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Coltan is the industrial name for columbite
Columbite
Columbite, also called niobite, niobite-tantalite and columbate [2O6], is a black mineral group that is an ore of niobium and tantalum. It has a submetallic luster and a high density and is a niobate of iron and manganese, containing tantalate of iron. This mineral group was first found in Haddam,...

tantalite
Tantalite
Tantalite, [2O6], is a mineral group that is close to columbite. The two are often grouped together as a semi-singular mineral called coltan or "columbite-tantalite" in many mineral guides. However, tantalite has a much greater specific gravity than columbite...

, a dull black metallic mineral from which the elements niobium
Niobium
Niobium or columbium , is a chemical element with the symbol Nb and atomic number 41. It's a soft, grey, ductile transition metal, which is often found in the pyrochlore mineral, the main commercial source for niobium, and columbite...

 (formerly "columbium") and tantalum
Tantalum
Tantalum is a chemical element with the symbol Ta and atomic number 73. Previously known as tantalium, the name comes from Tantalus, a character in Greek mythology. Tantalum is a rare, hard, blue-gray, lustrous transition metal that is highly corrosion resistant. It is part of the refractory...

 are extracted. The niobium-dominant mineral is columbite, hence the "col" half of the term. The mineral concentrates dominated by tantalum are referred to as tantalite
Tantalite
Tantalite, [2O6], is a mineral group that is close to columbite. The two are often grouped together as a semi-singular mineral called coltan or "columbite-tantalite" in many mineral guides. However, tantalite has a much greater specific gravity than columbite...

.

Tantalum from coltan is used to manufacture electronic capacitors, used in consumer electronics products such as mobile phone
Mobile phone
A mobile phone is a device which can make and receive telephone calls over a radio link whilst moving around a wide geographic area. It does so by connecting to a cellular network provided by a mobile network operator...

s, DVD player
DVD player
A DVD player is a device that plays discs produced under both the DVD-Video and DVD-Audio technical standards, two different and incompatible standards. These devices were invented in 1997 and continue to thrive...

s, video game systems and computers
Personal computer
A personal computer is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end-user with no intervening computer operator...

. Coltan mining has been cited as helping to finance serious conflict, for example in the Congo
Ituri Conflict
The Ituri conflict is a conflict between the agriculturalist Lendu and pastoralist Hema ethnic groups in the Ituri region of the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo . While there have been many phases to the conflict, the most recent armed clashes ran from 1999 to 2003, with a low-level...

.

Production and supply


Approximately 71% of global tantalum supply in 2008 was met by newly mined product, 20% from recycling, and the remainder from tin slag and inventory.

Tantalum minerals are mined in Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

, Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, Democratic Republic of Congo, China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

, and Mozambique
Mozambique
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

. Tantalum is also produced in Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

 and Malaysia as a by-product of tin
Tin
Tin is a chemical element with the symbol Sn and atomic number 50. It is a main group metal in group 14 of the periodic table. Tin shows chemical similarity to both neighboring group 14 elements, germanium and lead and has two possible oxidation states, +2 and the slightly more stable +4...

 mining and smelting.

Potential future mines, in descending order of magnitude, are being explored in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

, Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

, China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, Mozambique
Mozambique
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

, Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

, Afghanistan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

,
and Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

.
A significant reserve of coltan was discovered in 2009 in western Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

. In 2009 the Colombian government announced coltan reserves had been found in Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

's eastern provinces.
generated with :de:Wikipedia:Helferlein/VBA-Macro for EXCEL tableconversion V1.7<\hiddentext>>
  metric tons of tantalum mined
  1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Australia 165 218 224 170 238 274 276 302 330 350 485 660 940 765 807 854 478 441 557 81
Brazil 90 84 60 50 50 50 55 55 310 165 190 210 200 200 213 216 176 180 180 180
Canada 86 93 48 25 36 33 55 49 57 54 57 77 58 55 57 63 56 45 40 25
D.R. Congo 10 16 8 6 1 1 -- -- NA NA 130 60 30 15 20 33 14 71 100 87
Africa, excl.
DR Congo
45 66 59 59 8 3 3 3 82 76 208 173 242 245 333 214 146 135 313 297
WORLD 396 477 399 310 333 361 389 409 779 645 1070 1180 1470 1280 1430 1380 870 872 1190 670
1990-1993: U.S. Geological Survey, "1994 Minerals Yearbook" (MYB), "COLUMBIUM (NIOBIUM) AND TANTALUM" By Larry D. Cunningham,
Table 10; 1994-1997: MYB 1998, Table 10; 1998-2001: MYB 2002, p. 21.13; 2002-2003: MYB 2004, p. 20.13; 2004: MYB 2008, p. 52.12;
2005-2009: MYB 2009, p. 52.13. USGS did not report data for other countries (China, Kazakhstan, Russia, etc.) owing to data uncertainties.
NA Not available. -- Zero.

