Critical Minerals And Uses Of Precious Metals Environmental Sciences Essay

Today I will supply some background information on which metals are the most built-in to our state ; these metals are widely used in mundane life, in some manner or another, by most Americans. I will besides discourse the beginning and formation of our cherished metals, every bit good as where in the state – and the universe – they are normally found and mined. As with all natural resources, the opportunity of someday running out of these metals is non merely possible, but really likely. I plan to besides discourse solutions to this hereafter job, including the usage of both man-made and naturally-occurring replacements for each type of metal.

Cherished metals are considered critical for good ground. They have a broad assortment of applications in industry, engineering, jewellery, and even medical specialty. It is agreed among mineralogists that the most critical minerals which fall under the class of cherished metals are gilded, Ag, and minerals in the Pt metals group: Pt, Pd and Ir. Although the U.S. went off the gilded criterion in 1972 thanks to President Nixon, gold is still normally used in the countries of medical specialty, jewellery, electronics, and industry. The component is lissome and ductile, so it can be transformed into assorted forms and made utile in different facets of industry ; it can even be made so thin that it is about crystalline. Silver, much like gold, besides has an array of utilizations in today ‘s universe. Besides the obvious usage in the jewellery concern, Ag is besides used in dental medicine, medical specialty, electronics – Ag even has a topographic point in the industry of certain types of vesture. Platinum group metals, which are known as PGMs, have a broad scope of applications. Platinum is normally used in electronics, catalytic convertors, jewellery, and dental medicine tools. Palladium, which is a comparatively rare metal, is besides used chiefly in catalytic convertors. It is besides used in jewellery, and surgical and dentistry equipment. Iridium besides has many influential applications in scientific discipline and industry ; it lends its belongingss to particle natural philosophies, acetic acid production, and the industry of engines that require corrosion opposition.

Beginnings, Uses, and Supply of Gold

Beginning and Beginnings of Gold

In naturally-occurring sedimentations, gold ( atomic symbol Au ) is found in the signifier of single nuggets ; it is besides found as grains and flakes in certain stones, or as venas. A vena is a mass of crystallised mineral found within a stone, normally formed as a consequence of deposition from after the necessary mineral elements are carried to the topographic point via an aqueous solution and precipitated out of the solution. Alternately, gold can be found in alluvial sedimentations – by and large as nuggets – which are unconsolidated sedimentations of deposit that have been eroded or otherwise shaped by H2O outside of a marine environment. By and large the gold found in ores is really little, but in some exceeding instances, really big nuggets have been found. Gold that occurs together with either vitreous silica or sulphide minerals – such as fool’s gold, besides known as “ Fool ‘s Gold ” – is called a load sedimentation. Because gold has such a low thaw temperature compared to other metals, it is readily carried by hydrothermal solutions as a consequence of chilling magma, and so solidifies alongside the vitreous silica. One of the best topographic points to happen gold sedimentations is near the invasion of environing stone by a cooled magma organic structure. These lode sedimentations normally form inside clefts ( known as crevices ) within a slab of stone. Gold can besides be recycled from scrap stuff, and 190 dozenss of gold were recovered this manner in 2009 in the U.S.

The most common geographic locations for gold excavation worldwide are southeasterly Australia, East Asia, parts of South America and Africa, and parts of the United States. Gold militias are highest in South Africa ( 6,000 dozenss ) , Australia ( 5,800 dozenss ) , and Russia ( 6,000 dozenss ) . Militias are different from mined measures because the gold in militias is held by a cardinal bank of a peculiar state, and used purely for payment to other states or organisations. The U.S. shops about 3,000 dozenss of gold in its pecuniary militias.

Along with the Treasury ‘s Stockpile, the Department of Defense runs a Cherished Metallic elements Recovery Program ( PMRP ) , which works to achieve cherished metals for economic intents. Specifically, the DOD recovers cherished metals from metal bearing stuffs such as photographic and X-ray stuff ( from infirmaries, printing installations, exposure labs ) ; metal dust collected from vacuity sweepers ; and scrap/waste metals from industrial workss. The PMRP focuses on the metals discussed in this testimony, every bit good as Os, Rh, and Ru.

