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Mining, metals and minerals

Industrial minerals

Many industrial minerals (e.g. barytes, kaolin, potash, salt, silica, talc) are extracted within the EU to supply a very wide range of industries. They tend to have a higher value than construction aggregates. For some minerals, such as magnesite, fluorspar, kaolin and potash, Europe is a major global producer.

The use of industrial minerals in everyday life is often not so obvious. Good examples are glass (100% feldspar, clay & kaolin, talc, sand), paint (50% calcium carbonate, sand, plastic clay, talc, bentonite, diatomite or mica), paper (50% calcium carbonate, talc, kaolin or bentonite), ceramic tableware (100% feldspar, clay & kaolin, talc, sand). A typical house contains about 150 tonnes of industrial minerals (clay, calcium carbonate and gypsum together forming cement, plaster & plasterboard (mainly gypsum), glass, paint, ceramics, tiles, etc.) while each car contains 100-150 kg of industrial minerals, such as rubber fillers (talc, calcium carbonate), plastic fillers (talc, calcium carbonate, kaolin, wollastonite) and glass.

Eurostat records data under NACE codes CB14.22, CB14.3, CB14.4 and CB14.5

Competiveness and trade

Industrial minerals are generally low-priced ex-works commodities. In contrast to base and precious metals industrial minerals are not marketed or sold as standardised products via centralised markets, such as the London Metal Exchange (LME), but are sold directly to the formulator or end-user. The price of industrial minerals is usually negotiated between the buyer and the seller. A number of factors influence the negotiated price, including the source of the mineral, the volume required, the grade/end-use, the quality of the mineral, dictated by the desired end-use (some minerals can comprise 50 or more grades suitable for different end-uses), the additional processing requirements, the freight/shipping costs, the port handling fees, the warehousing/storage, the mineral inspection costs, the insurance and relationship between buyer and seller.

The relatively high cost of transport has a significant impact on the delivery price to the end-user. This situation effectively limits the geographic availability of suitable resources.

The EU is the world's largest producer of a number of industrial minerals and the second or third largest producer of a number of others. It accounts (2006) for 54% of the world's production of perlite, 60% of world production of feldspar and between one third to one fifth of the world's mine production of bentonite, kaolin, salt and talc. Another notable point is that the two other dominant producers are China and the USA.

Over the last ten years or so EU production of most industrial minerals has remained relatively stable, although for some increases or decreases of over 20% have been recorded. However, it should be recognised that this masks variations at national and, particularly, company level, due to the wide variations in the grade of minerals found at different sites and, hence, their applications and markets.

The products made of specific and high percentages of industrial minerals, such as glass, are increasingly being recycled in Europe.

Sustainability

The extraction of industrial minerals is somewhat intermediate to the other two minerals, and can be compared for some (limestone, kaolin, phosphote) with the extraction of construction minerals, while others are often mined underground (salt, magnesia) resulting in environmental issues similar to the metals industries, although generally no hazardous mining waste is produced.

Besides on land management issues, this industry is likely to have a certain environmental impact (e.g. changes in groundwater flow patterns, loss of biodiversity, dust and noise). Managing these impacts effectively requires that activities are in line with all relevant legislation that covers these areas.

However, industry has made large strides recently to improve its environmental performance, and there is general acceptance within the companies active in this sector that they have to reconcile their activities with sustainable development and environmental concerns.

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