|Infobox on Minerals
|Example of Minerals
|Stowage factor (in m3/t)
|Humidity / moisture
Description / Applications
A mineral is a naturally occurring substance that is solid and stable at room temperature, representable by a chemical formula, usually abiogenic, and has an ordered atomic structure. It is different from a rock, which can be an aggregate of minerals or non-minerals, and does not have a specific chemical composition. The exact definition of a mineral is under debate, especially with respect to the requirement of a valid species to be abiogenic, and to a lesser extent with regards to it having an ordered atomic structure. The study of minerals is called mineralogy.
There are over 4,900 known mineral species; over 4,660 of these have been approved by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA). The silicate minerals compose over 90% of the Earth's crust. The diversity and abundance of mineral species is controlled by the Earth's chemistry. Silicon and oxygen constitute approximately 75% of the Earth's crust, which translates directly into the predominance of silicate minerals. Minerals are distinguished by various chemical and physical properties. Differences in chemical composition and crystal structure distinguish various species, and these properties in turn are influenced by the mineral's geological environment of formation. Changes in the temperature, pressure, and bulk composition of a rock mass cause changes in its mineralogy; however, a rock can maintain its bulk composition, but as long as temperature and pressure change, its mineralogy can change as well.
Minerals can be described by various physical properties which relate to their chemical structure and composition. Common distinguishing characteristics include crystal structure and habit, hardness, lustre, diaphaneity, colour, streak, tenacity, cleavage, fracture, parting, and specific gravity. More specific tests for minerals include reaction to acid, magnetism, taste or smell, and radioactivity.
Minerals are classified by key chemical constituents; the two dominant systems are the Dana classification and the Strunz classification. The silicate class of minerals is subdivided into six subclasses by the degree of polymerization in the chemical structure. All silicate minerals have a base unit of a [SiO4]4- silica tetrahedra—that is, a silicon cation coordinated by four oxygen anions, which gives the shape of a tetrahedron. These tetrahedra can be polymerized to give the subclasses: orthosilicates (no polymerization, thus single tetrahedra), disilicates (two tetrahedra bonded together), cyclosilicates (rings of tetrahedra), inosilicates (chains of tetrahedra), phyllosilicates (sheets of tetrahedra), and tectosilicates (three-dimensional network of tetrahedra). Other important mineral groups include the native elements, sulfides, oxides, halides, carbonates, sulfates, and phosphates.
Minerals are not equivalent to rocks. Whereas a mineral is a naturally occurring usually solid substance, stable at room temperature, representable by a chemical formula, usually abiogenic, and has an ordered atomic structure, a rock is either an aggregate of one or more minerals, or not composed of minerals at all. Rocks like limestone or quartzite are composed primarily of one mineral—calcite or aragonite in the case of limestone, and quartz in the latter case. Other rocks can be defined by relative abundances of key (essential) minerals; a granite is defined by proportions of quartz, alkali feldspar, and plagioclase feldspar. The other minerals in the rock are termed accessory, and do not greatly affect the bulk composition of the rock. Rocks can also be composed entirely of non-mineral material; coal is a sedimentary rock composed primarily of organically derived carbon.
In rocks, some mineral species and groups are much more abundant than others; these are termed the rock-forming minerals. The major examples of these are quartz, the feldspars, the micas, the amphiboles, the pyroxenes, the olivines, and calcite; except the last one, all of the minerals are silicates. Overall, around 150 minerals are considered particularly important, whether in terms of their abundance or aesthetic value in terms of collecting.
Commercially valuable minerals and rocks are referred to as industrial minerals. For example, muscovite, a white mica, can be used for windows (sometimes referred to as isinglass), as a filler, or as an insulator. Ores are minerals that have a high concentration of a certain element, typically a metal. Examples are cinnabar (HgS), an ore of mercury, sphalerite (ZnS), an ore of zinc, or cassiterite (SnO2), an ore of tin. Gems are minerals with an ornamental value, and are distinguished from non-gems by their beauty, durability, and usually, rarity. There are about 20 mineral species that qualify as gem minerals, which constitute about 35 of the most common gemstones. Gem minerals are often present in several varieties, and so one mineral can account for several different gemstones; for example, ruby and sapphire are both corundum, Al2O3.
In general, a mineral is defined as naturally occurring solid, that is stable at room temperature, representable by a chemical formula, usually abiogenic, and has an ordered atomic structure. However, a mineral can be also narrowed down in terms of a mineral group, series, species, or variety, in order from most broad to least broad. The basic level of definition is that of mineral species, which is distinguished from other species by specific and unique chemical and physical properties. For example, quartz is defined by its formula, SiO2, and a specific crystalline structure that distinguishes it from other minerals with the same chemical formula (termed polymorphs). When there exists a range of composition between two minerals species, a mineral series is defined. For example, the biotite series is represented by variable amounts of the endmembers phlogopite, siderophyllite, annite, and eastonite. In contrast, a mineral group is a grouping of mineral species with some common chemical properties that share a crystal structure. The pyroxene group has a common formula of XY(Si,Al)2O6, where X and Y are both cations, with X typically bigger than Y; the pyroxenes are single-chain silicates that crystallize in either the orthorhombic or monoclinic crystal systems. Finally, a mineral variety is a specific type of mineral species that differs by some physical characteristic, such as colour or crystal habit. An example is amethyst, which is a purple variety of quartz.
There are presently over 4,660 approved mineral species. They are most commonly named after a person (45%), followed by discovery location (23%); names based on chemical composition (14%) and physical properties (8%) are the two other major groups of mineral name etymologies.
Classifying minerals ranges from simple to difficult. A mineral can be identified by several physical properties, some of them being sufficient for full identification without equivocation. In other cases, minerals can only be classified by more complex optical, chemical or X-ray diffraction analysis; these methods, however, can be costly and time-consuming. Physical properties applied for classification include crystal structure and habit, hardness, lustre, diaphaneity, colour, streak, cleavage and fracture, and specific gravity. Other less general tests include fluorescence, phosphorescence, magnetism, radioactivity, tenacity (response to mechanical induced changes of shape or form), piezoelectricity and reactivity to dilute acids.
Industrial minerals are geological materials which are mined for their commercial value, which are not fuel (fuel minerals or mineral fuels) and are not sources of metals (metallic minerals). They are used in their natural state or after beneficiation either as raw materials or as additives in a wide range of applications.
Typical examples of industrial rocks and minerals are limestone, clays, sand, gravel, diatomite, kaolin, bentonite, silica, barite, gypsum, and talc. Some examples of applications for industrial minerals are construction, ceramics, paints, electronics, filtration, plastics, glass, detergents and paper.
In some cases, even organic materials (peat) and industrial products or by-products (cement, slag, silica fume) are categorized under industrial minerals, as well as metallic compounds mainly utilized in nonmetallic form (as an example most of the titanium is utilized as an oxide TiO2 rather than Ti metal).
The evaluation of raw materials to determine their suitability for use as industrial minerals requires technical testwork, mineral processing trials and end-product evaluation; free to download evaluation manuals are available for the following industrial minerals: limestone, flake graphite, diatomite, kaolin, bentonite and construction materials. These are available from the British Geological Survey external link 'Industrial Minerals in BGS' with regular industry news and reports published in Industrial Minerals magazine; see also www.minerals.net
Shipment / Storage / Risk factors
For the carriage of Concentrates (of Minerals), see this specific item.
Also consult the IMSBC Code (International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code) for overseas carriage advice.