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Mineral Monday: Zinc

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1300AD. The isolation of metallic Zinc was achieved in India, kick-starting it’s widespread use throughout the both the Eastern and Western worlds. It wasn’t until the early eighteenth century, however, that extracted metallic Zinc was widely studied and produced in the West. In1738 in Great Britain, William Champion patented a process to extract Zinc from calamine in a vertical retort style smelter. This process was used through to 1851.

Zinc has found a variety of applications, several of which are particularly pertinent to engineering, including as an anti-corrosion agent, galvanisation (in 2009 in the US, 55% of all Zinc metal was used for galvanization). Zinc also finds use as an anode material for batteries.

Other uses for Zinc include as an alloy, e.g. brass in which copper is alloyed with anywhere from 3% to 45% Zinc, depending upon the type of brass. You’ll also find Zinc used as a lead substitute thanks to the fact that it is dense, inexpensive and easily worked.

Zinc compounds are commonly used in a plethora of industrial applications such as the production of luminescent pigments, propellants, agricultural fungicides etc.

Where is it produced / mined?

Now the fourth most common metal in use across the world, Zinc trails only Iron, Aluminium and Cooper with an annual production of about 13 million tonnes. The biggest production of Zinc globally is currently China, followed by Australia, Peru, India, and the United States.

Did you know?

• Zinc is believed to have been given its name by Paracelsus who labelled it ‘Zinke’, which is German for ‘pointed’. This is likely a reference to the pointed Zinc crystals that form after Zinc is smelted.
• Zinc is the second most abundant metal in the human body, after iron.
• Zinc plays an important part in the human body for immune function, white blood cell formation, egg fertilisation, cell division, and a host of other enzymatic reactions.
• Almost all mined Zinc (85%) comes from Zinc Sulfide ore. Zinc is easily recycled and about 30% of the Zinc produced annually is recycled metal.
• Zinc is the 24th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.
• Zinc is widely used by the rubber, chemical, paint and agricultural industries. It is well suited for use as a coating for protecting iron and steel products from corrosion.

Which mineral should we focus on in the next edition of Mineral Monday? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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