crystal structure.
- As DNA is the basic structure of human cells that differentiates each person form the other, a mineral is identified by its chemical composition. Each type of mineral features a unique chemical composition that differentiates it from other members of the mineral family.
How Do We Classify Minerals?
Mineral classification is a highly difficult process due to their abundance. A large numbers of minerals i.e. more than 4,600, according to the International Mineralogical Association, have already been discovered while the process of finding more is still going on.
For identification and classification of minerals, following characteristics are taken into account:
- Hardness i.e. its resistance to scratching
- Transparency or Clarity
- Cleavage and fracture i.e. its breaking pattern; whether it breaks along smooth lines or unevenly.
- Specific Gravity
- Crystal structure
Categories of Minerals
Once a mineral is identified by taking into account the above mentioned factors, it is categorized either as a silicate or nonsilicate, according to its chemical composition
These are most commonly found minerals; they make up almost 90% of the earth’s crust. Silicate minerals contain oxygen and silicon as basic materials and are usually formed as a result of the natural process of the cooling of melted rocks.
Non-silicate minerals also make a large group. They are sub-divided as:
- Organic Minerals
- Native Elements
Non-silicate minerals are formed as a result of different natural processes:
- As a result of the process of mineral decomposition
- Due to cooling of magma
- Evaporation of water from earth that leaves behind the crystals of minerals
Ten Commonly Used Minerals
Last August, we discussed the most commonly used minerals and how they are used. Now, we will elaborate on them some more, as well as additonal common elements in the mineral category. Despite the fact that thousands of mineral have so far been discovered, not all of them are being used by human beings. Only 100 minerals are commonly found due to their abundance and as many as 40 have diverse usages in our daily lives.
Here, we are highlighting the ten minerals that we commonly use in everyday life:
One of the most abundantly found metallic mineral inside the earth’s crust, Aluminum is widely used in various industries. Its biggest use is in the manufacturing of airplanes and automobiles. Around 25% of aluminum is used is canning and bottling industries, whereas 14% is used for electrical and building purposes.
Asbestos is a class of minerals that include six fibrous minerals. They are, actinolite, chrysotile, anthophyllite, amosite, tremolite, and anthophyllite.
We all have heard about asbestos being used for insulation due to its heat resistant property. However, it is also used in manufacturing of cement sheets and pipes, various friction products, paint filler, chemical filters, gaskets, etc.
Although asbestos is dangerous for human health, it is used because the minerals can easily be converted into flexible, strong, and heat resistant, fibers.
Beryllium is an important mineral for aircraft and defense industry because it’s light, yet very strong alloys are used in aircrafts manufacturing. The mineral is also used in bronze metallurgy, as a deoxidizer, in fluorescent lights and X-ray tubes. However, Beryllium is a highly toxic mineral.
A widely used precious gemstone emerald also belongs to the category of Beryllium.
Copper is another highly useful mineral that is widely used in a range of industries. From jewelry, electric wires, cables and machinery to plumbing, transportation and in making of currency, copper is abundantly used by humans in manufacturing of products that are used on a daily basis. Since copper is a good conductor of electricity, it is widely used all over the world in electrical industry.
Different types of clay minerals are used in the manufacturing industries. From household products, such as crockery, and pottery, to sanitary products, tiles, firebricks, fire clay and various construction materials, clay minerals play the key role. Additionally, they are used to make certain products that are very commonly used in everyday life, such as paper and rubber.
Gold is one of those minerals that everyone is aware of. Apart from its key usage i.e. to make jewelry, gold is also used for making medals, coins, computer circuitry, for electroplating, for manufacturing certain applications used in aerospace industry, and for various electronic and scientific instruments.
Gold is also used in the field of dentistry for making artificial replacement teeth. Gold is an easily malleable metal that adds value and diversity to its usages.
Manufacturing of steel is the biggest purpose Iron ore is used for. The fourth most abundantly found element in the earth’s crust is also used for making auto parts, magnets, catalysts and numerous other metallurgical products. Modern world largely owes its development (in terms of construction and production) to the Iron ore.
Iron ore makes up the 5% of earth’ crust.
Do you know that the United States is not only the biggest producer, but also the recycler and consumer of lead?
It is mainly used in manufacturing of ammunitions, nuclear shielding, containers, television tubes, ceramics, batteries and in the construction industry. Previously, lead was also used in manufacturing of household utensils, in pencils and paints, but these uses have largely been terminated because of its harmful effects. Upon contact, Lead can poison food and water.
Quartz is the name that has been given to a family of rocks. Silica (a type of Quartz) is the most abundantly found mineral on earth. In crystal form, it is highly popular as semi-precious gemstones. These include smoky quartz, amethyst, rose quartz and citrine. It is also used for manufacturing of paints, glass, precision instruments, watches, abrasives and silicon semiconductors.
Quartz can generate electricity when mechanical stress is applied thus, it is use to make oscillators, pressure gauges, wave stabilizers and resonators. Also, it is used in making pictographic lenses, prism and heat ray lamps.