In the terminology of the mining industry, the concept of "critical raw material" has not so long been fixed, which unites a number of rare, new, but at the same time important for the economy of the 21st century materials. These are mainly elements of the metal group and rare earth metals, the unique characteristics of which mankind was able to discover thanks to the technological leap in the last century.
The emergence of whole new industries in mechanical engineering, electronics and aircraft construction became available with the discovery of the useful properties of such metals. Of course, the global production of the same lithium is far from hundreds of millions of tons of iron ore. But the mining industry has already made its strategic choice and proclaimed its course precisely towards intensifying the development of deposits of these "new" elements. Beryllium was no exception. Together with cobalt and nickel.
Why will beryllium become one of the most demanded metals of the 21st century?
Beryllium is a chemical element with the Be symbol and atomic number 4. It is a relatively rare element both in the Universe and in the earth's crust. The element is found in nature only in combination with other elements in minerals. As a free element, it is a steel gray alkaline earth metal, hard, light and brittle.
Beryllium increases hardness and resistance to corrosion and is used for alloying aluminum, cobalt, copper (in particular, beryllium bronzes), iron and nickel. High flexural rigidity, thermal stability, thermal conductivity and low density (only 1.85 times that of water) make beryllium in demand as an aerospace material for high-speed aircraft, rockets, spacecraft and communications satellites. Because of its low density and atomic mass, beryllium is transparent to X-rays and other forms of ionizing radiation. Thus, it is the most common material for the production of X-ray equipment and for conducting physical experiments. The high thermal conductivity of beryllium is the main factor used in heat transfer devices.
Small volumes - large-scale results
North America and Europe are the largest consumers of beryllium. Significant economic growth in recent years in the Asia-Pacific region, primarily in China, has equated consumption in the region with European levels. This was facilitated by the growing use of metal in infrastructure equipment, computers and telecommunications, routers, fixed and wireless optical transmission systems.
In recent years, metal consumption has increased significantly in automotive electronics, especially the copper-beryllium alloy (beryllium bronze) used in power distribution and car alarms. The global beryllium market is expected to approach 500 tonnes soon (that is, it will double) due to good demand from computer manufacturers and the telecommunications infrastructure market, as well as due to the growth of the automotive electronics market. Consumption is also expected to grow in emerging markets, particularly in Asia and Latin America.
In the world, only three countries are engaged in the processing of beryllium ores. Significantly, in 2005, the US Department of Defense entered into a partnership with Materion to build a new high-purity beryllium metal processing and manufacturing plant in Ohio. The construction of the processing plant was completed in 2011. Two-thirds of its products began to go to defense enterprises and other organizations associated with the production of high-tech end products.
The United States imported about 34% of the beryllium used in 2019, including metallic beryllium and other processed beryllium materials used in manufacturing. Two thirds of these materials came from Russia and Kazakhstan. The trend, as reported by USGS, indicates strong demand. In the first half of 2020, Materion reported a 62% increase in shipments of basic beryllium-copper alloys, compared to the first half of 2019. Sales of beryllium products in key markets - aerospace, automotive electronics, ceramics, computers and telecommunications - were significantly higher than in 2019. But in the coming years, the demand for beryllium will align with the supply.
Beryllium in Ukraine
In the Olevsky district of the Zhytomyr region, in the interfluve of the Perga and Ubort rivers, there is the Perzhansky beryllium deposit, which, according to its characteristics, is one of the best in the world. The carrier of beryllium in it is the mineral genthelvin, of which there are no more than 20 recorded manifestations in the world. According to the Institute of Geological Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, along with beryllium, this deposit contains tantalum, niobium, zirconium, tin, molybdenum, lithium, zinc, silver, fluorine and some minerals.
Long time question