"If it can't be grown, it must be mined"

Natural resources are the foundation for our lives and lifestyles.

What would our lives be like without mining? Imagine a world without transportation such as jet planes or railroads, without communications such as cell phones or radar, without decorative items such as art or jewelry, without buildings such as skyscrapers or parking garages, without defense systems items such as missiles or submarines, without medical care items such as X-rays or surgical tools. We wouldn’t have any of these things without mining and minerals.

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Description: A refractory metal with unique electrical, chemical, and physical properties that is used mostly as tantalum metal powder in the production of electronic components, mainly tantalum capacitors. Alloyed with other metals, tantalum is also used in making cemented carbide tools for metal working equipment, and in the production of superalloys for jet engine components. Australia, Brazil, Canada, Congo (Kinshasa), Ethiopia, and Rwanda are leading tantalum ore producers. There is no tantalum mine production in the United States. The sample photograph is tantalite, a source for tantalum.

Name: Tantalum is mostly found with the element niobium. The two elements are so similar that they are very difficult to isolate from one another. Tantalum was named after the Greek god, Tantalus. Niobium, discovered before tantalum (1801), was named after the daughter of Tantalus, Niobe.

Sources: Tantalum is recovered from ore minerals such as columbite and tantalite. The United States has no high-grade tantalum ores. In fact, no significant tantalum ores have been mined in the U.S. since 1959.

About 20% of the tantalum used in the United States comes from recycling. The rest must be imported. Recent major sources for tantalum imports were Australia, Kazakhstan, Canada, China, Thailand, and others.

Uses: The electronics industry uses most of the tantalum consumed to make electronic components (tantalum capacitors). Since tantalum is so resistant to corrosion, it is used to make surgical instruments and medical equipment such as rods to attach to broken bones, skull plates, and wire meshes to help repair nerves and muscles.

Because it has such a very high melting point, it is alloyed (that is, mixed with) other metals to create alloys that are needed for very high temperature applications. Tantalum is also used in camera lenses.

Substitutes and Alternative Sources: Columbium can be used in place of tantalum to make carbides. Columbium, hafnium, iridium, molybdenum, rhenium and tungsten can be used for high-temperature situations. Aluminum and ceramics can be used in place of tantalum in electronic capacitors. The problem is, however, that most of these substitutes are not as effective as tantalum in some of these applications.

Background: Tantalum is a hard, grayish-blue, metallic element. Its atomic number is 73 and its symbol is Ta. It has a very high melting point (2996°C). This melting point is exceeded only by that of carbon, tungsten, and rhenium. Tantalum is remarkably resistant to attack by air, water and most acids.

Tantalum was discovered in 1802 by the Swedish scientist Anders Ekeberg. Commercial use of tantalum began in 1903 with the production of tantalum wire.