What is the meaning of Mineral Security?
Mineral security refers to adequate availability of quality and affordable mineral resources despite critical situations such as fierce competition in the international market, hurdles in the importation of mineral resources from mineral-rich nations, and poor economy.
The mining industries around the world have grappled with numerous challenges along with unscientific and illegal mining. On the other hand, the rapid expansion of the global population has resulted in increased demand for minerals especially for the deployment of advanced and new technologies.
Life on the earth planet is dependant on natural resources and mineral resources constitute the most important and essential component of natural resources. The human civilization has evolved around the mineral resources which eventually play a vital role in the contemporary industrial economy. As mineral resources are non-renewable and finite, adequate conservation and judicious use of mineral resources are extremely essential for the development of human civilization as well as for the survival of mankind.
Minerals have been used to produce 95% of the total energy consumed by mankind across the world. Similarly, 80% of total industrial raw materials and 70% of raw materials used in agricultural production are mineral resources. The minerals do not have viable substitutes yet have been substantially and potentially disrupted from time immemorial especially after the industrial advancement. Therefore, it is essential to understand and internalize the importance of mineral security and the emerging challenges right from the concept of mineral, its definition, and composition, types of minerals and their use.
What are Minerals and What are the Common Elements of Minerals?
Minerals are substances that are natural, solid, inorganic, Chemically homogeneous, and crystalline. Minerals are natural because they are made by nature and in nature. However, some minerals are made in the labs but since they are made with the same processes used by nature, lab-made minerals can be counted as minerals. For example, the synthetic diamond which is structurally and chemically the same as the natural diamond. On the other hand, the “cubic zirconia” which is made only by people cannot be counted as a mineral.
Similarly, minerals are chemically homogeneous because they contain the same chemical throughout. However, minerals may contain a negligible amount of impurity which does not change the formula of but may change the color such as the impurity of quartz mineral SiO2 may change from clear to blue or pink or purple but not the SiO2 formula. The crystalline characteristics of the mineral are defined as the orderly arrangement and repeating pattern of the atoms of the mineral. For example, sodium (Na) and chlorine (CI) atoms are arranged in cubs which repeat throughout. The vitamin minerals in a bottle of minerals are not real or natural minerals though some of the elements may be extracted from the natural minerals. The natural minerals are composed of 8 elements such as:
- Oxygen (O).
- Silicon (Si).
- Potassium (K).
- Calcium (Ca).
- Sodium (Na).
- Aluminum (Al).
- Iron (Fe).
- Magnesium (Mg).
These 8 elements of minerals make up the maximum of earth’s mantle and crust such as oxygen (O) makes up 47%, and silicon makes up 28% of earth’s crust, and Al, Mg, Ca, Na, and Fe constitute 24% of earth’s crust.
The 8 common elements of minerals generally combine in numerous ways to create different minerals. Most minerals are made by oxygen (O) and silicon (Si) and eventually these minerals are called “silicate minerals. There are also other elements of minerals but are found rarely. The silicate minerals are refractory and have low solubilities and high melting points leading to almost impossible to separate the elements within them.
Types of Minerals:
Approximately, more than 2000 minerals have been identified containing inorganic compounds with different combinations of eight elements which make up 98.5% of earth’s crust. The contemporary industries across the world mostly depend on as many as 80 types of minerals. The minerals, in general, are categorized into three basic types such as fuel minerals, metallic minerals, and non-metallic minerals.
- Fuel Minerals: Fuel minerals comprises basically fossil fuel such as coal, oil and natural gas.
- Metallic Minerals: Metallic minerals are minerals from which useful metals such as iron, copper, aluminium, titanium, manganese, etc. are extracted.
- Non-metallic Minerals: The non-metallic minerals are basically used in the industries and therefore often referred to as industrial minerals. Some of the non-metallic minerals are borax for borates, halite for sodium chloride, etc.
The Necessity of Mineral Security:
Availability and access to minerals are considered crucial for the industrial economy and national security as minerals are basic components contributing to technologies. Minerals like aluminium, beryllium, copper, and uranium are essential for military functions and every country in the world uses hundreds of thousands of tons of these minerals for their defense purposes. As copper resists corrosion and is a light mineral, almost all military vehicles are made with copper including army tanks, aircraft as well as naval vessels. Similarly, beryllium is mineral which is 6 times stronger than the steel and lighter than the aluminium is highly preferred by the military to boost the speed of fighter jets. In addition to this, as beryllium has the capacity to conduct heat easily, it plays a critical and key role in surveillance technology.
