Listed below are recent articles by Peter W. Harben, copies of which
may be ordered at the end of the page.
Salt -- weathering the storm
by Peter Harben & Dennis Kostick
Someone once estimated that salt had 14,000 uses making it arguably
the most practical, versatile, and indispensable mineral known. Directly
or indirectly salt keeps the humans and animals healthy through mineral
intake, preserves and enhances the flavor of food, keeps us clean and
hygienic through soaps and detergents, and protects us from the elements
through the textiles and dyes in our clothes and the building materials
in our houses. It allows us to travel the world in an aluminum aircraft,
carry clean water through PVC pipes, and is the starting point for
a myriad of chemicals and manufactured products. Broadly speaking,
of salt is used in chemical industry, 20% in food processing and human
consumption, 10% in industrial applications, and 10% in various other
Industrial Minerals, No. 441, June 2004 page 70 - 73
Calcium Carbonate in Paper - PCC vs the Competition
by Peter W. Harben
Calcium carbonate is regarded as one of the essential building blocks
of commerce along with iron ore, salt, sulfur, petroleum, and coal.
In fact, thinking of an everyday product that doesn't make use of it
in some fashion is a brain teaser. Geologically, calcium carbonate is
derived from a variety of sources, mainly limestone, chalk, or marble,
and to a lesser extent carbonatite, vein calcite, travertine, shells,
aragonite sand, or dolomite. In addition to the thousand and one other
uses beyond the scope of this paper, ground calcium carbonate (GCC)
is used as a filler and extender and/or white pigment in a host of products.
Depending on the physical characteristics, some may be used as a relatively
crude and cheap filler in asphalt, carpet backing, joint cement and
the like; better quality and finer ground calcium carbonate is an intermediate
grade filler used in putty, caulks, and sealants; and high-quality and
bright material yields fine and ultrafine grades used as a pigment/filler
in paper, paint, plastics, printing ink, cosmetics, and rubber.
Over the past ten years precipitated calcium carbonate or PCC has evolved
into a major player in the filler/white pigment market. The paper discusses
production and the producers, the regional markets, consumption and
competition, prices and cost effectiveness, and growth prospects.
Extracted and updated from a paper presented at the 13th Annual Meeting
of the Israel Mineral Science and Engineering Association, 9-10 December,
1996. Published in Industrial Minerals No. 366, March 1998, pp.
39-49 which includes references, tables, and photomicrographs of calcium
Soda Ash - Wyoming Sets the Standard
by Peter W. Harben & Charles W. Raleigh
Soda ash production could be a stinky business in the bad old days.
In the 18th and 19th centuries most was via the Leblanc process: sodium
chloride was fused in a furnace with concentrated sulphuric acid to
produce sodium sulfate and hydrogen chloride gas; the sodium sulfate
was reacted with calcium carbonate (limestone) and carbon (coal) to
yield sodium carbonate which was then purified by dissolution and recrystallization.
This inefficient, energy intensive, and foul-smelling method was gradually
replaced by the ammonia-soda process pioneered by the Solvay family
of Belgium in the 1860s. This developed into the modern ammonia-soda
process or Solvay process which consumes 1.7 tonnes of salt, 1.4 tonnes
of limestone, 0.6 tonne of coal for the boilers and 0.2 tonne for the
dryers, and an ammonia catalyst to produce 1 tonne of soda ash plus
1.7 tonnes of waste sodium and calcium chloride.
The paper discusses production and the producers, consumption, quality
concerns, and summarizes the industry nomenclature.
Published in Raw Materials for the Glass Industry, 1998, Industrial
Minerals Information Ltd.. London, UK.
The North American Glass Industry -- Fewer but Larger Players
by George H. Edwards & Peter W. Harben
The flat, container, fiber, and speciality glass industries in North
America are fighting to survive in a highly competitive environment.
While strength in the economy and a fairly buoyant construction industry
have kept flat glass sales stable, they have done nothing for container
glass which is being buried by plastic, metal, and paper. In the fiberglass
industry producers are focusing on specific market segments to stay
sharp, and speciality glass producers are joining forces to extend their
market penetration. Survival takes a number of routes -- corporate rationalization,
strategic alliances and technical agreements, new and improved product
development, and the never-ending need to reduce costs. All this is
being conducted with a backdrop of an increasingly international marketplace,
the need to be price competitive, reduced in-house technical capability,
and heightened environmental pressures.
The article discusses the main players in the various segments of the
glass industry, the structure of the industry, plus current and future
Published in Raw Materials for the Glass Industry, 1998,
Industrial Minerals Information Ltd.. London, UK.
World Distribution of Industrial Mineral Deposits
by Peter W. Harben
Once considered the dowdy country cousins of the glamorous metallics,
industrial minerals are shedding their old image. They are neither common
nor easy and their time has come in an age of increasing specialization.
