Mineral Mania

  • Location: South African Museum
  • From: February 2, 2002     To: February 28, 2005
Mineral Mania

Some of the most beautiful awe-inspiring natural minerals, including those from Earth and outer space will be part of our new exhibition 'Mineral Mania'. This exhibition, in collaboration with the University of Cape Town, also will show the dependency of our technology on minerals and mining. It will run concurrently with Summer School, which will include a series of lectures on 'Metals from Earth and Space'.

Common uses of minerals

Without mining none of the everyday products we take for granted would exist. If you look beneath the surface, you’ll find that mining has something to do with just about every thing we use.

Your house comes out of a mine

The majority of the raw material used in building your home was furnished by the mining industry.The foundation is probably concrete (limestone, clay, shale, gypsum, and aggregate mining).The exterior walls may be made of brick (clay mining) or stone (dimension stone mining). The insulation in the walls may be glass wool (silica, feldspar, and trona mining) or expanded vermiculite (vermiculite mining). The interior walls are usually wall board (gypsum mining). The lumber in the structure will be fastened with nails and screws (iron ore mining and zinc mining). If the roof is covered with asphalt shingles, the filler in the shingles is from a variety of coloured silicate minerals from mining. Your fireplace is probably of brick or stone, lined with a steel box (iron ore mining).

Your sewer piping is made of clay or iron pipe (clay mining or iron ore mining). Your electrical wiring is of copper or aluminum (copper mining or bauxite mining). Your sanitary facilities are made of porcelain (clay mining). Your plumbing fixtures are made of brass (copper and zinc mining), or stainless steel (nickel and chrome mining). Your gutters of galvanized steel (iron ore mining and zinc mining). The paint is manufactured with mineral fillers and pigments (from minerals obtained by mining). Your windows are made of glass (trona, silica, sand, and feldspar mining). Your door knobs, locks, and hinges are of brass or steel (copper, zinc, and iron ore mining). And finally your mortgage is written on paper made from wood or cloth fibers, but filled with clay (from clay mining).

Your car

About 100 000 passenger cars are assembled in South Africa each year. Each car is made up of about 15 000 parts, all of which require natural resources to make.

The average car weighs about 1 metric tonne (1000 kg). Of that approximately half is steel (a combination of iron, carbon and manganese), 50 kg are aluminium, 10 kg copper and 5 kg zinc. The bright plating on bumpers, etc, contains chromium as well.

The automotive industry uses almost a fifth (20%) of South Africa's steel production.

Since new air pollution laws have come into effect in many First World countries, about 1000 kg of platinum and associated elements are used annually for making automotive catalytic converters. 80% of the platinum comes from South African mines.

To make car parts and to assemble the final products, a lot of specialized tools are required. If it were not for metals such as chromium, nickel, titanium and vanadium, all of which are mined in South Africa, machine tool supplies to the automotive industry (worth more than R20 billion annually world-wide) would not exist.

The glass in the windows of a car is made from silica sand and limestone, both of which are mineral commodities which are mined in the Western Cape Province.

Even the plastics in a vehicle are made from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource. At the Sasol plants in Sasolburg (Free State Province) and Secunda, coal is converted to a whole range of plastics, some of which can be used for vehicle parts and upholstery.

The petrol or diesel, oil, grease and other lubricants required for operation of a vehicle are all petroleum derivatives and would not exist if no oil was produced. Some cars are adapted to run on methane gas, which is mined off the South African coast near Mossel Bay. Sasol produces about 3% of South Africa’s oil from coal.

The smooth ‘tarmac’ roads we all drive on could not be built without commodities like tar, gravel, and cement. Road gravel is produced in many open quarries in the Durbanville region.

THEREFORE, the next time you drive your car, remember that MINERAL RESOURCES dug from the earth make it possible.

Your bicycle

Did you know that without mining the bicycle would never have been made? In fact, without mining none of the everyday products we take for granted would exist. North America is the greatest consumer of minerals on earth. Each year, the average U.S. citizen uses 18,160 kilograms of minerals. If you look beneath the surface, you’ll find that mining has something to do with just about every thing we use.

Your computer

Did you Know? It takes more than 33 elements and minerals to make a computer!

Those vital computer ingredients consist of: aluminum, antimony, barite, beryllium, cobalt, columbium, copper, gallium, germanium, gold, indium, iron, lanthanides, lithium, manganese, mercury, mica, quartz crystals, rhenium, selenium, silver, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, tungsten, vanadium, yttrium, zinc and zirconium.

And, we can’t forget the petroleum industry’s role in the computer. Many of the components noted above are housed in plastic!

How a pencil is made

A pencil is manufactured from natural earth materials. It is made primarily of a wood cylinder with a graphite core that we call "lead". The wood is usually from cedar trees harvested from forests, primarily in the United States. The graphite is mined from various localities, including Canada and Puerto Rico and is reinforced with clay mined mostly from the southeast United States. The eraser is made from soybean oil farmed in the southern United States and from latex extracted from trees in South America. The eraser is reinforced with pumice mined largely in North America as well as sulfur, calcium and barium from various localities. The metal band is aluminum or brass (copper and zinc) which are mined in many countries around the world. The paint that coats the wood and the lacquer to make it shine are made from a variety of different minerals and metals, as is the glue that holds the wood together.

Links to geological websites:

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