Fluorspar is the commercial name for fluorite, which is the only fluorine mineral mined at scale. The largest global production of fluorspar is found in China, followed next by Mexico. The number of fluorspar-exporting countries has decreased substantially over the last fifty years, causing many nations around the world to become net importers of the mineral.
In 2018, minimal fluorspar (calcium fluoride, CaF2) was produced in the United States, causing the U.S. to continue as a primary importer with sources as: Mexico, 69%; Vietnam, 10%; South Africa, 8%; China, 6%; and other, 7%. Much of the fluorspar produced in Mexico contains high levels of arsenic, unfortunately. Add to this the fact that the United States has no government stockpile of fluorspar, and that fluorspar demand is expected to remain strong owing to the mineral’s use in the manufacture of diverse materials and products necessary to the U.S. economy, and one can clearly see why the U.S. considers fluorspar to be a Critical Mineral Resource.
It cannot be disputed that trade wars with China and geopolitical tensions with Mexico could limit the ability of the U.S. to secure necessary fluorspar resources in the future.
Beyond the basics above, what else should we know about fluorspar? Check out the 25 interesting facts below!
- In 1530, German mineralogist Georgius Agricola described the use of the fluorspar in metal refining.
- Several chemists carried out experiments on fluorspar in the early 1800s including Gay Lussac, Louis Jacques Thenard, Humphry Davy, Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Joseph Priestley. Several early attempts to isolate fluorine led to blindings and fatalities. English chemist Humphry Davy wrote: “[fluoric acid] is a very active substance, and must be examined with great caution.
- In 1809, French scientist Andre-Marie Ampere proposed that fluoric acid was a compound of hydrogen with a new element. He exchanged letters with Humphry Davy, and in 1813 Davy announced the discovery of the new element ‘fluorine’, giving it the name suggested to him by Ampere.
- The element name ‘fluorine’ ultimately came from the ‘fluor’ in fluorspar, which came from the Latin word ‘fluere,’ meaning ‘to flow,’ because this is what it allowed metals to do.
- Fluorspar mining began in the United States at various locations between 1820 and 1840. The first commercial production appears to have been in 1837 from a vein in Trumbull, Fairfield County, Connecticut.
- Fluorine was finally isolated in 1886 by French chemist Henri Moissan. Henri Moissan received the 1906 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his achievement.
- U.S. domestic fluorspar production peaked during World War II at 375,000 metric tons in 1944.
- Beginning just after World War II, fluorspar was judged to be of such importance that it was one of the strategic and critical minerals that were stockpiled by the U.S. Government.
- The United States was the world’s leading producer of fluorspar until it was surpassed by Mexico in the mid-1950s.
- U.S. consumption of fluorspar peaked in the early 1970s, which was, not coincidentally, also the peak period of U.S. steel production. In the mid-1970s, the U.S. fluorspar mining industry began to decline because of foreign competition.
- By 1982, there was only a single U.S. fluorspar producer.
- In 1996, primary fluorspar mining in the United States ceased.
- Starting in 2001, substantial decreases in exports of fluorspar from China led to decreases in the world supply.
- In 2009, the U.S. government ceased its program of stockpiling fluorspar.
- 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 fluorspar. 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).
- In July 2018, as part of an ongoing investigation into China’s trade practices under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, the U.S. Trade Representative proposed tariffs on more than 6,000 imports from China including fluorspar (as reported by Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States codes 2529.22.0000 and 2529.21.0000). However, these imports were among 297 tariff lines excluded from the final list released in September 2018 (Office of the United States Trade Representative, 2018a, 2018b).
- There are three principal market grades of fluorspar – acid, ceramic, and metallurgical.
- Fluorine is one of the five halogen elements, along with chlorine (the most common), bromine, iodine, and astatine (which is the rarest). Fluorine is the lightest halogen.
- Fluorine is the most chemically reactive element. It reacts, often very vigorously, with all other elements except oxygen, helium, neon and krypton. It reacts violently with water to produce oxygen and the extremely corrosive hydrofluoric acid.
- Fluorine is the most electronegative element.
- Fluorine’s abundance in the Earth’s crust is 585 parts per million by weight. Fluorine’s abundance in our solar system is 500 parts per billion by weight.
- Naturally occurring fluorine consists of its one stable isotope, 19F.
- Fluorine is present in most natural waters. One extreme example of naturally occurring concentrations of fluorine in surface waters is in Africa’s Eastern Rift Valley in Kenya and Tanzania where concentrations reached 437 ppm from the weathering of volcanic rocks.
- Concentrations of fluorine in most soils range between 150 to 400 ppm.
- Fluorine compounds are essential in numerous chemical and manufacturing processes, as well as for various applications in the electronics industry. Uses for fluorine compounds include: water fluoridation, iron and steel casting, flux in steelmaking, welding rod coatings, metal pickling, glass etching, production of high-octane gasoline, concentrating uranium and processing nuclear fuels, and the manufacture of products such as insulating foams, refrigerants, cement, enamels, agrichemicals, dielectrics, mouth washes, toothpastes, pharmaceuticals, wood preservatives, and fluorochemicals (many high-temperature plastics, such as Teflon, are made using fluorine).