Why do we need minerals?
Minerals are basic and essential raw materials in our daily lives, and are vital for economic, social and technological development. The examples below illustrate their use in everyday life.
Food and drink
Phosphate rock, potash and lime are used in agricultural fertilisers and other mineral products are used to improve soil. The water you drink uses minerals to make it clean.
Salt is added to food during preparation, and other mineral products may also be included. Calcium carbonate, for example, is used in bread, cakes, soups and cereal, and some food additives are manufactured using natural minerals. Sand is used to filter water, as is diatomite, a silica mineral formed from fossilised algae. Diatomite and bentonite clay are both used to clarify drinks, such as beer, fruit juices and wine.
Food and drink may be packaged in cans made from aluminium or steel, or in glass made from silica sand. Plastic packaging is made from chemicals obtained from oil, natural gas or coal.
Your plates may be ceramic and made from clay, glasses are made from silica sand, and cutlery from metals – usually aluminium or steel. Your cooker is partly made from metals and cooking pans are generally made from aluminium, steel or copper.
About 60 tonnes of aggregate are used to build an average house in the UK. If we include the associated infrastructure, this can be as high as 400 tonnes. Minerals are used in building houses, schools, libraries, hospitals, offices and shops. Buildings use a wide range of minerals:
- iron (as steel) in the framework of large building,
- clay in bricks and roofing tiles,
- slate for roofing tiles,
- shale and gypsum in cement,
- gypsum in plaster,
- silica sand in window glass,
- sand and gravel and crushed rock as aggregates for fill and in concrete,
- copper for plumbing and wiring,
- clays for bathroom fixtures and fittings and tiles,
- paint may include pigments,
- extenders and fillers from mineral sources.
Energy is used at home and by all industries, services and transport, including hospitals, schools and workplaces. Energy minerals – coal, oil, gas, uranium – are used to give you heat, hot water and electricity. Cars, buses and trains all use fuel which mainly comes from oil.
Every journey you make depends on minerals, whether by car, train, plane, boat or foot. Aggregates (crushed rock and sand and gravel) are used for roads and footpaths, while railway tracks made from steel are laid on aggregate (known as ballast). Airports, railway stations and shipping ports all use large amounts of construction minerals to build them.
Cars, trains, planes, boats and bicycles are all made using metals such as steel and aluminium. Aircraft engines depend on mixtures of metals called alloys which are made from metals including nickel, cobalt, chromium, aluminium and titanium. In every car there are over 15,000 components made from minerals.
Technology and communications
Information technology is part of our daily lives. Many of us have access to a computer and mobile phone, and many services depend on computers and other forms of telecommunication. These technologies require a wide range of minerals and metals, including copper, gold, platinum, tantalum, tin, zinc and nickel.