Consider that of the 45 or so industrial minerals and rocks, almost
three quarters have ten or fewer significant suppliers (i.e. those individual
countries contributing 2% or more of total world production); in more
than half the cases 85% of world production is accounted for by only
five countries or fewer. Curiously, even materials that appear to be
virtually ubiquitous like crushed rock and common salt have significant
production vacuums. For example there is a severe lack of sound aggregates
along the US Gulf Coast and common salt production on a large scale
is virtually absent in central Africa. These examples all underline
the obvious but acute truism that "The single most important fact
about mineral resources is that they are not distributed equally over
the world" (Flawn, 1966).
Just as significant today is that human resources are not distributed
equally over the world, and so arise some interesting commercial incongruities.
In certain regions raw materials are plentiful but consumers are not,
and without a market a mineral deposit is merely a geological curiosity.
Elsewhere, there may be a market but no local raw material supply. For
example, despite a huge market there is no or virtually no commercial
production of chromite, diamonds, and manganese in the United States
and Canada, nor phosphate rock, diamonds, rutile, and zirconium minerals
in western Europe. In contrast, Australia with its small domestic market
is the world's largest supplier of bauxite, diamonds, ilmenite, natural
and synthetic rutile, and zircon; the same is true for South Africa
which is a leading producer of chromite, manganese, diamonds, andalusite,
ilmenite, rutile, and zircon. In the commercial world, Nature's uneven
distribution is counterbalanced by deep-sea international trade.
The article discusses these factors mineral by mineral.
First Published in Industrial Minerals and Rocks, 6th ed., D.
Carr, ed., SME, Littleton, CO, pp. 15-31 (including tables).
MINSAL lithium carbonate Metamorphosis for lithium
by Peter Harben & George Edwards
On October 29, 1996, Sociedad Minera Salar de Atacama S.A., or MINSAL
successfully precipitated lithium carbonate from brine extracted from
its Salar de Atacama operation in northern Chile. From plant groundbreaking
in February to the first commercial shipments in December, the lithium
project was two months ahead of schedule and matched the target budget
of $51 million. The following article discusses the metamorphosis of
the lithium market, the MINSAL project as well as the company itself,
and the impact of these developments on the world lithium market.
First published in Industrial Minerals, February 1997
Salts of the Atacama
NO3, I, KCl + Li2CO3 = SQM
Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. or SQM, which translates into
Chemical and Mining Company of Chile Inc., is best known as the sole
world producer of natural nitrates. Based on this production, the company
controls 100% of the world supply of sodium nitrate for special agricultural
applications and 70% overall market. In recent years, however, SQM has
diversified into an integrated producer of specialty fertilizers and
industrial chemicals serving a variety of markets. Company revenues
based on sales to more than 80 countries have grown to more than $400
million divided approximately between specialty fertilizers (55%), iodine
and iodine derivatives (19%), industrial chemicals (13%), and other
revenues including fertilizer distribution (13%). Overall, the company
is now the world's largest integrated producer of specialty fertilizers
and controls 35% of the world's iodine production capacity.
The profile examines the operations and markets of mineral salts from
the Atacama Desert.
First published in Industrial Minerals, July, 1997
Enervating times - Cost conundrum for US minerals
Many mineral producers feel the brunt of high energy prices since natural
gas is used as a direct feedstock (nitrogen fertilizers), as fuel for
drying after flotation (feldspar, mica, and silica) and in spray drying
(kaolin), for high-temperature calcining (gypsum, lime, kaolin, diatomite,
etc.), processing and expansion (perlite and vermiculite), and refining
(soda ash). Although the ability to utilize alternative fuels may be
built into the system, quite often the price of rival energy sources
like fuel oil or propane inexplicably rise in tandem with natural gas,
or are unsuitable because of impurities, pollution restriction, lack
of availability, etc. Ironically, many producers switched to natural
gas in an effort to reduce costs, and some have been trapped by a lack
of a national energy policy since natural gas consumption is encouraged
while at the same time domestic exploration and production is discouraged.
Industrial Minerals, No. 433, October 2004, page 64 - 69.
Iodine - A clean bill of health
After centuries of extracting iodine from seaweed, modern iodine production
is based on the unique caliche ore from the Atacama Desert of northern
Chile or certain mineral-rich brines elsewhere. Based on these and
several smaller resources, almost 21,400 tonnes of elemental iodine
was produced in 2003 led by Chile (55% of world production), Japan
(30%), and the United States (8%) together with minor output from
Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, China, and Indonesia
table). This represents a record world production and almost double
the output some 25 years ago when Chile produced just 2,600 tonnes
or 22% of world output. The average annual growth rate over the past
five years has been just less than 5%.
Industrial Minerals, No. 445, October 2004, page 60 - 63.