generated with :de:Wikipedia:Helferlein/VBA-Macro for EXCEL tableconversion V1.7<\hiddentext>>
  % of global mined tantalum production
  1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Australia 41.7% 45.7% 56.1% 54.8% 71.5% 75.9% 71.0% 73.8% 42.4% 54.3% 45.3% 55.9% 63.9% 59.8% 56.4% 61.9% 54.9% 50.6% 46.8% 12.1%
Brazil 22.7% 17.6% 15.0% 16.1% 15.0% 13.9% 14.1% 13.4% 39.8% 25.6% 17.8% 17.8% 13.6% 15.6% 14.9% 15.7% 20.2% 20.6% 15.1% 26.9%
Canada 21.7% 19.5% 12.0% 8.1% 10.8% 9.1% 14.1% 12.0% 7.3% 8.4% 5.3% 6.5% 3.9% 4.3% 4.0% 4.6% 6.4% 5.2% 3.4% 3.7%
D.R. Congo 2.5% 3.4% 2.0% 1.9% 0.3% 0.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 12.1% 5.1% 2.0% 1.2% 1.4% 2.4% 1.6% 8.1% 8.4% 13.0%
Africa. excl.
DR Congo
11.4% 13.8% 14.8% 19.0% 2.4% 0.8% 0.8% 0.7% 10.5% 11.8% 19.4% 14.7% 16.5% 19.1% 23.3% 15.5% 16.8% 15.5% 26.3% 44.3%
WORLD 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

Use and demand


Coltan is used primarily for the production of tantalum capacitor
Tantalum capacitor
The tantalum capacitor is a highly reliable type of electrolytic capacitor, available in both solid-bodied and separately encased forms. The encased "wet" variant is not used often in modern designs...

s, used in many electronic devices. Many sources mention coltan's importance in the production of cell phones, but this is an over-simplification, as tantalum capacitors are used in almost every kind of electronic device.

It is also used in high temperature alloys for air and land based turbines.
The upsurge in electronic products over the past decade resulted in a peak in late 2000, lasting a few months. In 2005 the price was still down at early 2000 levels.

The United States Geological Survey estimates that tantalum production capacity could meet global demand, which is growing at four percent annually, at least until the year 2013.

Ethics of Coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo


Conflicts, including the Rwanda
Rwanda
Rwanda or , officially the Republic of Rwanda , is a country in central and eastern Africa with a population of approximately 11.4 million . Rwanda is located a few degrees south of the Equator, and is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo...

n occupation in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) made it difficult for the DRC to exploit its coltan reserves. Mining of the mineral is mainly artisanal and small-scale. A 2003 UN Security Council report charged that a great deal of the ore is mined illegally and smuggled
Smuggling
Smuggling is the clandestine transportation of goods or persons, such as out of a building, into a prison, or across an international border, in violation of applicable laws or other regulations.There are various motivations to smuggle...

 over the country's eastern borders by militias from neighbouring Uganda
Uganda
Uganda , officially the Republic of Uganda, is a landlocked country in East Africa. Uganda is also known as the "Pearl of Africa". It is bordered on the east by Kenya, on the north by South Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by...

, Burundi
Burundi
Burundi , officially the Republic of Burundi , is a landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Its capital is Bujumbura...

 and Rwanda.

Coltan smuggling likely provides income for the military occupation of Congo, as well as prolonged civil conflict, according to an activist website, Toward Freedom.

To many, this raises ethical questions akin to those of conflict diamond
Conflict diamond
In relation to diamond trading, conflict diamond refers to a diamond mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, invading army's war efforts, or a warlord's activity, usually in Africa where around two-thirds of the world's diamonds are extracted.-Angola:Angola, a colony...

s. Owing to the difficulty of distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate mining operations, several electronics
Electronics
Electronics is the branch of science, engineering and technology that deals with electrical circuits involving active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies...

 manufacturers have decided to forgo central African coltan altogether, relying on other sources.

Toward Freedom claims that the 2000 launch of the Sony
Sony
, commonly referred to as Sony, is a Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation headquartered in Minato, Tokyo, Japan and the world's fifth largest media conglomerate measured by revenues....

