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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 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 such as iron (as steel) is used in cars or for frames of buildings, copper is used in electrical wiring, lithium in rechargeable batteries, and aluminium in aircraft and to make drink cans. Precious metals are used in jewellery and mobile phones.
  • Construction minerals including sand and gravel, brick clay and crushed rock aggregates used to manufacture concrete, bricks and pipes and in building houses and roads.
  • Industrial minerals, otherwise known as 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, graphite, limestone, silica sand, phosphate rock, talc and mica.

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