EconomyExplainersFeaturedMedia Literacy

A scientific look into DR Congo’s electrically charged mineral, Coltan

You may have seen trending videos online suggesting the discovery of some stones in the Democratic Republic of Congo that could generate electricity.

In some of these videos, a bulb was lit up after two wires were connected to each side of the rock. Repositioning the two wiring connections on the other sides of the rock produces a brighter light with the same bulb.

Another video shared by another online user shows the hands of a person colliding with two blocks of rock. Each collision produces heavy flakes of light on its surfaces.

Several other accounts that have shared this phenomenon can be found here, here, and here.

On social media, some claimed that this mineral resource was vibranium, which is a rare fictional material that can store and release energy in Marvel films such as “Black Panther.”  

It is emerging that the mineral in the viral video is Coltan, according to a Professor of Geology at the University of Ghana, Johnson Manu, and the Central African country is widely regarded as one of the World’s leading producers of it. About 80% of the world’s supply of Coltan is actually found in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The term Coltan means Columbite-tantalite. It is a dull metallic ore and belongs to a group of geochemical products internationally known as tantalum.

When refined, coltan becomes a heat-resistant powder, metallic tantalum, which has unique properties for storing electrical charge.

Coltan occurs in granitic pegmatites, pockets where the deep-seated molten rock crystallised. Pegmatites contain many rare metals and enormous crystals of some common minerals.

Coltan is used in many electronics worldwide due to its unique electrical properties.

The two-main products include cell phones and laptops, though it is also found in other electronics.

The production of Coltan is critical in 5G technologies, smartphones, electric vehicles, and renewable energies.

Speaking on the phenomenon, Prof Johnson Manu, who is at the Department of Earth Science of the University of Ghana, explained that the rock hosts minerals which facilitate the circulation of electrons within its structure

“I am sure it will be Columbite-tantalite. Columbite-tantalite is actually a mineral that turns to lithium inside it. Because of the way you can use lithium to charge batteries. We likely have a situation where we have one end of the mineral where lithium is so rich that electricity can flow,” he told DUBAWA Ghana.

“I strongly suspect that this mineral is likely lithium-rich. Other than that, I don’t know of any mineral that currently behaves that way. I think it is likely Lithium spodumene put together such that one portion is so much enriched that the current can easily flow through the lithium from one end to the other,” Prof Manu added.

He educated that the concentration and grade of lithium in the mineral play a significant role in getting higher electrical conductivity.

“The largest type of LCT pegmatite in the whole world is in DR Congo. Over 400 million tonnes, and the concentrate is about 1.6% lithium oxide. There is another place in Australia (Green Bushes) with lithium spodumene, but the concentrate is not even up to that of DR Congo. In Ghana, what we found in Ewoyaa is 1.3% Lithium Oxide. This tells you that the one in DR Congo is very strong. So that’s what is giving such a feature. The higher the concentration is, the more electrons freely flow through the rock to produce energy,” Prof Manu shared.

In 2021, DR Congo’s coltan production was estimated at 700 tonnes, making it the world’s largest coltan producer.

Show More

Related Articles

Make a comment

Back to top button