Harmonizing to the British Geological Survey, as of 2005 the top location for gold excavation was South Africa, with a sum of about 294 dozenss produced. In 2008, the gold excavation industry in South Africa produced 2260 dozenss. But even though much of the universe ‘s gold comes from South Africa and China, there is some to be found in the U.S. The most abundant beginnings of coal in the U.S. are found in mines in South Dakota and Nevada.

Uses of Gold

The most common usage of gold today is for the industry of jewellery. Gold is besides an ideal industrial metal due to its opposition to corrosion, every bit good as its electrical conduction for usage in machine equipment and electronics parts. Harmonizing to the U.S. Geological Survey ( USGS ) , approximately 90 % of gold brought into the market yearly ends up in manufactured merchandises, while the staying part of it goes to both private investors and pecuniary militias. In 2009, 72 % of mined gold was used for jewellery, 7 % was used for electronics, and 21 % went into dental equipment and other assorted utilizations.

Domestic Supply of Gold

In January of this twelvemonth, the USGS published a trade good study on gold for the old twelvemonth ( 2009 ) . Harmonizing to this study, gold was retrieved at 50 load mines, every bit good as a few placer mines, all of which are in Alaska. As a side note, the difference between the two types of mines is that a load mine occurs within solid stones ( for illustration, in a vena ) , while a topographic point mine is an alluvial sedimentation – normally of sand or crushed rock – which besides contains of import minerals and metals such as gold. Smaller placer mines in Alaska and a few of the western United States besides yielded gold. A smaller sum of the 2009 gold supply besides came as by-products from Cu excavation operations.

In the last few old ages, the purchase of gilded jewellery has decreased well, doing monetary values to increase. Last twelvemonth, gold mines in Nevada showed significant lessening in production, while a mine in Montana and another in Nevada closed, to farther cut down production. In 2009, the mean monetary value of gilded jewellery rose over 20 % higher than the mean monetary value in 2008. Due to recent labour jobs in gilded mines of South Africa, the rubric of top gold manufacturer shifted to China, with Australia and the U.S. following near behind. Although comparatively important sums of gold are mined here in the U.S. , a good part of it comes from these international beginnings. Last twelvemonth, 210 dozenss of gold were mined in the U.S. , and gold militias in the U.S. totaled 3,000 dozenss.

Import Beginnings of Gold

Although China is presently the universe ‘s top manufacturer of gold, none of our imported gold comes from at that place. Alternatively, the gold import statistics are broken down as follows ( for the old ages 2005-2008, the most recent records from the USGS ) :

Canada – 30 %

Peru – 29 %

Mexico – 16 %

Chile – 9 %

Other – 16 %

Beginnings, Uses, and Supply of Silver

Beginning and Beginnings of Silver

Silver ( atomic symbol Ag ) , a soft passage metal, of course occurs as an metal with gold ; it is besides found in its native signifier, and in ores along with S and arsenous anhydride. However, the chief beginnings of Ag are really copper, lead, and nickel ores, which are mined in parts of South America, Mexico, China, Australia, and eastern European states such as Serbia and Poland. Mines which produce the highest planetary sums of Ag are located in Mexico, Australia, Russia, Peru, and, here in the U.S. , in Alaska.

Silver, like most metals, organize compounds with sulphides inside the Earth ‘s crust. Metal sulfides which have dissolved in hot, piquant H2O within the crust finally precipitate as different minerals when they come into contact with ice chest H2O or air. Silver precipitates as a mixture with these other sulphides, which is how it is finally found at or closer to the Earth ‘s surface. It is usually found as a constituent of hydrothermal venas. Silver occurs natively, and is comparatively pure in this signifier. It besides occurs as ores, such as argenite ( Ag2S ) and chlorargyrite ( AgCl ) , and is recovered as a consequence of the Cu refinement procedure.

Uses of Silver

Silver is largely used for the intents of jewellery, utensils, industrial equipment, coins and decorations, and picture taking. The USGS notes that Ag has the highest thermal and electric conduction of all the metals. Pure Ag besides exhibits the whitest colour of any metal, every bit good as the highest optical coefficient of reflection. Because it has such powerful optical belongingss, it is used often to do mirrors. The USGS besides notes that the most common single-end usage of Ag is picture taking ; in this country, Ag can be found on photo paper, movie, and in darkroom and exposure lab chemicals used for publishing exposure. However, the demand for Ag in picture taking has declined significantly, from 2,290 dozenss in 1999 to around 900 dozenss in 2009 ; this is likely due to the rapid passage from traditional 35mm picture taking to digital picture taking worldwide. Harmonizing to the USGS, Ag is even used in vesture to decrease olfactory property.

