What are Minerals?
Minerals are “homogeneous, naturally occurring substances with a definable internal structure.” Minerals are found in varied forms in nature, ranging from the hardest diamond to the softest talc.
A particular mineral that will be formed from a certain combination of elements depends upon the physical and chemical conditions under which the material forms. This, in turn, results in a wide range of colours, hardness, crystal forms, lustre and density that a particular mineral possesses. Geologists use these properties to classify the minerals.
Mode of Occurence of Minerals
Minerals are usually found in “ores”. The term ore is used to describe an accumulation of any mineral mixed with other elements.
The mineral content of the ore must be in sufficient concentration to make its extraction commercially viable. The type of formation or structure in which they are found determines the relative ease with which mineral ores may be mined.
This also determines the cost of extraction. It is, therefore, important for us to understand the main types of formations in which minerals occur.
Solidification of Magma : In igneous and metamorphic rocks minerals may occur in the cracks, crevices, faults or joints. The smaller occurrences are called veins and the larger are called lodes.
In most cases, they are formed when minerals in liquid/ molten and gaseous forms are forced upward through cavities towards the earth’s surface. They cool and solidify as they rise. Major metallic minerals like tin, copper, zinc and lead etc. are obtained from veins and lodes.
Horizontal Deposition in Sedimentary Rocks - In sedimentary rocks a number of minerals occur in beds or layers. They have been formed as a result of deposition, accumulation and concentration in horizontal strata. Coal and some forms of iron ore have been concentrated as a result of long periods under great heat and pressure. Another group of sedimentary minerals include gypsum, potash salt and sodium salt. These are formed as a result of evaporation especially in arid regions.
Decomposition : Another mode of formation involves the decomposition of surface rocks, and the removal of soluble constituents, leaving a residual mass of weathered material containing ores. Bauxite is formed this way.
Placer Deposits in Plains: Certain minerals may occur as alluvial deposits in sands of valley floors and the base of hills. These deposits are called ‘placer deposits’ and generally contain minerals, which are not corroded by water. Gold, silver, tin and platinum are most important among such minerals.
Metallic Nodules in Oceans : The ocean waters contain vast quantities of minerals, but most of these are too widely diffused to be of economic significance. However, common salt, magnesium and bromine are largely derived from ocean waters. The ocean beds, too, are rich in manganese nodules.
What are Ferrous Minerals?
Ferrous minerals account for about three fourths of the total value of the production of metallic minerals. They provide a strong base for the development of metallurgical industries. India exports substantial quantities of ferrous minerals after meeting her internal demands.
What is Iron Ore? What is valuable?
Iron ore is the basic mineral and the backbone of industrial development. India is endowed with fairly abundant resources of iron ore. India is rich in good quality iron ores.
Major Ores : Magnetite is the finest iron ore with a very high content of iron up to 70 per cent. Hematite ore is the most important industrial iron ore in terms of the quantity used, but has a slightly lower iron content than magnetite. (50-60 per cent).
Uses : It has excellent magnetic qualities, especially valuable in the electrical industry.
Major Iron Ore Belts in India
Orissa-Jharkhand belt : In Orissa high grade hematite ore is found in Badampahar mines in the Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts. In the adjoining Singhbhum district of Jharkhand haematite iron ore is mined in Gua and Noamundi.
Durg-Bastar-Chandrapur belt lies in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Very high grade hematites are found in the famous Bailadila range of hills in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. The range of hills comprises 14 deposits of super high grade hematite iron ore. It has the best physical properties needed for steel making. Iron ore from these mines is exported to Japan and South Korea via Vishakapatnam port.
Bellary-Chitradurga-Chikmagalur-Tumkur belt in Karnataka has large reserves of iron ore. The Kudermukh mines located in the Western Ghats of Karnataka are a 100 percent export unit. Kudremukh deposits are known to be one of the largest in the world. The ore is transported as slurry through a pipeline to a port near Mangalore.
Maharashtra-Goa belt includes the state of Goa and Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Though, the ores are not of very high quality, yet they are efficiently exploited. Iron ore is exported through Mormugao port.
Manganese is mainly used in the manufacturing of steel and ferro-manganese alloy. Orissa is the largest producer of manganese ores in India. It accounted for one-third of the country’s total production in 2000-01.
Uses : It is also used in manufacturing bleaching powder, insecticides and paints. Nearly 10 kg of manganese is required to manufacture one tonne of steel.
India is critically deficient in the reserve and production of copper. Being malleable, ductile and a good conductor, copper is mainly used in electrical cables, electronics and chemical industries.
Major Areas: The Balaghat mines in Madhya Pradesh produce 52 per cent of India’s copper.
The Singhbhum district of Jharkhand is also a leading producer of copper. The Khetri mines in Rajasthan are also famous.
Aluminium is an important metal because it combines the strength of metals such as iron, with extreme lightness and also with good conductivity and great malleability.
