Thursday, November 13, 2008

Global production of chemical elements

The global production of carbon is 18 orders of magnitude greater than that of promethium. All the other chemical elements on the periodic table fall in between.

Retired USGS geologist Gordon Haxel's talk on Comparative Global Production of the Chemical Elements, A Geochemical Perspective; and the Concept of Underutilized Elements at the Arizona Geological Society monthly dinner meeting in Tucson on Tuesday, was a breath-taking tour de force on minerals, the universe, and everything. [right, Gordon Haxel -left- answers questions following his AGS talk]

There were so many new perspectives that I wouldn't know where to start in describing it all.

One concept Gordon presented is that of underutilized elements - elements whose production is anomalously low given their abundance in the rocks and their usefulness. Gordon included scandium in this group. It's almost as abundant as lead but worldwide production seems to be measured in kilograms. The Russians are using it to strengthen aluminum (0.2% scandium quadruples the cost of the aluminum product) in aerospace applications. They apparently had stockpiled some modest amounts as by-products from other mining operations. Scandium is prevalent in laterites, bauxites, pegmatites and others, but it is highly dispersed. Gordon said scandium has not yet found its market, such as lanthinides have for tv sets. Gordon is working on a paper

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