Domestic Supply of Silver

In a mineral trade good sum-up of 2009 published in January 2010, the USGS provinces that the U.S. mined about 1,230 dozenss of silver- this supply of Ag was deserving about $ 520 million. As with gold, most of the state ‘s Ag comes from Alaska, with Nevada coming in at a close second. Last twelvemonth, 1,500 dozenss of Ag were recovered through refinement, including bit metal. The USGS notes that unlike gold, there is no authorities reserve of Ag. In the 1950s when the authorities reserve of Ag was at its highest, the U.S. Treasury was in ownership of the cheapest Ag, while any silver outside the Treasury significantly rose in monetary value. Since the authorities ‘s Ag was so inexpensive, demand increased steadily until the reserve disappeared wholly. Since Ag is no longer used to do American coins, there merely is no demand for authorities reserve. Aside from the measures of Ag we mine in the U.S. , we besides to a great extent on Ag imports from other states.

Import Beginnings of Silver

Over half of the Ag used in our today really comes from Mexico, with important sums coming from Canada and South America every bit good. Between 2005 and 2008, the import of Ag into the U.S. can be broken down as follows:

Mexico – 54 %

Canada – 26 %

Peru – 15 %

Chile – 3 %

Other – 2 %

Two-thirdss of the universe ‘s Ag trade goods came from treating Cu, gold and lead-zinc ores in 2009. From 2005-2008, the U.S. exported a sum of 3,850 metric dozenss of Ag to other states. More late, in 2009, we merely exported 360 dozenss to other states.

Beginnings, Uses, and Supply of Platinum

Beginning and Beginnings of Platinum

The three most common and of import members of the Platinum Group Metals are Pt, Pd, and Ir. Platinum ( atomic symbol Pt ) is another malleable passage metal. Platinum is an improbably rare metal, and occurs at a concentration of merely 0.005 parts per million ( ppm ) in the Earth ‘s crust. The celebrated Bushveld Complex in South Africa is the top modesty of Pt in the universe. Harmonizing to the USGS, in 2009 South Africa produced the highest sum of Pt – 80 % of the universe ‘s Pt trade good, to be exact. Russia produced the 2nd highest sum of Pt that twelvemonth, at merely 11 % . Platinum can be found natively or as an metal with Ir. An metal is a solid solution of two or metals, in which the atom of one metal occupies unfastened infinites between the atoms of the other metal. Both Pt and Ir occur in perceptibly greater copiousness at the site of big meteorite impacts. This can be explained by the fact that the Moon and other extraterrestrial organic structures – particularly meteorites – incorporate a much higher copiousness of Pt and Ir than any topographic point on this planet. On Earth, Pt combined with other PGMs are frequently found in alluvial sedimentations. Some little Pt militias located in North America include the Sudbury Basin in Ontario, Canada, and the Absaroka Mountain scope in Montana.

Uses of Platinum

Platinum is a various metal that is really immune to staining, doing it another metal that is ideally suited for jewellery. It besides has first-class catalytic and electrical belongingss. Platinum has many utilizations in the chemical industry as a accelerator, and is used often in the production of fertilisers and explosives. Platinum even plays a function in the crude oil industry, in the refinement of petroleum oil and the production of gasolene. Harmonizing to the USGS, since 1979, the automotive industry has been the primary user of all PGMs, particularly Pt. PGMs are used often in catalytic convertors to keep acceptable exhaust emanation criterions. Platinum is a common metal used in jewellery industry and watch-making.

