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Over the years there has been different meaning of minerals or definition of minerals as well as classification of minerals by different school of thoughts. The different meaning of minerals or classification of minerals by different scholars are due in part by constantly changing ideologies, researches and recent advancements in technology.
Minerals can be defined as naturally occurring inorganic materials, substances or compounds that have definite chemical compositions, chemical properties and characteristics as well as physical characteristics and properties. Minerals being naturally occurring substances are solid, stable at room temperature, usually represented with chemical formulas and formed by geological processes. Geology being a science concerned with study of the structure of the earth including origin, formation and development of the earth and other planets also study rocks since rocks important constituents of the earth. Most minerals are said to be crystalline in nature in that they have a regular three-dimensional molecular structures in which the atoms or molecules that make up the minerals being arranged in patterns that are periodic. Some school of thoughts are of the view that minerals are abiogenic (not resulting from the activity of living organisms) while others consider minerals as bioginc (resulting from activities of living organisms). Some even propose biominerals (minerals formed from metabolic processses called biogeochemical processes).
Mineralogy is the study of minerals. It is an aspect of geology that studies the chemical composition of minerals, crystal structure of minerals, physical properties of minerals, optical properties of minerals, origin of minerals, processes of mineral formations, classification of minerals, geographical distribution of minerals as well as the importance and uses of minerals. Solid minerals are therefore minerals that are entirely crystalline solid unlike those that are crystalline liquid.
Difference Between Minerals, Rocks and Ores
Although there is a close relationship between minerals and rocks, however minerals are different from rocks. While minerals are what they are as defined above, on the other hand rocks are aggregates of two or more minerals or non-minerals with no definite chemical compositions. Thus, minerals may form the components of rocks but not the other way round.
Ores are types of rocks having more minerals with important elements including metals that can be economically extracted from the rocks. In fact, ores are extracted through mining (the process of extracting valuable minerals or metals from the earth) by miners working in mining industries or metallurgical industries. The ores are thereafter refined (often via smelting) to extract the valuable element(s).
Gems and Gemstones
Gem or gemstones are also called precious stones or semi-precious stones. Gems or gemstones are minerals having ornamental value. Gems or gemstones are easily distinguished from non-gems by their beauty, durability, and usually or rarity. Examples of gems are diamond, ruby, sapphire, emerald, pearls, etc.
Minerals Association and Number of Minerals Discovered and Approved
Findings have it that there are over 4900 minerals of which only about 4600 of these minerals have been approved by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA), an international organization whose members represent mineralogists in individual countries worldwide. It is important to note that in 1995 the International Mineralogical Association defined a mineral as an element or chemical compound that is normally crystalline and that has been formed as a result of geological processes.
Physical Properties of Minerals
With reference to Wikipedia physical mineralogy (an aspect of mineralogy) which studies the physical properties of minerals show that minerals have some physical properties by which minerals can be easily identified, classified and categorized minerals. These physical properties includes the following:
1. Crystal structure: The composition or constituents of minerals (atoms, ions or molecules) are well arranged in a definite ordered patterns in either crystalline liquid or crystalline solid.
2. Crystal habit: Minerals being crystals have well defined external shapes.
3. Twinning: Minerals have two separate intergrowth crystals of definite configurations
4. Cleavage: Minerals being crystals have the tendency of splitting along definite crystallographic planes .
5. Lustre: This is concerned with the way light interacts with the surface of crystals, rocks or minerals
5. Diaphaneity: This is also called transparency or pellucidity and refers to the ease with which light passes through the material (e.g mineral) without being scattered. Minerals that allow light to pass through them are said to be transluscent while those that don’t allow light to pass through them are said to be opaque.
6. Colour: Different minerals have different colours. Minerals can be colourless, purple, blue etc.
7. Streak: This has to do with the color of the powder produced when minerals are dragged across unweathered surfaces.
8. Hardness: This has to do with the hardness or softness of materials. Normally, minerals that are hard can easily scratch soft materials. Results from Mohs hardness scale shows that while talc ( having the number 10 on the scale) is the softest mineral or material , however diamond is the hardest mineral or material (having the number 10 on the scale).
9. Specific gravity: Tells the ratio of the density of minerals with standard reference substances.
Chemical Properties of Minerals
Chemical mineralogy which focuses on the chemical composition of minerals in order to identify, classify, and categorize minerals as well as a means to find beneficial uses of minerals.
It should be noted that apart from physical and chemical properties minerals also have optical properties as well as biomineralogical properties.
Classification of Minerals or Types of Minerals
Before the classification of minerals as biominerals, there are basically two classification of minerals. These are the Dana mineral classification and the Strunz mineral classification. While the Dana classification of minerals is based on chemical composition with regard to chemical groups, the Strunz classification of minerals is based on both chemical composition and structure but the structure is mainly concerned with how the chemical bonds are distributed.
According to the Dana system of mineral classification minerals are classified into eight. These are
1. Native elements: Made up of metals (e.g copper, bismuth, arsenic, and antimony) and nonmetals (e.g sulfur and carbon- graphite and diamond).
2. Silicates: Comprises of metals, silicons and oxygen e.g quartz, micas, feldspars, basalt, gabbro, etc.
3. Oxides: Composed of metals and oxygen e.g magnetite, bauxite (an ore) and gems (e.g rubies and sapphires).
4. Sulfides: Composed of sulfur (sulphur) and metals e.g pyrite (an ore).
5. Sulfates: Comprises of sulfur (sulphur), metals and oxygen e.g barite
6. Halides: Made of the halogens( chlorine, bromine, fluorine, and iodine ) and metals e.g Halite- NaCl (Table salt).
7. Carbonates: Composed of carbon, oxygen, and a metallic element e.g calcite (calcium carbonate).
8. Phosphates: Contains mainly phosphate
9. Mineraloids: These are minerals that don’t belong to the above eight (8) groups. Examples are opal, jet, amber, and mother of pearl.
Composition of Minerals
Minerals are made up of elements. There are at least eight major elements that minerals contain. In terms of percentage weight abundance from more abundant to least abundant the elements are oxygen, silicon, aluminium, iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium.
Importance of Minerals or Uses of Minerals
Minerals are important in many ways. The economic importance of minerals are huge. Some of the uses of minerals due to their importance are as follows
1. Minerals are used in manufacturing fertilizers for growing of agricultural crops
2. Minerals are used in building and construction of houses e.g limestones, granites, cement, marbles, glasses, gravels, plasters, etc.
Mining Industries or Metallurgical Industries
The mining industries or metallurgical industries are full of potentials because minerals have different uses and are of economic importance. Minerals and mineral products are very important to countries that have them in quantities and qualities. Mining sectors if well developed contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of nations that are able to develop their mining sectors and so contribute to the economic development of the countries that have the capacities in terms of technology and marketability. Mining industries are sources of job creation. Mining sectors of nations provide direct and indirect mining business opportunities or mining investment opportunities.
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