Above all, minerals are essential for medical technologies in advanced treatment of wounds, especially of wounded veterans. For example, uranium functions a key role in MRIs and X-rays. Similarly, titanium is used to make prosthetic limbs as well as has other implications in medical treatment.
Similarly, minerals are important and essential for economic growth, improvement and maintenance of the quality of life, and the day-to-day functioning of mankind. As the global population expands, the demand for minerals has increased many-fold resulting in serious threat of future mineral scarcity. The growing prosperity and urbanization, especially in developing countries such as Brazil, India, China, USSR along with other fast-emerging economies, have been using raw materials at an unimaginable large scale.
In addition to using minerals in larger quantities, modern technologies employ considerable quantities of metals. For example, computer chips are comprised of more than half of the elements, especially in the periodic tables. Though they are a smaller amount, they play a critical role in the performance of the device. Metal use especially of lithium, platinum-group metals, cobalt, antimony, etc. have increased abundantly to produce daily use electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, flat panel displays including motors in wind turbines and electric vehicles.
Eventually, emerging debate on mineral security has gain ground across the world for improving the utilization of mineral resource base as well as to enhance the replenishing of mineral reserves. The mineral security is felt inevitable and necessary in the context of estimation of mineral resources, sustainable supply of mineral resources, and criticality of metals to the global economy.
How much Mineral Resource is Left to Meet the Emerging Demand?
The most important concern on mineral security is the adequacy of left-over mineral resources to meet the ever-growing demand of increasing population and economic growth. As per the prediction of reputed economist Thomas Malthus, the magnitude of population growth would beyond debate exceed the earth’s capacity to provide mineral resources. Every systematic and scientific research on the relationship between economic, population growth and mineral resources has eventually speculated and predicted severe scarcity of future availability of secure, adequate and sustainable mineral resources across the world.
A number of national as well as international studies have identified minerals at risk of supply shortage and have recommended the development of measures and appropriate strategies for mitigation. One of the high-profile studies is the European Commission’s Assessment of Critical Raw Materials for the European Unio-2010. In addition to this, another high-profile study on mineral security is the US Department of Energy’s Raw Material Strategy Focussing on the Clean Energy Sector-2011. Most studies have agreed that important minerals are in scarcity and even exhaustion within a few decades.
Mineral Supply Security and Criticality:
The recent development of some minerals has been termed as “critical” or “supply risk” based on the likeliness of shortage of supply as well as on the importance of the elements on the economy. The mineral resource availability is affected by several factors such as environmental, social, and geopolitical factors, etc. However, the main factor of supply risk is the geographical concentration of the metals in a few countries which compels other countries dependent on imported supplies.
Global Response on Mineral Security and Alternative Supply Options:
Increase demand and related high-price of minerals have often resulted in the innovation of technologies and discoveries of alternative or new metal and mineral sources. Scientific academic research and commercial economic discoveries are in the process of ore deposit formation leading to predictions where mineral exploration needs to be performed effectively and appropriately.
In addition to the above, new mineral exploration technologies and baseline datasets, exploration of new frontiers such as seafloor mineral resources, taking appropriate measures to enhance eco-efficiencies and renewable sources, measures to effectively address the water scarcity affecting to mining operations, promoting automated drilling and mining, smart blasting, in-situ mining, enhanced ore sorting, pre-concentration, and appropriate waste management, increased engagement of biotechnology, etc. are some of the reliable global responses towards mineral security.
Frequently asked questions:
What is the meaning of Mineral Security?
Mineral security refers to adequate availability of quality and affordable minerals despite adverse situations such as fierce competition in the international market, hurdles in the importation of mineral resources from mineral-rich nations, and poor economy.
What are the 8 elements of Minerals?
The eight elements of minerals are Oxygen (O), Silicon (Si), Potassium (K), Calcium (Ca), Sodium (Na), Aluminium (Al), Iron (Fe), and Magnesium (Mg).
What are the three types of Minerals?
The three types of minerals are fossil fuel minerals, metallic minerals, and non-metallic minerals.
- Challenges to global mineral resource security and options for future supply: P. A. J. Lusty and A. G. Gunn, Geological society, London, Special Publications: https://sp.lyellcollection.org/content/393/1/265
- InTeGrate’s Earth focussed Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classrooms: https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/mineral_resources/student_materials/unit1reading.html
- Minerals and the environment: Centre for sustainable mineral development: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsUK/mineralsYou/mineralsEnvironment.html