Antimony is an important mineral commodity used widely in modern industrialized societies and considered by many nations to be a Critical Resource Mineral because of its applications in aerospace and defense.
There are two primary antimony supply issues with which sovereign nations must be concerned. First, antimony resources are unevenly distributed around the world – China has the bulk of the world’s identified resources and is also the world’s largest antimony producer. Next, ore-grade concentrations of antimony are not common and economically mineable deposits of stibnite are generally small and discontinuous, making exploration for antimony deposits challenging.
To offset the risk of depending largely on foreign sources for its antimony, the U.S. has stockpiled antimony for national defense needs for decades. Considering that all antimony used by the United States is imported, it cannot be disputed that trade wars and geopolitical tensions could limit the ability of the U.S. to secure necessary antimony resources in the future.
Beyond the basics above, what else should we know about antimony? Check out the 20 interesting facts below!
- Antimony has been an important mineral throughout much of human history. Archaeological and historical studies indicate that antimony and its mineral sulfides have been used by humans for at least 6 millennia.
- The ancient Egyptians and early Hindus used powdered stibnite (Sb2S3), the major ore mineral for antimony, as a principal ingredient in the production of kohl, a thick black paste used as black eye makeup.
- The Chaldeans obtained antimony from its ores for casting into ornamented vessels by 4,000 BCE.
- Antimony was used as a plating on copper articles in Egypt by the middle of the third millennium BCE.
- 79 A.D.: Pliny the Elder named the metal stibium.
- The eighth century Arabian alchemist Geber (Jabir) referred to the metal as “antimonium,” from the Greek anti (against) and monos (alone), in allusion to its habit of existing in nature usually in compound form.
- The alchemist Basil Valentine is sometimes credited with “discovering” the element antimony. He described the extraction of metallic antimony from its sulfide ore in his treatise “The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony,” published sometime between A.D. 1350 and 1600.
- When Gutenberg and others began using cast metal printing type in the mid-15th century, antimony was incorporated.
- By the middle of the 16th century, antimony was used as the reflecting surface in mirrors and was added to bell metal to impart a more pleasing tone to the cast bells. Additionally, its compounds were used in medication for ulcers and as yellow pigments for ceramics and glass.
- In the 19th century, a military use for antimony appeared when a brittle lead alloy hardened with 10 to 13 percent antimony was used for the spherical bullets contained in a new anti-personnel artillery shell invented by British General Henry Shrapnel. “Shrapnel” was used extensively in trench warfare in World War I, leading to massive antimony demand and production.
- After World War I, the burgeoning automobile industry, especially in the United States, created a strong and growing demand for storage batteries that required antimonial lead alloys.
- A post-World War II evaluation of domestic mined resources concluded that “the United States has no deposits, from which the ore is mined principally for antimony, that are large enough or rich enough to compete with foreign sources in normal times” (Shaum and others, 1948, p. 53).
- In the 1980s and early 1990s, China increased antimony production very rapidly. By 1999, China accounted for more than 80 percent of the world’s mine production of antimony.
- U.S. antimony import sources from 2014 to 2017 were: Metal: China, 58%; India, 17%; Vietnam, 6%; United Kingdom, 5%; and other, 14%. Ore and concentrate: Italy, 73%; China, 15%; India, 6%; Mexico, 3% and other, 3%. Oxide: China, 61%; Thailand, 11%; Belgium, 10%; Bolivia, 8%; and other, 10%.
- In 2018, no marketable antimony was mined in the United States. China continued to be the leading global antimony producer in 2018 and accounted for more than 70% of global mine production.
- In May 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior, in coordination with other executive branch agencies, published a list of 35 critical minerals (83 FR 23295), including antimony. This list was developed to serve as an initial focus, pursuant to Executive Order 13817, ‘‘A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals” (82 FR 60835).
- Estimates of the abundance of antimony in the Earth’s crust range from 0.2 to 0.5 parts per million.
- Unlike typical metals, antimony is not malleable, but hard and brittle and can be crushed to a powder. Compared with metals, antimony is a poor conductor of electricity and heat.
- Antimony crystallizes in the rhombohedral class of the hexagonal system.
- The estimated distribution of U.S. primary antimony consumption is as follows: nonmetal products, including ceramics (especially pigments) and glass (such as television picture tubes and computer monitors) and rubber products, 33%; flame retardants (such as children’s clothing, toys, aircraft, mattresses, and automobile seat covers), 36%; and metal products (such as antimonial lead for batteries and ammunition), 31%. Antimony also finds important use in solders, pigments, cable covering, friction bearings, heat stabilizers, and in stabilizers and catalysts for plastics.
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