A new mineral discovered in a volcanic ash deposit in northwest China could open a new way to mine coal, with an estimated value of $20bn (£13bn) to $40bn (£28bn) depending on how it’s mined.
The deposit, known as the Mt.
Tengsha (Tengshan) deposit, is a combination of iron ore and calcium carbonate that contains the so-called “steatite” mineral.
“If you can mine the mineral in a way that is compatible with the geology of the site, and you can also use it to mine iron ore, then you will have an enormous amount of value,” says Professor Wei Jia, head of the School of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.
“It’s a mineral that can be used in the construction of the giant structures, which are a very important part of the ancient Chinese civilization.”
He says that if the new mineral is found, it could be used to replace the minerals that are produced in other parts of China, including in the mountains and mines in the Gobi Desert.
“There are only a few places in China where you can find it, and it’s probably not the most important of those places, so it’s the most valuable deposit in the world,” he says.
The new mineral, which could also be mined in South Korea, is thought to have been created when the lava erupted from the Mount Tengshas southward vent.
“The minerals in this volcanic ash have the ability to be used for a variety of uses, from building to transportation, to building fuel, to metal fabrication, and even for the production of ceramics,” says Dr Wei.
“I think it’s a great resource to be explored, and this could also have applications for the mining of iron in the future.”
The deposit is a mix of iron oxide, copper and a few other minerals.
The mineral was discovered by two researchers from the School and University of Science and Technology of China in 2011.
“A lot of people think of the steatites as being the main source of energy for ancient China, but actually this discovery is actually the second source of that energy,” says Prof Wei.
He says the researchers are now working with scientists at the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the National Chengdu Institute of Materials Science and Engineering to investigate how the new find could be exploited for its own sake.
“Our hope is that this discovery will pave the way for further exploration of the Steatite deposits,” he adds.
Professor Wei says there are also potential uses for the mineral, as it could form a new form of alloy for a new type of metal known as nickel-titanium, which is currently used in many consumer goods.
“We’re looking for ways to use this new mineral to make a new alloy,” he explains.
“What we’re looking at is making a steel that is less expensive to produce, because it’s lighter, and more durable.”
Because it’s made from an alloy, we’re also looking at making a stronger alloy that can withstand extreme conditions.
“With this new alloy, the metals can be combined to create something stronger than steel, and that could be useful for making new types of products.”
The mineral’s discovery has also brought renewed attention to the mining industry in China.
“This discovery is very important because it gives us a chance to go back and look at some of the mining operations that were still operating in the early part of this century,” says Mr Chen, the lead researcher.
“To the best of my knowledge, the first mining operation was in the 1990s, and we know that at the time it was producing some very expensive steel, like the old steel factories that we know from ancient China.”
Topics:mining-industry,mining-environmental-issues,geology,business-economics-and-finance,energy,science-and.science,energy-and/or-technology,energy/energy-economy,environment,china,hong-kong,chinas,united-statesFirst posted November 11, 2019 12:56:58Contact Andrew O’ConnellMore stories from New Zealand