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Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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Boron: Of “Slime,” Materials Science and Trade Balances

If you have preschoolers or grade schoolers at home on summer break, chances are you’ve already had to make “slime.”   Researching the various recipes to make the latest kids’ craze, you will likely also have come across one often-used ingredient: Borax.

While Borax has long been a traditional staple in American laundry rooms, borates are increasingly becoming key components of cutting-edge gadgetry and technology.

Most recently, scientists at UCLA have released their findings regarding a new technique using Silicon and Boron to break carbon-hydrogen bonds and make carbon-carbon bonds.  In doing so, they have overcome one of the big challenges of molecular science – the strong bond between carbon and hydrogen bonds – without using rare and expensive elements like Iridium.

Of particular interest to the energy industry, which has been seeking ways to turn simple hydrocarbon molecules into new fuels, this new method “will enable scientists to incorporate methane into bigger molecules,” says UCLA assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry Hosea Nelson.

The UCLA research team touts other possible applications: 

“Another potential application would be converting methane, one of the primary components of natural gas, into something that’s denser and easier to contain after it has been drilled from Earth. The current process is complicated because methane, a light gas, tends to escape into the atmosphere.

Furthermore, because the technique used by the researchers can be performed at “temperatures and gas pressures that are easily attainable in a laboratory” and allows for the assembly of complex molecules in fewer reaction steps that previously possible, chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers could save both time and money.  Ultimately, the molecules in existing pharmaceuticals might be altered to be made more effective, safer, or less addictive.

This development will in all likelihood not impact the United States’ supply scenario for Borates – after all Borates are one of the few minerals of which we are a net exporter.   It does, however, once more underscore how materials science is a real game-changer in how we should look at mineral resources and underlying policies.

In the case of Boron, the United States boasts a strong production base ensuring supply not only for our domestic needs but also for our trading partners’ needs. A single mine in California supplies roughly 30 percent of the world’s demand for refined Borates.

As we previously pointed out:

“With mining exports making considerable positive contributions to America’s trade balance, policy makers and other stakeholders should embrace policies that encourage the development of the mineral resources we are blessed to have beneath our own soil – not just for those where our demand exceeds supply, but for those like Boron, where U.S. production supplies the world.”