In 2007, a new mineral found in Serbia made headlines around the world. “Kryptonite Discovered in Mine” – wrote the BBC about the discovery of a material the chemical formula of which – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide – happened to match the one of the famed kryptonite stolen by Lex Luthor from a museum in the movie “Superman Returns.”
Dr. Chris Stanley, a mineralogist at London’s Natural History Museum, whose help researchers enlisted when they found themselves unable to match their discovery with anything scientifically-known, told the BBC he was “shocked to discover this formula was already referenced in the literature – albeit literary fiction,” and said:
“The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite.”
As Jadarite has nothing to do with the real element Krypton, an colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas often used in fluorescent lamps, the mineral could not be called “kryptonite.” Instead, Jadarite, which contains Boron and Lithium, both of which are known to followers of ARPN for a number of applications, received its official name thanks to the geographic location of its discovery, the Jadar Valley.
The reason why most people will not have heard of the mineral is that Serbia is the only place in the world where Jadarite has been found – and to date, it has not been commercially developed.
Courtesy of the ongoing materials science revolution, which yields research breakthroughs on a daily basis, this may soon change, however. As Mining Review Africa reports, researchers at Rio Tinto’s Technical Development Centre in Bundoora outside of Melbourne, Australia, are working to develop a new chemical procedure to process the material. A pilot processing plant has been housed within a large shipping container, to allow it to be deployed to the mine site in Serbia.
Against the backdrop of the current EV battery technology fueling demand for Lithium, these efforts, if successful, could help alleviate mineral supply concerns in the long run.
While recent stories about an oversupply have caused Lithium prices to slide, analysts believe that the fundamentals for Lithium are strong and long-term demand will shore up again. As Benchmark Mineral Intelligence’s Andrew Miller recently told Reuters:
“The demand for lithium isn’t really in question, it’s just a matter of when that demand really kicks in. (…) You just have to look at the number of battery factories that are being built around lithium-ion technology.”
As for Borates, while arguably considered the less “sexy” component in the Jadarite mix, fundamentals may be changing here, too. As Chris Cann recently noted for Mining Journal, while the borates space has “historically, closely tracked global GDP numbers as the ability of the world’s population to buy more household products has driven the use of boric acid, (…), Borates are now linked to two areas of potentially strong growth.”
The two areas he references are the traditional application in agriculture/household, as well as the lesser-known use of Borates in electronics, “where Boron-laden permanent magnets are widely consumed, including as the most commonly used magnets for hybrid and electric vehicles.”
The bottom line is this – with advances in materials science disrupting and fundamentally altering the supply and demand picture for metals and minerals on a regular basis, the time to devise a comprehensive mineral resource strategy that accounts for these fast-paced changes has come. Our nation’s competitiveness and national security depends on it.