Domestic Supply of Platinum and Other PGMs

The lone two runing PGM mines in the U.S. as of 2009 were the Stillwater and East-Boulder mines in Montana. Combined, these mines produced 3,800 dozenss of Pt, 12,500 dozenss of Pd, and 1,300 dozenss of Ir in 2009. Small sums of PGMs may frequently be recovered from Cu excavation processes ; and, as with most metals, PGMs are recovered and recycled from other bit metal. Approximately 18 dozenss of PGMs were recovered in this mode last twelvemonth. About 900,000 dozenss of PGMs are presently in militias ; this means that they could be extracted for economic intents at a clip of much greater demand. Estimates of militias merely see the stuff that can realistically be recovered.

The worsening economic system over the last few old ages has caused a reduced demand in car gross revenues, which in bend has caused less of a demand in PGMs since they are widely used in autos ‘ catalytic convertors. However, as research continues for the usage of fuel cells in autos, the demand for PGMs may increase once more – Pd is an cheap option to platinum in the accelerators of such autos.

Import Beginnings of Platinum and Other PGMs

The USGS provides a dislocation of imported PGMs from other economically of import states:


South Africa – 27 %

Germany – 17 %

U.K. – 12 %

Canada – 5 %

Other – 39 %


Russia – 46 %

South Africa – 21 %

U.K. – 17 %

Belgium – 4 %

Other – 12 %

Beginnings and Uses of Palladium

Beginning and Beginnings of Palladium

Palladium ( atomic symbol Pd ) is another PGM considered to be a rare component. It is pale Ag in colour, bearing a close resemblance to platinum but with a much lower denseness and runing point. In fact, out of all the PGMs, Pd exhibits both the lowest denseness and runing point. Ore sedimentations of Pd are non common, but like the Pt, Pd has been found in its highest copiousness in the Bushveld Complex of South Africa. In North America, it can be found in the Sudbury Basin in Ontario and the Stillwater Complex in Montana.

These “ composites ” are known superimposed pyrogenic invasions ( LIIs ) or layered mafic intrustions ( LMIs ) . These abbreviations can be used interchangeably, since “ mafic ” is a descriptive term for an pyrogenic stone that is dark in colour and rich in Fe and Mg. LIIs are big, superimposed organic structures of pyrogenic stone found in ancient cratons. A craton is a really old, stable subdivision of the Continental crust. The formation of LMIs requires a big volume of magma over a short period of clip, happening within the Continental crust so that they finally become exposed at the surface due to eroding. Layering of these invasions occurs from alterations in mineralogy and texture. Most LMIs, including the Bushveld Complex and Sudbury Basin, are Precambrian in age. ( The Precambrian encompasses the creative activity of earth 4.6 billion old ages ago to about 542 million old ages ago. Precambrian minerals and stones are the oldest on Earth. )

Uses of Palladium

Palladium ‘s chief usage today is in catalytic convertors, due to its really stable electrical belongingss and optimum catalytic belongingss. This metal is used to fabricate medical and dental medicine equipment aircraft flicker stopper, and, like Pt, jewellery and tickers. It makes a good jewellery replacement for white gold and Pt, particularly since its picket Ag colour is natural and it is reasonably hard to state the three metals apart merely by looking at them. Up until comparatively late, Pd ‘s chief usage in the jewellery trade was as an metal to assistance in doing white gold. In the electronic industry, Pd and palladium-silver metals are used to do platings in common electronics. Palladium, every bit good as the other cherished metals, is particularly of import in electronics because of how frequently computing machines are used in merely about every facet of life today – in occupations, research, schools, and places. Metallic elements with superior electrical belongingss are used to do computing machine french friess implemented in CPUs, cell phones, and iPods, merely to call a few devices most people use day-to-day.

Palladium can be one of the by-products of atomic fission, and can be recovered – though non needfully in important sums – from spent atomic fuel.

