Coltan – The Most Important Mineral You’ve Never Heard Of

By September 2, 2019Computer Recycling

Ok, so it might not be the most important mineral that you’ve never heard of, but coltan is actually a really important (and diminishing) natural resource. So what is coltan, why is it so important, and why on earth are we telling you about this on a computer recycling blog?

Coltan is a metallic ore composed of niobium and tantalum. Once extracted coltan is refined into metallic tantalum, a little known but vital element which has unique capacitor properties. It is these capacitor properties that are vital for the functioning of computers, smart phones and basically anything that has a micro-electrical circuit.

However there are a number of issues with coltan which means that recycling the existing tantalum that is found in unwanted or outdated IT and electronic devices is incredibly important.

  1. Coltan is a finite natural resource, meaning that there is only a certain amount of it available on earth, and when it’s gone it’s gone. Although there is the possibility of finding new ways of manufacturing electronics without tantalum, this is currently a long way off and there is a real possibility of us running out of coltan before then.
  2. Coltan is found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia and a few other very limited areas of the world, with the highest concentrations being in DRC. However the exploitation of coltan in the DRC has caused an environmental crisis. Mining severely affects the natural environment resulting in the destruction of the habitat of many endangered species including Grauer’s gorilla, the eastern chimpanzee, and the forest elephant.
  3. One of the methods of coltan extraction is vis pit-mining, a practice which involves digging large and deep wells in which the earth is removed and sluiced to extract the ore. In areas such as DRC this practice is often badly managed and unregulated by health and safety legislation, resulting in extremely hazardous working conditions.
  4. Once the coltan ore is extracted, there is then a complex and time consuming process required to extract the tantalum. However there are now becoming less and less areas where the coltan ore contains high enough percentages of tantalum to make this process financially viable.

However, if all of the tantalum that is currently being held in unwanted and disused electronics were to be recycled the need for newly mined coltan would be significantly decreased. So if you have any old or outdated IT, telecoms or other electronic equipment it is incredibly important that you ensure that it is either recycled or reused.

Buy IT Back is a specialist computer recycling company that offers a ‘buy back’ scheme for all of your unwanted electronics. This means that they will pay you to take away all of your old equipment which will then be refurbished if at all possible and sold on, or will be expertly stripped down into its component parts which will then be independently recycled and reused. To find out more contact Buy IT back today.

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