What are the Conflict Minerals?

Currently, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) list of conflict minerals consists of four named minerals. They are tantalum, tin, tungsten (referred to as the three T’s) and — no surprise here — gold, which somehow came into being with the potential for conflict hidden deep in its very molecular structure, it seems.

Here, let’s take a look at the four conflict minerals in more detail.

Tantalum. Columbite-tantalite (often called coltan in Africa) is the metal ore from which the element tantalum is extracted. Tantalum is used in making capacitors, particularly for high performance applications with a compact size and high reliability, ranging from hearing aids and pacemakers to airbags, GPS and ignition systems, vehicle anti-lock brake systems to laptops, mobile phones, video game consoles, video cameras and digital cameras. In its carbide form, tantalum is very hard and resistant to wear and corrosion. This makes it ideal for jet engine turbine blades, drill bits, end mills and similar “heavy duty” tools.

Tin.  Cassiterite is the chief ore needed to produce tin. Tin is ubiquitous in our culture, seems we can never have enough. It’s light and durable. Perfect for cans. Used a lot in solder on electronic circuit boards — in other words it’s used in all electronic equipment. Tin is also commonly used in biocides, fungicides and as tetrabutyl tin/tetraoctyl tin, an intermediate in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and high performance paint manufacturing.

Tungsten.  Wolframite is a key source of tungsten. Tungsten is a very dense metal element. Because it’s dense and heavy it’s used to make things like fishing weights, dart tips and golf club heads. Like tantalum carbide, tungsten carbide possesses hardness and wear resistance properties and is frequently used in applications like metalworking tools, drill bits and milling. Smaller amounts are used to substitute lead in so-called “green ammunition”. Minimal amounts are used in electronic devices, for example, in the vibration mechanism of cell phones.

Gold. Gold is of course used in jewelry, electronics, and dental products. It is also present in some chemical compounds used in certain semiconductor manufacturing processes.

These minerals are sometimes referred to as “the 3T’s and gold”, 3TG, or simply the “3T’s.”

Europe is currently looking at taking conflict mineral action. And, under the US Conflict Minerals Law, additional minerals may be added to the current list in the future.

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About Kal

Kal Kawar, CIH, PE, has a bachelor's in chemical engineering and a master's in industrial hygiene. His professional experience includes serving as staff industrial hygienist for IBM's New York semiconductor manufacturing facility, and as industrial hygienist for IBM’s US headquarters. Now executive vice president of Actio, Kal taps more than 20 years' worth of chemical engineering, industrial hygiene, and environmental engineering experience. His far-reaching expertise with global regulatory challenges created by EPA, TSCA, REACH, RoHS, WEEE – and hundreds of others – aid in developing Actio software solutions for MSDS management, raw material disclosure compliance, and product stewardship in a supply chain.