Beginnings and Uses of Iridium

Beginning and Beginnings of Iridium

Iridium ( atomic symbol Ir ) is the 3rd most familiar and widely-used PGM. Although it is highly rare in the Earth ‘s crust, hint sums can still be found. Iridium is a well-known PGM due to its abnormally high concentration in a bed of clay at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary ( normally abbreviated as the K-T boundary ) . As celebrated earlier in my testimony, Ir ( along with Pt ) is found at much higher concentrations in meteorites than anyplace on Earth ; this cognition is one of the cardinal pieces of back uping grounds for a meteorite impact at the terminal of the Cretaceous Period ( about 65 million old ages ago ) , which finally would hold caused the dinosaurs to travel extinct. One of the rarest elements on Earth, Ir occurs at 0.001 ppm in the Earth ‘s crust – whereas in meteorites, the concentration is significantly greater at 0.5 ppm. As with Pt and Pd, the highest concentrations of Ir are found in the Bushveld Complex in South Africa. Very little sums of this metal are found in the U.S. and the remainder of the universe, most notably in impact crater and pyrogenic invasions. Along with its other PGM relations, Ir is often found in Cu and nickel metal. Since all three of these cherished metals portion similar physical and chemical features, it comes as no surprise that they are normally found together and portion similar utilizations in industry and fabrication patterns.

Uses of Iridium

Iridium is acquired through the excavation processes of Ni and Cu, and is a by-product of the two. As with Pt, Ir is really immune to corrosion and wear, so it finds many utilizations in assorted industries. Iridium by itself is used in direct-ignition engines, where its first-class catalytic belongingss come in utile and let the engines to run decently.

Natural Substitutes for Cherished Metallic elements

With the possibility of our cherished metals resources going depleted, we are now turning even more towards the usage of naturally-occurring replacements for these peculiar metals. Silver and PGMs make suited replacements for gold, particularly in the industry of jewellery. Harmonizing to the USGS, base metals reinforced by gold metals have excellent usage in electronics. This method is besides used in jewellery, and allows a jewelry maker to sell the merchandise as gold while utilizing less of the metal itself.

Stainless steel is a common replacement for Ag. In fact, most mean kitchen utensils are no longer made of Ag ; a speedy hunt for “ silverware ” on any common shopping web site will demo that most kitchen utensils are made of unstained steel instead than Ag. In picture taking, many factors now contribute to the cutback of Ag usage, including movie with diminished Ag content and digital picture taking. Aluminum and Rh are normally used to replace Ag in mirrors and other brooding surfaces.

Many of the common PGMs frequently substitute for each other. For illustration, some car shapers have begun utilizing Pd in topographic point of Pt – which is more expensive – in catalytic convertors. Additionally, shapers of electronic constituents are cut downing the sum of Pd used by replacing base metals or silver-palladium metals that contain somewhat less Pd.

We can surely populate without jewellery, but in such a technology-dominated society, we about can non populate without electronics, particularly computing machines ; and, although it works for some people, it would be unrealistic to believe we can populate without cars. Therefore, it is particularly of import to be cognizant of the supply of, and replacements for, cherished metals, since they are used on a regular basis in these facets of life.

Recommendations for Policy Related to Cherished Metallic elements

An appraisal of critical minerals conducted by the National Research Council in 2008 offered basic suggestions that can be applied to cherished metals every bit good:

Identify critical metals and merchandises made from them that are important to industry and engineering.

Address the beginnings of cherished metals and the planetary production/use of their terminal merchandises.

Address any geologic, technologic, economic or political restrictions on the handiness of cherished metals.

Acknowledge the effects of any breaks in the supply of cherished metals in the economic system and work force.

These recommendations serve as a foundation and a starting point for farther research on cherished metal use: how they are acquired, when and why they might run out, the effects of acquisition ( excavation ) and what the U.S. authorities can make to turn to these issues.

Our state ‘s metal resources are limited and will finally run out. Unlike fresh H2O, which is easy recycled thanks to H2O renewal workss, the per centum of metals we get from recycling is smaller than the per centum we attain from excavation. Mineral formation is a slow geologic procedure, so the refilling of these resources any clip in the close hereafter is non even an thought to see. Logically, if we mine at a faster gait than that at which the minerals are of course replaced, finally these resources will be depleted. For the clip being, we are able to trust on other states to export cherished metals to the U.S. , but their resources are limited as good. We need to take action to guarantee that we preserve these resources. As I have discussed in this testimony, these cherished metals serve a broad array of intents, and it would be a shame for them to run out in our life-time, which is a possibility. We need to measure how long we have before our resources run out. Government bureaus that deal with mineral issues, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, are responsible for carry oning mineral resource appraisals and mineral-environmental appraisals. These appraisals can help the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to better manage land usage for excavation intents.

