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Earth has many different minerals, but only a finite supply. End-shutdown




Last year, scientists announced the discovery of two new minerals: elalite other elkiestonita. These were fascinating finds, perhaps even more so because they came from a 15-ton meteorite that had hurtled through space to crash-land in Somalia.

Although there are currently about 6,000 mineral species recognized by the International Mineralogical AssociationRobert Hazen, mineralogist at the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution and George Mason University, says there are an estimated 9,000 to 10,000 minerals that exist here on our own planet.

“Most of those minerals are going to be extremely rare, they’re going to be tiny,” he says. “However, each one of them tells us something about the past, about how the planets work, about the origin of life and who we are.”

seaborgitesfor example, a new mineral species announced in 2021 that claimed the title of “ore of the year” — was found in Utah. It is “transparent with a vitreous luster and a very pale yellow streak,” and exhibits “bright lime-green fluorescence” under a laser, according to the report. researchers who first described it.

A priceless commodity

Because they can be found all around us, humans have long relied on minerals for a wide variety of uses.

currently make up vital components the technology we depend on, for example, including the screen you are using to read this. our own bodies I need them to stay healthy. We also covet precious minerals simply for their beauty or as objects of study.

Cobalt and lithium are essential parts of rechargeable batteries, for example. Phosphorus, derived from phosphate rock, is a fertilizer that fuels agriculture around the world, while copper finds its way into any electronics number due to its conductivity. And if you’re rummaging in your pocket for coins, there’s a good chance you’ll choose one that contains nickel.

Read more: Do you want to understand how lithium ion batteries work? Play a game of ‘Jenga’

“I look around my office and I see all the different things; it’s hard to identify a single thing that isn’t derived, one way or another, from minerals,” says Hazen. If the minerals disappeared, he continues, “his world would just disappear.”

human influence

However, just as minerals have shaped us as a species, humans are also shaping minerals.

Hazen was part of a team that identified a group of minerals that occur “principally or exclusively as a consequence of human processes”. There are more than 200 of these mineral species so far.

But our dependence on minerals has social and environmental costs. The extraction of many of these minerals is involved in issues such as child labor, abuses of workers’ rights, and the degradation and loss of natural ecosystems. The cobalt that powers our technology is only An example.

New frontiers of mineral availability, such as the ocean floor, offer other opportunities, but also carry great, possibly unforeseen, risks of their own. say the scientists. An increase in demand plus the scarcity of availability of vital minerals for the transition to “green” technologies such as electric carswind turbines and solar panels, however, makes this tempting prospect for some.

Read more: US wind power is (finally) venturing offshore

thinking twice

Amid growing demand, there are lithium shortage warnings, For example. Simply put, there isn’t an infinite amount of lithium-rich deposits ideal for mining around the world… but that doesn’t mean we’re going to run out, says Hazen.

“We can mine them and run out of lithium in that sense, but every cubic foot of seawater has lithium in it,” he says. “It just costs more money and more effort.” Estimates indicate that about 180 billion tons of lithium They are found in the oceans.

In general, however, Hazen is of the opinion that the impulse to seize minerals wherever they exist should be approached with “extreme care and caution”, given the potential consequences.

“The minerals aren’t going anywhere,” he says. “They’ve been there for tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, and presumably they’ll still be there millions of years into the future unless we decide to exploit them.”

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