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23 Feb 2018

The role of mineral resources in today's world

We need it every day and don't ever want to do without it again: the mobile phone. But have you ever thought about what actually goes into a mobile phone? After all, it wouldn't work at all without resources. But mineral resources are not only found in mobile phones. With your printed newspaper you hold finely ground limestone in your hands, while chalk and silicate powders are ingredients of your toothpaste.

The cooking utensils and plates we use on a daily basis also consist of mineral resources which are processed into stainless steel or ceramics. We also use energy resources on a daily basis. Heating the house or going to work by car: Here one must distinguish again what kind of vehicle it is, because electric vehicles gain ever more importance and renewable energy becomes indispensable. These are just two examples of daily use. They are everywhere, but who among us knows where they come from and how long the production process takes from mining to the finished product?

Today we take it for granted that we can travel by train or always be in contact with our friends, even if they are hundreds of kilometres away. It took years of research and countless innovations, but above all mineral resources as a basis. But where do these actually come from and how do they become usable materials? Mineral resources are extracted from the earth's crust (lithosphere) to produce products for a wide variety of uses.

Our modern society needs huge quantities of mineral resources. The term „mining” refers to the exploration and extraction (mineral mining) as well as production (from mining to transport) and the processing of these treasures from the ground. Originally, it was accidental discoveries that guaranteed people access to resources. Today, we benefit from highly scientific methods to explore and mine new, promising deposits. Specialists from various geoscientific disciplines work together professionally to assess the economic viability of a deposit. Location and size of the deposits are decisive factors, and only after these preliminary surveys, known as exploration in the technical jargon, will it become clear whether extraction is worthwhile.

The resources that are then extracted are transported by means of various conveying methods. Afterwards, the material weighing several tons has to be loaded for further processing, which is a major logistical challenge. Once at the processing site, the process starts from the raw material to the finished product.

For a car door, for instance, the first material produced is steel. During the processing of iron ore, the raw material is crushed and sorted in several steps. The iron ore concentrate is then processed into iron ore pellets. In the blast furnace process, oxygen is removed from the iron oxide by means of a chemical reaction with carbon and carbon monoxide. Other oxides such as manganese dioxide and silicon dioxide are also reduced. Iron also absorbs carbon. For this reason, the blast furnace process does not produce pure iron but pig iron, which contains carbon, silicon, manganese, phosphorus and sulphur. In the next process, steel is produced from the pig iron. For this purpose, the pig iron is refined (processed) with oxygen or air. The finished steel can now be cast into the desired mould and the production process is completed. But not that of the actual end product. For this purpose, product production processes adjusted to the specific product are used.

This is just one of thousands of products made from mineral resources. Statistically, an average of 14 tonnes of minerals and rocks annually are required for every Austrian. For these enormous quantities, it is of course important that resources are not only available in the earth's crust, but also that access to them is secured. There is no blueprint for this, but initiatives such as EUMICON have also set themselves the goal of enabling dialogues to secure this access at all times. But our mineral resources are not all produced through mining. Recycling, in which Austria is one of the world's leading countries, is an increasingly important factor.

Reprocessing is important because we can use recycled products in many everyday situations. In order to recycle, however, it is first of all necessary to collect old products and this is where every consumer can make a contribution to a sustainable future. You see, mineral resources are indispensable in today's world for they are an essential part of everyday life. This is why it is so important to guarantee the availability of these mineral resources and this is one of the missions of EUMICON.