 PlayStation 2
PlayStation 2
The PlayStation 2 is a sixth-generation video game console manufactured by Sony as part of the PlayStation series. Its development was announced in March 1999 and it was first released on March 4, 2000, in Japan...

 increased demand for tantalum
Tantalum
Tantalum is a chemical element with the symbol Ta and atomic number 73. Previously known as tantalium, the name comes from Tantalus, a character in Greek mythology. Tantalum is a rare, hard, blue-gray, lustrous transition metal that is highly corrosion resistant. It is part of the refractory...

 electrolytic capacitors
Capacitor
A capacitor is a passive two-terminal electrical component used to store energy in an electric field. The forms of practical capacitors vary widely, but all contain at least two electrical conductors separated by a dielectric ; for example, one common construction consists of metal foils separated...

, causing the world price of coltan to increase sharply, in turn resulting in accelerated mining of the Congolese hills containing coltan. Sony claims it has discontinued its use of tantalum acquired from the Congo, sourcing it from other countries. However, Towards Freedom claims that some of it must have come from the Congo.

All three countries named by the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 as smugglers of coltan have denied being involved. Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

n journalist Klaus Werner has documented links between multi-national companies like Bayer
Bayer
Bayer AG is a chemical and pharmaceutical company founded in Barmen , Germany in 1863. It is headquartered in Leverkusen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany and well known for its original brand of aspirin.-History:...

 and the illegal coltan traffic. A United Nations committee investigating the plunder of gems and minerals in the Congo listed in its final report approximately 125 companies and individuals involved in business activities breaching international norms. Companies accused of irresponsible corporate behavior are for example the Cabot Corporation
Cabot Corporation
Cabot Corporation is a specialty chemicals and performance materials company. It operates in four segments: the Carbon Black Business, the Metal Oxides Business, the Supermetals Business, and the Specialty Fluids Business. Cabot's headquarters is located in Boston, Massachusetts...

, Eagle Wings Resources International Forrest Group and OM Group
OM Group
OM Group Incorporated is a metal-based chemistry firm based in Cleveland, Ohio, United States. It was ranked #992 on the 2009 Fortune 1000. It is a provider of speciality chemicals, advanced materials and technologies.- Overview :...

.

Much coltan from the DRC is being exported to China for processing into electronic-grade tantalum powder and wires.

Estimates of the Congo's fraction of the world's coltan reserves range from 64% to 80%. Tantalum, the primary mineral extracted from Coltan is also mined from other sources, and Congolese coltan represented around 10% of world production in recent years.

Environmental concerns


Because of uncontrolled mining, the land is being eroded and is polluting lakes and rivers
Pollution
Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light...

, affecting the ecology of the region.

The Eastern Mountain Gorilla
Mountain Gorilla
The Mountain Gorilla is one of the two subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla. There are two populations. One is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three National Parks: Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga in the eastern Democratic...

's population has diminished as well. Miners are far from food sources and have been hunting gorillas. The gorilla population has been seriously reduced and is now critically endangered. In Central and West Africa an estimated 3–5 million tons of so-called "bush meat" is obtained by killing animals (including gorillas) each year.

Price increases and changing demands


There has been a significant drop in the production and sale of coltan and niobium
Niobium
Niobium or columbium , is a chemical element with the symbol Nb and atomic number 41. It's a soft, grey, ductile transition metal, which is often found in the pyrochlore mineral, the main commercial source for niobium, and columbite...

 from African mines since the dramatic price spike in 2000, based on dot com
Dot-com bubble
The dot-com bubble was a speculative bubble covering roughly 1995–2000 during which stock markets in industrialized nations saw their equity value rise rapidly from growth in the more...

 speculation and multiple ordering. This is confirmed in part by figures from the United States Geological Survey
United States Geological Survey
The United States Geological Survey is a scientific agency of the United States government. The scientists of the USGS study the landscape of the United States, its natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten it. The organization has four major science disciplines, concerning biology,...

.

The Tantalum-Niobium International Study Centre in Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, a country with traditionally close links to the Congo, has encouraged international buyers to avoid Congolese coltan on ethical grounds:

The central African countries of Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and their neighbours used to be the source of significant tonnages. But civil war, plundering of national parks and exporting of minerals, diamonds and other natural resources to provide funding of militias has caused the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center to call on its members to take care in obtaining their raw materials from lawful sources. Harm, or the threat of harm, to local people, wildlife or the environment is unacceptable.


For economic rather than ethical reasons, a shift is also being seen from traditional sources such as Australia, towards new suppliers such as Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. This may have been brought about by the bankruptcy of the world's biggest supplier, Australia's Sons of Gwalia
Sons of Gwalia
Sons of Gwalia was a Western Australian mining company which mined gold, tantalum, spodumene, lithium and tin.Sons of Gwalia was Australia's third-largest gold producer and also controlled more than half the world's production of tantalum, before entering administration in August 2004 following a...

, although the company continues to produce and export ore.

External links