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Ancient minerals could sustain mobile phone boom

Ancient minerals inside volcanoes in Greenland may hold the key to new sources for a rare element used in mobile ‘phones.

Dr Adrian Finch, a crystallographer from the University of St Andrews, has found evidence of the rare metallic element Tantalum forming on the insides (or ‘plumbing systems’) of 1200 million year old volcanoes in Southern Greenland. His findings could have implications for electrical companies around the World, due to a current shortage in sources of the material, exacerbated by the mobile ‘phone boom.

Dr Finch has recently returned from a field trip to the North Motzfeldt region, where he has been searching for rare elements including Zirconium, Niobium and Tantalum.

Tantalum is commonly used in capacitors, standard components in electrical equipment which store electrical charges. Because of tantalum’s properties, it plays a key role in mobile ‘phones because of the need for mobile batteries to have extra high capacity for maximum charge levels.

The most common source of the material until recently was the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), but the continuing political instability there is causing the world’s electrical companies to look for new sources. Such is the desperation for the material, even very remote areas such as North Motzfeldt may now be viable places from where these rare elements might be mined from.

As a crystallographer, Dr Finch is interested in how and why these mineral deposits form inside volcanoes, but his findings will undoubtedly be of interest to electrical and mobile phone industries across the world.

“Over 1200 million years ago there would have been an active volcano in the North Motzfeldt region. Since then, the top of the volcano has been stripped off by the glaciers leaving the insides or ‘plumbing system’ of the volcano exposed – this is the area we are interested in and the part of the volcano in which mineral deposits are sometimes found,” said Dr Finch.

After extensive analysis by colleagues using sophisticated analytical techniques at St Andrews, and collaboration with Birkbeck College, London and Liverpool Hope University College, Dr Finch hopes to understand more about how and why these rare minerals formed inside the volcanoes during the ‘Precambrian’ age.

A member of the University’s School of Geography & Geosciences and the St Andrews Centre for Advanced Materials, Dr Finch produced the first map of the North Motzfeldt area in detail in 1995 and 1996. North Motzfeldt is a ‘nunatak’, an island of rock sticking up through the inland ice.

Dr Finch has received backing for the two year study from the Carnegie Trust and the Gino Watkins Fund, and his most recent visit was sponsored by Scots Porage Oats!

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS:

DR FINCH IS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW TODAY (MONDAY 10TH DECEMBER) AFTER 11AM. PLEASE CALL HIM DIRECT ON (01334) 462384.

PICTURE CAPTION: View down over Motzfeldt Lake. The field area is incised on every side by deep gorges, three of which are filled with glaciers, and the fourth with the Lake.

MORE STUNNING PICS OF NORTH MOTZFELDT AVAILABLE – CALL GAYLE COOK TO ARRANGE FOR PICS TO BE EMAILED – CONTACT DETAILS BELOW.

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email gec3@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: A Finch Motzfeldt pr 031201 View the latest University news at http://www.st- andrews.ac.uk/extrel/press.htm

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