Ores: Bauxite - Though, several ores contain aluminium, it is from bauxite, a clay-like substance that aluminium and later aluminium is obtained from. Bauxite deposits are formed by the decomposition of a wide variety of rocks rich in aluminium silicates.
Areas found in : India’s bauxite deposits are mainly found in the Amarkantak plateau, Maikal hills and the plateau region of Bilaspur- Katni.
Odisha is the largest bauxite producing state in India with 45 per cent of the country’s total production in 2000-01. Panchpatmali deposits in Koraput district are the most important bauxite deposits in the state.
Mica is a mineral made up of a series of plates or leaves. It splits easily into thin sheets. These sheets can be so thin that a thousand can be layered into a mica sheet a few centimetres high. Mica can be clear, black, green, red, yellow or brown.
Uses : Due to its excellent di-electric strength, low power loss factor, insulating properties and resistance to high voltage, mica is one of the most indispensable minerals used in electric and electronic industries.
Areas found in : Mica deposits are found in the northern edge of the Chota Nagpur plateau. Koderma Gaya – Hazaribagh belt of Jharkhand is the leading producer.
In Rajasthan, the major mica producing area is around Ajmer. Nellore mica belt of Andhra Pradesh is also an important producer in the country.
Limestone is a rock mineral found in association with rocks composed of calcium carbonates or calcium and magnesium carbonates. It is found in sedimentary rocks of most geological formations.
Uses : Limestone is the basic raw material for the cement industry and essential for smelting iron ore in the blast furnace.
Hazards of Mining
The dust and noxious fumes inhaled by miners make them vulnerable to pulmonary diseases.
The risk of collapsing mine roofs, inundation and fires in coal mines are a constant threat to miners.
The water sources in the region get contaminated due to mining. Dumping of waste and slurry leads to degradation of land, soil, and increase in stream and river pollution.
Why Conserve Minerals?
The total volume of workable mineral deposits is an insignificant fraction i.e. one percent of the earth’s crust. We are rapidly consuming mineral resources that require millions of years to be created and concentrated.
The geological processes of mineral formation are so slow that the rates of replenishment are infinitely small in comparison to the present rates of consumption. Mineral resources are, therefore, finite and non-renewable.
Rich mineral deposits are our country’s extremely valuable but short-lived possessions. Continued extraction of ores leads to increasing costs as mineral extraction comes from greater depths along with decrease in quality.
A conscious effort needs to be made in order to use our mineral resources in a planned and sustainable manner. Improved technologies need to be constantly evolved to allow use of low grade ores at low costs. Recycling of metals, using scrap metals and other substitutes are steps in conserving our mineral resources for the future.
Energy can be generated from fuel minerals like coal, petroleum, natural gas, uranium and from electricity. Energy resources can be classified as conventional and non conventional sources.
Conventional sources : Firewood, cattle dung cake, coal, petroleum, natural gas and electricity (both hydel and thermal).
Non-conventional sources: Solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, biogas and atomic energy. Firewood and cattle dung cake are most common in rural India. According to one estimate more than 70 per cent energy requirement in rural households is met by these two.
The continuation of these is increasingly becoming difficult due to decreasing forest area. Moreover, using dung cake too is being discouraged because it consumes the most valuable manure which could be used in agriculture.
Conventional Sources of Energy
In India, coal is the most abundantly available fossil fuel. It provides a substantial part of the nation’s energy needs. It is used for power generation, to supply energy to industry as well as for domestic needs.
How is coal formed?
Coal is formed due the compression of plant material over millions of years. Coal, therefore, is found in a variety of forms depending on the degrees of compression and the depth and time of burial.
Occurrence : In India coal occurs in rock series of two main geological ages, namely Gondwana, a little over 200 million years in age and in tertiary deposits which are only about 55 million years old.
The major resources of Gondwana coal, which are metallurgical coal, are located in Damodar valley (West Bengal-Jharkhand). Jharia, Raniganj, Bokaro are important coalfields.
The Godavari, Mahanadi, Son and Wardha valleys also contain coal deposits. Tertiary coals occur in the north eastern states of Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
Types of Coal
Peat : Decaying plants in swamps produce peat. Which has a low carbon and high moisture contents and low heating capacity.
Lignite: Lignite is a low grade brown coal, which is soft with high moisture content. The principal lignite reserves are in Neyveli in Tamil Nadu and are used for generation of electricity.
Bituminous Coal: Coal that has been buried deep and subjected to increased temperatures is bituminous coal. It is the most popular coal in commercial use. Metallurgical coal is high grade bituminous coal which has a special value for smelting iron in blast furnaces.
Anthracite: Anthracite is the highest quality hard coal.
Petroleum or mineral oil is the next major energy source in India after coal. It provides fuel for heat and lighting, lubricants for machinery and raw materials for a number of manufacturing industries.
Petroleum refineries act as a “nodal industry” for synthetic textile, fertiliser and numerous chemical industries.
