Minerals at Home


Minerals at Home

20th Sep 2023
Meet Arlia – a budding tech enthusiast, who’s vying for first place in a science competition with her new invention; VR goggles that find minerals in everyday products. To solve an overheating issue, Arlia needs to find gold or silver somewhere around her house and in the process is also fascinated to discover how minerals make our lives safer, easier, and fun!

Take a second to reflect on all the electronic devices in your house that are powered by tiny electrons travelling through the walls of your house to energise all your electrical needs. All electronic devices depend on the fact that metals conduct electricity easily and have minimal resistance to the electron flow. 

Let’s find out more about the metals that make our electronic world more exciting.

Copper (Cu): The Dependable Conductor

Copper is the ultimate balance of price and conductivity and is one of the most abundant metals used in electronic devices. Copper has great electrical conductivity and is responsible for connecting not only all the power points in your house but also makes up a lot of the wiring in your favourite electronic devices.

Gold (Au): The Trustworthy Connector

Gold is malleable, rare and expensive but is also highly conductive, meaning electricity can easily flow through it with minimal resistance. It offers a superior level of electrical conductivity. Unlike silver and copper, this precious metal is resistant to tarnishing. Gold doesn’t mix well with oxygen. Even when left outdoors for long periods of time, it will absorb little or no oxygen. This is important because oxygen is responsible for tarnishing (as well as rusting). When oxygen mixes with a metal, it causes the metal to oxidize, which then leads to tarnishing or other forms of corrosion.

Silver (Ag): The Superior Conductor

Silver is the superior cousin to copper, but as the conductivity of silver increases, so does its cost. Its ability to allow electrical current to flow with minimal resistance makes it very useful to manufacturing high-end electronics. Silver is used in switches, connectors and contacts within devices; you may not be able to see the silver, but it’s there and is helping in the transmission of electrons.

Aluminium (Al): Light and Cooling

Although sometimes aluminium can be used to transport electrical current, it’s most widely used in electronic devices as a heat sink. Aluminium is excellent at dissipating heat that can build up from even the most effective conductors such as copper. As electricity flows through the conductor electrons bump against the atoms causing friction. Aluminium allows this heat to be released without damaging the electronic device.

Lithium (Li): Powering our future

Lithium has emerged as a critical metal for battery technology which will enables the storing of energy produced from renewable resources to use when the sun doesn’t shine, or wind doesn’t blow. The lightweight nature of lithium makes it perfect for lithium-ion batteries to power the electronic devices we all use so much such as smartphones, laptops, tablets to name a few.

These precious metals are all around you in your electronic devices like your mobile phone, smart TV or gaming console. 

Metals are the key to your fun and Australia’s resources industry produces commodities that are critical for the transition to a low carbon future. 



Life Cycle of Metals

22nd Jun 2023

You might not think about it but the list of metals you find on the periodic table are fundamental to our everyday lives. But before the metal on your roof or wiring in your computer was ever usable the raw ore had to be mined and processed. Understanding the life cycle of metals helps us know more about how metals are mined, processed, used, and then potentially recycled.

Stage 1 – Mining and Extraction

There are different types of methods of extracting the various ores from the Earth’s crust. Common mining processes, where mineral ore is removed (extracted) from the ground, includes open-pit, and underground. Australian mining companies are required to operate under and comply with various legislative mechanisms to avoid, mitigate, and offset impacts of these practices.

Stage 2 – Processing and Manufacturing

Once the ore has been extracted, the next stage in the life cycle of metals is processing and manufacturing. This is where the metallic element is separated from its raw ore and transformed into usable metal products through a series of processes.

First, the ore is crushed to increase the surface area of the raw material for the next chemical or physical separation process. Techniques like flotation, leaching and smelting are then used to separate the valuable metal from the surrounding rock and eliminate impurities. Flotation involves valuable metals attaching to air bubbles, forming a froth. Leaching involves combining the raw material with a chemical to dissolve the valuable metal into a solvent, which can then be separated through chemical reaction or electrolysis. Smelting involves heating the resultant material to separate the valuable metal based on differences in chemical and physical properties of the metal. The next stage is refining, where the extracted metal is purified to meet industry standards and specific quality requirements. For example, 24-carat gold, which is rare in nature, is mostly obtained through crushing, flotation, smelting and then refining.

Stage 3 – Product Use and Maintenance

There are many uses for metals in our everyday lives. From construction to electronics, and transportation to energy generation, metals play a critical role in modern society. Appropriate use, maintenance, and recycling are all important when it comes to sustainably extending the life of the metals we use.

Stage 4 – End-of-Life Treatment: Repurpose, Reuse and Recycle

To effectively use our metal resources, industries focus on repurposing and reusing metals where they can. Recycling metals from scrap and discarded products is important as it reduces the demand for primary metal extraction.

To promote sustainable use and reduce environmental impacts, it is important to understand the life cycle of mining, extracting, processing, using and then ultimately recycling metals. Metals are needed for the technology of today and the future, so let’s all be aware of the life cycle of metals and the important role we can all play. Learn more about the life cycle of metals in our Minerals Downunder interactive.