Carved in Stone

Brooke Wisdom

March 3, 2011

N is for Non-metallic

Annual non-metallic minerals are typically twice the value of metallic minerals, which takes a little of the sparkle out of gold.

By Bill Langer

Non-metallic noun – ‘The name Non-Metallic, as used, it may be well to state, relates to the uses to which the various substances are put rather than to their true nature.’ George Merrill, 1910, The Non-Metallic Minerals – Their occurrence and uses, pg. iii.

For the purpose of classification, the mineral kingdom may be divided into three groups; fuels, metallics, and non-metallics. The fuels generally are of organic origin and used to produce energy through combustion. The metallic ores are the source of common and rare metals, and commonly have a high unit value. The non-metallics, also known as industrial minerals, commonly are high-bulk, low-unit value commodities. Their physical and chemical properties are of primary importance in determining their application.

During any given year, the value of non-metallics produced in the United States commonly is twice the value of metallics. The value of aggregate alone likely makes up half of the non-metallic production. The remaining non-metallics are divided among a couple dozen other rocks and minerals that are an absolute necessity for U.S. industrial enterprises. Here are the relative value (shown by the size of the circles), monetary value, and some of the uses of the top dozen non-metallics. My favorite uses are listed last in bold type.

$17.2 billion — Concrete, asphalt, road base, gunite, blocks, pipes, railroad ballast, roofing granules, ice control, and landscaping (my wife’s favorite).

$2.7 billion — Paint, plastic, paper, catalysts, ceramics, flooring, printing ink, sunscreen, and toothpaste (see Aggregates Manager, February 2007).

$1.7 billion — Chlorine and caustic soda manufacturing, agriculture, food, water treatment, and can prevent bad luck (see Aggregates Manager, August 2007).

$1.4 billion — Brick, tile, paper, lightweight aggregate, absorbent, drilling mud, foundry sand, and removes sheep stink from wool (see Aggregates Manager, June 2010).

$1.4 billion — Fertilizer, animal feed supplement, self-rising flour, and (my grandkids’ favorite) to suspend the cocoa in chocolate milk.

$1.4 billion — Glass, chemicals, soap, paper, water treatment, as a feedstock for sodium bicarbonate, and to improve browning of German pretzels.

$827 million — Glass, proppant (frac sand), foundry sand, traction sand, fillers, golf course sand, ceramics, textured paint, and sand paper.

$686 million — Fertilizer, livestock feed supplements, glass, ceramics, and an element that helps you yawn (see Aggregates Manager, October 2010).

$377 million — Tile, veneer, headstones, monuments, ashlar, flagstone, and as kitchen countertops — a substitute for diamonds (see Aggregates Manager, April 2010).

$179 million — Cement additive, absorbent, filler, insulation, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, insecticides, and to filter beer and wine.

$79 million — Wallboard, plaster, cement, agriculture, and as a coagulant to make tofu from soybean milk. (Making is more fun than eating!)

$49 million — Wallboard joint compound, well drilling additive, paint, roofing, electrical insulators, cosmetics, and lamp shades (see Aggregates Manager, September 2010).

So what is your favorite use of non-metallic minerals?

Bill Langer is a geologist with the Mineral Resources Team of the U.S. Geological Survey and can be reached at 303-236-1249 or via e-mail at

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