The Mineral Resource Program ( MRP ) of the USGS is in charge of supplying information and research about the usage and supply of our minerals, including cherished metals. In 2003, the National Research Council ( NRC ) addressed four undertakings of the federal authorities in mineral scientific disciplines:

Supply an indifferent beginning of information, accessible to the populace.

Conduct general research on mineral resources.

Support of minerals-related international activities that benefit the U.S.

Advise, when necessary, on minerals use and direction.

The MRP besides takes into history the sum of undiscovered metals that are likely located in an country. When an initial study was completed as portion of the MRP, the USGS admitted that it was during a clip of significant passage within the bureau ; this included decrease in staff members, important restructuring of the Geologic Division, decrease in installations, and alterations both in ends and leading – all marks that more updated appraisals of our metal resources need to take topographic point. A new MRP survey should turn to our state ‘s present and long-run metal demands. The precedence for an updated survey should be to supply scientific evidences that would let for informed decision-making as to how much of the state ‘s land should go on to be used for excavation, and how we can run into future metal demands despite low resources in the U.S.

Mining minerals and metals has negative impacts on the environment. When metals are mined, important sums of toxins are released into the environment, particularly into the dirt and groundwater. Pollution of dirt and H2O is considered secondary taint, and is damaging to agriculture and works life, every bit good as our imbibing H2O supply. The processing and refinement on metal ores can besides foul the air. In recent old ages, with subjects like planetary clime alteration taking centre phase, environmental impacts of merely about anything should ever be taken into history. Consideration of environmental effects is of import in guaranting that land is non overused for mining even more than it is overused for other patterns such as agribusiness. Furthermore, it would be good to analyze how metal sedimentations behave geochemically when exposed to enduring procedures, every bit good as the environmental effects of these reactions. If this affair contributes at all to the lessening in our mineral supply, research on the topic may let us to forestall this lessening. A new MRP survey should sketch possible results of environmental impacts of metal excavation, which should be taken into consideration by the BLM when doing land-use determinations.

Additionally, research demands to research the possibility of utilizing man-made ( semisynthetic ) substitutes for these cherished metals. When makers want to be use replacements for a certain metal, they by and large use a different naturally-occurring metal. Since we are at hazard of utilizing up our metal resources, it would be good to develop man-made versions of gold, Ag, and PGMs. These replacements should possess the same desirable qualities, including catalytic and electrical conduction.

Another manner to cut back on metals usage is to recycle. Many states, including the U.S. , already used recycled stuff from bit metal, but merely little per centums of metals used today come from recycled beginnings. In 2009, 190 dozenss of gold came from recycled bit metal in the U.S. , compared to 210 dozenss mined. Merely 17,000 kgs ( merely 17 metric dozenss ) of PGMs were recovered from bit metal in the U.S. last twelvemonth, compared to 16,300 dozenss that came from mines. The exclusion is silver: in 2009, 1,500 dozenss of Ag in the U.S. came from recycled stuff, exceling the 1,230 dozenss that were mined. Even though metals are recycled, bureaus like the USGS can rede makers on new ways to retrieve even more material from bit metal. Metal processing workss should besides work to implement new ways of treating natural mined metals so that less of the metals are lost before being refined into the concluding merchandise. Not merely would that scheme be economical, but it would be much less uneconomical excessively. Development and execution of synthetics, increased recycling, and more efficient metals treating might someday even let the U.S. to halt excavation all together, which in bend would cut down any harmful effects on the environment.

The USGS, and any other federal organisations chosen to roll up and form critical minerals informations, should hold more authorization when it comes to policies affecting the recovery and usage of cherished metals. Surveies to better our usage of metals, as outlined above, should have the proper support, and multiple federal bureaus need to work together to spread out basic scientific research, and to advance the usage of new thoughts and engineering to better understand the effects, effects, and benefits of cherished metal use.


Cherished metals – specifically gold, Ag, and the platinum-group metals – serve many valuable intents in our economic system and our day-to-day lives. But merely as our oil resources will finally run out, so our cherished metals will someday go depleted every bit good. Until farther surveies are conducted, we will go on to be limited in our apprehension of how rapidly these cherished metal resources will run out. We must besides research any possible major environmental injury that may come from mining these metals, and what, if anything, we can make to extenuate such injury.