Occurrence : Petroleum is also found in fault traps between porous and non-porous rocks. Gas, being lighter, usually occurs above the oil.
Most of the petroleum occurrences in India are associated with anticlines and fault traps in the rock formations of the tertiary age. In regions of folding, anticlines or domes, it occurs where oil is trapped in the crest of the upfold.
The oil bearing layer is a porous limestone or sandstone through which oil may flow. The oil is prevented from rising or sinking by intervening non-porous layers.
About 63 per cent of India’s petroleum production is from Mumbai High, 18 per cent from Gujarat and 16 per cent from Assam.
Natural gas is an important clean energy resource found in association with or without petroleum. It is used as a source of energy as well as an industrial raw material in the petrochemical industry. Natural gas is considered an environmentally friendly fuel because of low carbon dioxide emissions and is, therefore, the fuel for the present century.
Occurrence : Large reserves of natural gas have been discovered in the Krishna- Godavari basin. Along the west coast the reserves of the Mumbai High and allied fields are supplemented by finds in the Gulf of Cambay. Andaman and Nicobar islands are also important areas having large reserves of natural gas.
Important Natural Gas Pipelines
HBJ Pipeline: The 1700 km long Hazira-Vijaipur -Jagdishpur cross country gas pipeline links Mumbai High and Bassein with the fertiliser, power and industrial complexes in western and northern India. This artery has provided an impetus to India’s gas production.
The power and fertiliser industries are the key users of natural gas. Use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG ) for vehicles to replace liquid fuels is gaining wide popularity in the country.
Non-Conventional Sources of Energy
Rising prices of oil and gas and their potential shortages have raised uncertainties about the security of energy supply in future, which in turn has serious repercussions on the growth of the national economy.
Moreover, increasing use of fossil fuels also causes serious environmental problems.
Hence, there is a pressing need to use renewable energy sources like solar energy, wind, tide, biomass and energy from waste material. These are called non-conventional energy sources.
Some important non-conventional sources of energy are :
Tidal and Wave Energy
Photovoltaic technology converts sunlight directly into electricity. Solar energy is fast becoming popular in rural and remote areas.
The largest solar plant of India is located at Madhapur, near Bhuj, where solar energy is used to sterilise milk cans.
It is expected that use of solar energy will be able to minimise the dependence of rural households on firewood and dung cakes, which in turn will contribute to environmental conservation and adequate supply of manure in agriculture.
India now ranks as a “wind super power” in the world. The largest wind farm cluster is located in Tamil Nadu from Nagercoil to Madurai.
Apart from these, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra and Lakshadweep have important wind farms. Nagarcoil and Jaisalmer are well known for effective use of wind energy in the country.
Shrubs, farm waste, animal and human waste are used to produce biogas for domestic consumption in rural areas. Decomposition of organic matter yields gas, which has higher thermal efficiency in comparison to kerosene, dung cake and charcoal. Biogas plants are set up at municipal, cooperative and individual levels.
The plants using cattle dung are known as ‘Gobar gas plants’ in rural India. These provide twin benefits to the farmer in the form of energy and improved quality of manure.
Biogas is by far the most efficient use of cattle dung. It improves the quality of manure and also prevents the loss of trees and manure due to burning of fuel wood and cow dung cakes.
Oceanic tides can be used to generate electricity. Floodgate dams are built across inlets. During high tide water flows into the inlet and gets trapped when the gate is closed. After the tide falls outside the flood gate, the water retained by the floodgate flows back to the sea via a pipe that carries it through a power-generating turbine.
In India, the Gulf of Kachchh, provides ideal conditions for utilising tidal energy. A 900 MW tidal energy power plant is set up here by the National Hydropower Corporation.
Geothermal energy refers to the heat and electricity produced by using the heat from the interior of the Earth. Geothermal energy exists because the Earth grows progressively hotter with increasing depth. Where the geothermal gradient is high, high temperatures are found at shallow depths.
Groundwater in such areas absorbs heat from the rocks and becomes hot. It is so hot that when it rises to the earth’s surface, it turns into steam.
This steam is used to drive turbines and generate electricity. There are several hundred hot springs in India, which could be used to generate electricity.
Two experimental projects have been set up in India to harness geothermal energy. One is located in the Parvati valley near Manikaran in Himachal Pradesh and the other is located in the Puga Valley, Ladakh.
Conservation of Energy Resources
As discussed earlier, energy consumption is increasing and energy reserves are getting depleted. In this background, there is an urgent need to develop a sustainable path of energy development. Promotion of energy conservation and increased use of renewable energy sources are the twin planks of sustainable energy.
India is presently one of the least energy efficient countries in the world. We have to adopt a cautious approach for the judicious use of our limited energy resources. For example, as concerned citizens we can do our bit by using public transport systems instead of individual vehicles; switching off electricity when not in use, using power-saving devices and using non-conventional sources of energy.