You may have heard of zircon as a brilliant gemstone, but what is zircon? It is a zirconium silicate mineral that occurs in minor amounts in various rocks. While zircon mineral of a certain quality is marketed as gemstones, most of it is employed as an ingredient in various heavy industries.
Formation of Zircon
Zircon is a widespread mineral because it spreads throughout the Earth’s surface. The mineral is unnoticeable because of its particle size; however, it massively occurred in metamorphic and igneous rock formations.
Owing to its durability and hardness, zircon does not weather under harsh elements. Hence, it can also be found in most sands and sedimentary deposits. Zircon typically occurs as tiny millimeter-sized grains. Yet, some are also formed in big chunks and can be found in limestones, igneous rocks full of carbonate, and pegmatites.
It might take millions of years for zircon deposits to form. Its particles are released to soils, sedimentary rocks, or sediments when zircon-containing rocks experience cycles of erosion and weathering.
Properties of Zircon
Zircon mainly occurs in reddish brown, white, yellow, orange, purplish red, green, blue, light red, yellowish brown, and colorless. The mineral can sometimes be translucent or transparent. When it is exposed to fluorescent light, zircon may appear yellow.
In the Mohs scale, zircon has a hardness of 7.5 with a relative density of approximately 4.6 to 4.7 g/cm3. Its average size is between 0.1 and 0.3 mm, yet, it can grow bigger in carbonatites and pegmatites.
Localities of Zircon
Zircon mineral is mined in various parts of the world. According to Geology.com, ten countries were significant producers of zircon in 2014. These include Australia, China, South Africa, Indonesia, India, Mozambique, Ukraine, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Brazil. Zircon in these countries is in sub-millimeter-sized grains due to the granitic rocks weathering.
Localities in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Cambodia have produced gemstone-grade zircon for hundreds of years. The most recent deposits include Australia, Madagascar, and Nigeria. These countries’ localities are known to have crystal-sized zircon with high clarity; hence, they mine zircon as gemstones.
Usually, gemstone-grade zircon is mined from the weathered rocks (mostly carbonate) that underwent hydrothermal activity. However, some of the highest-quality zircon crystals are extracted directly from pegmatite cavities.
Industrial Uses of Zircon
Zircon has been used for over two centuries, and its early mining was mainly for jewelry. Thanks to the modern era’s tech advances, the mineral is now having a vast array of uses, such as follows:
Zircon is in high demand in the ceramics industry. Around 54% of the world’s finely ground zircon is used to manufacture ceramic glazes, bodies, frits, and enamels. Meanwhile, approximately 85% of the mineral is used to produce tile ceramics.
Zircon, however, also has significant usage in producing traditional and modern ceramics. In the manufacturing of modern ceramics, zircon is used as an opacifying agent to improve ceramic colors and whiteness.
Zircon is a mineral with a high melting point; therefore, it’s popular in the foundry industry. Because of its characteristics, zircon is ideal for investment casting, sand casting, and die casting operations. It is also used in the production of refractory washes and paints to lessen other foundry sands’ wettability.
Zircon has properties that make it significant for the foundry industries and the refractory sector. Refractories can be referred to as materials specifically designed to preserve dimensional stability, chemical resistance, and strength when exposed to high temperatures. They are mostly made of zircon, binders, clays, magnesia, and alumina.
4. Other Applications
Zircon’s high melting point and hardness make it valuable for the steel industry. The mineral is rich in hafnium and zirconium metals. The latter manufactures pipelines for specialty alloys, heat exchangers, harsh chemicals, and even nuclear reactor cladding. Meanwhile, the former is used in superalloys and nuclear control bars.
From the various uses of the zircon mineral, the role of the mineral in today’s world is becoming more significant. It’s as valuable as kaolin in the global markets. Speaking about kaolin, you can contact PT Yudian Kawan Mineral—a leading kaolin producer and supplier—should you be interested in the kaolin business.