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What are minerals?

A mineral is a natural substance with distinctive chemical and physical properties, composition, and atomic structure. The definition of an economic mineral is broader, and includes minerals, metals, rocks and hydrocarbons (solid and liquid) that are extracted from the earth by mining, quarrying and pumping. Economic minerals are used in a wide range of applications related to construction, manufacturing, agriculture and energy supply.

Economic minerals include: energy minerals, metals, construction minerals and industrial minerals.

Economic Minerals

Energy minerals
Energy minerals: Pylon, BGS©NERC
Metals: Steel, © PhotoAlto
Construction minerals
Construction minerals: Bricks, ©
Industrial minerals
Industrial minerals: Glass bottle, © GettyImages

Energy minerals are used to produce electricity, fuel for transportation, heating for homes and offices and in the manufacture of plastics. Energy minerals include coal, oil, natural gas and uranium.

Metals have a wide variety of uses. For example, iron (as steel) is used in cars or for frames of buildings, copper is used in electrical wiring, and aluminium is used in aircraft and to make drink cans. Precious metals are used in jewellery and mobile phones.

Construction minerals include sand and gravel, brick clay and crushed rock aggregates. They are used in the manufacture of concrete, bricks and pipes and in building houses and roads.

Industrial minerals are non–metallic minerals used in a range of industrial applications including the manufacture of chemicals, glass, fertilisers and fillers in pharmaceuticals, plastics and paper. Industrial minerals include salt, clays, limestone, silica sand, phosphate rock, talc and mica.

To find out more

To find out how minerals are formed, extracted and transported read Where do minerals come from?

To find out how important mineral resources are to the UK economy, read Mineral Matters 3: Minerals in the economy and The Economic Importance of Minerals to the UK.