Fluorite, also called fluorspar, is an industrial mineral made up of calcium fluoride and belongs to the halide group of minerals. This mineral comes in any color including colorless (pure fluorite) and some may come in a combination of two or more colors. These different colors are as a result of impurities such as hydrocarbons. The word “fluorescence" comes from this mineral because of its ability to illuminate. Under short-wave and long-wave ultraviolet light, fluorite glows in a blue-violet color. This article provides an overview of the top three fluorite producing countries, however, there are other countries like Russia, Spain, Namibia, Mongolia, and Kenya that are also major producers of the mineral.
Largest Producers of Fluorite
In 2006, China produced 3,306,933.93 tons of Fluorite, the highest in the world, and has maintained this position to date and as of 2013, the country accounted for 64% of the total global fluorite. With approximately 10% of the global fluorite reserves, China’s over exploration of the mineral has led to a consistent decrease in the mineral reserves. This situation has made Chinese authorities introduce policies that will see future production reduced significantly which may, in turn, lead to the country importing fluorspar in the future to meet its domestic needs. This step has threatened the future of the big but not strong fluorite manufacturing companies like Centralfluor Industries Group, Inc., however, China will remain a significant producer of Fluorite in the world even with a reduced production.
Globally, Mexico is second in the production of Fluorite with a confirmed 1,032,240.69 tons produced in 2006 and this number has gone up as the country continues to modernize its mining industry. For a long time, Mexico has been producing an average of 18% of the total global production of the mineral, a figure that has been increasing annually. The Las Cuevas mines near San Luis Potosí produces the richest and rarest fluorite, grade 73% -95%, in the world. This mine has been increasing in size and production capacity due to the constant application of modern technologies which means that Mexico will continue being a major fluorite producer for a long time. Currently, this mine produces approximately 4,960.40 tons a day and has 84 workers working in three shifts of 27 workers a shift.
South Africa is the leading African country in fluorite production and third leading in the world with 264,554.72 tons produced in 2006. The three leading fluorite mining companies in this country have American, Spanish and South African origins. South Africa accounts for approximately 5% of the total fluorite production in the world. The initially promising South African fluorite industry is struggling due to commodity price control, high operation costs, low productivity and inadequate infrastructure. New laws requiring greater local ownership of mines have also discouraged potential foreign investment necessary for expansion and modernization. Fluorspar mining in this country also suffers a spill-over effect from protests by mine workers due to a poor labor-management relationship that has made the government further regulate the entire mining sector.
Uses of Fluorite
Fluorite is one of the minerals with the most number of uses including in ceramics, chemical industries, metallurgy, optics, and lapidary among many other areas. Fluorspar, processed fluorite, comes in several distinct grades namely acid, ceramic, metallurgical among others. Acid grade fluorspar is important in the manufacture of hydrofluoric acid, cryolite, and hydrogen fluoride. Ceramic grade fluorspar is fundamental in the manufacture of glass, enamelware, and ceramics including in decorations. Metallurgical grade fluorspar is used in iron and steel production as a flux and in removing impurities. Optical grade fluorspar is an ingredient in making lenses due to their optical clarity that enables them to produce sharp images. Lapidary grade fluorspar is very useful in making ornamental objects such as vases.