What Is Boron?

- October 1st, 2013

Boron is a low-abundance, semi-metallic element used in a variety of industries including glass and agriculture.

Boron is a rare, semi-metallic element. It combines with oxygen and other natural elements in nature to form several different compounds called borates. These borates can be found in oceans, coal, shale and sedimentary rocks. In rocks, boron concentrations can vary between 5 milligrams per kilogram in basalts, 100 mg/kg in shales and 4.5 mg/liter in the ocean.

Boron’s name comes from the Arabic word Buraq and the Persian word Burah, which both mean borax — one of the most important borate products on the market, along with borax pentahydrate and boric acid.

Boron has a density of 2.37 grams per cubic centimeter. It has a melting point of 3,787 degrees Fahrenheit and a boiling point of 4,272 degrees Fahrenheit.

The element was first discovered in 1808 by French chemists Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac and Louis-Jaques Thénard and by English chemist Sir Humphrey Davy. They used boric acid and potassium to isolate boron.

Uses of Boron
Pure boron, which is a dark powder, is rarely used, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). Boron compounds, however, are used in a variety of industries including glass and agriculture. Boric acid, for instance, is used to make pyrex glass, which gives it its strength and heat-resistance.

Amorphous boron can be in pyrotechnic flares and used in rockets as an igniter. The flare appears as a distinctive green color. Boron filament demand is increasing as it is used in advanced aerospace structures.

The isotope boron 10 is also used in the nuclear energy industry. The isotope is used to control nuclear reactors, to shield nuclear radiation and in instruments used to detect neutrons.

People also take boron supplements as medicine, WebMD reported. The element can strengthen bones, treating osteoarthritis. It can also help build muscle and increase testosterone levels. Boric acid also works as an astringent or can be applied to prevent infection. Between 1870 and 1920 and during both World Wars, boron was used to preserve food.

The U.S. Geological Survey said boron can be used as a component in cleaning products and insecticides as well in the production of semiconductors.

Where is Boron Found?
Rasorite, the most important source of boron, is found in the California’s Mojave Desert, according to RSC. Turkey also has extensive borax deposits, making the country and the United States the top producers of the element.

In the United States, California is the only state that produces boron. Boron in California is produced from a surface mine and underground mines, according to the USGS. It is also produced in situ and from brine. The US exports about 50 percent of the boron it produces domestically.

The glass and ceramics industry was the top user of domestic boron products in 2012, the USGS said. These industries consumed about 80 percent of the total borates marketplace. The USGS has withheld production data since 2006 to “avoid disclosing company proprietary data.” However, in 2005, the last year production data was available from the USGS, 612,000 metric tons of boron oxide was produced. The U.S. exported 209,000 metric tons of boron oxide that year. In 2011, the U.S. exported 318,000 metric tons of boron oxide, according to USGS data.

The U.S. accounted for 35 percent of world boron production in 2008, according to the National Boron Research Institute. Turkey accounted for 42 percent of production.

In 2010, Turkey produced 1,850,000 metric tons of boron. Other countries that produce the element include Argentina, Chile and Russia. Turkey is the world’s largest borate ore producer, according to the National Boron Research Institute, accounting for 71 percent of boron reserves. About 92 percent of the borate ore produced in Turkey is exported.

Boron Producers

Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO, LSE:RIO, ASX:RIO)
The mineral resources company has boron operations in California. Rio Tinto mines about 3 million tonnes of borate ore annually from the open-pit mine in Boron, Cali. The mine is approximately 1.7 miles wide by 2 miles long and has a depth of 755 feet. The company has found 4 boron-based minerals in the mine including colemanite, kernite, tincal and ulexite.

Bacanora Minerals (TSXV:BCN)
The exploration-stage company is engaged in mineral exploration in Mexico. Its main properties includes the Magdalena Borat project in Sonora, Northern Mexico. The project contains three major borate zones: Cajon, Bellota and Pozo Nuevo. The company’s main interest is producing the boron mineral colemanite, which contains as much as 50.8 percent borate. The Cajon deposit has estimated resources of 11.06 million tonnes averaging 10.6 percent of borate.

Pan Global Resources (TSXV:PGZ)
The Canada-based company explores for mineral properties and has main interests in Serbia and Bosnia. It has an 80 percent working interest in exploration licenses in the vicinity of Rio Tinto’s Jadar Lithium and Borate deposits. The joint venture consists of inferred resources of 114.6 million tonnes of lithium and boron, with 13 percent boron. The deposit was identified in 2004.

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