About The Coltan

  1. What is coltan? Its where tantalum and niobium come from

The mineral coltan is one of the resources that is playing an important role in the technological revolution. Coltan itself is a vessel for technology minerals tantalum and niobium.

Coltan, or columbite tantalite, is an ore from which niobium and tantalum are extracted. As a report from the US Geological Survey notes, the minerals are often found together, but have very different properties and applications; nearly 80 percent of the world’s niobium is used in high-strength, low-alloy steels, while tantalum is key for the world’s electronics industry.

The US Geological Survey lists Brazil, Canada and Australia as the leading producers of tantalum and niobium mineral concentrates. However, when it comes to the mining sector, the DRC is the leader in tantalum production.

The second largest miner is Rwanda, located next to the DRC in Central Africa. Rwanda was also involved in a bloody civil war, which resulted in violence and instability. There has been widespread speculation that much of Rwanda’s mineral production comes from smuggling in resources from other countries.

The aftermath of war has left both nations vulnerable to militia and other groups that often fight over control of the valuable mineral resource and mining sector. In the two nations, coltan is often mined through artisanal operations.

  1. What is coltan? It provides the tantalum used in smartphones

Roughly two-thirds of tantalum is used to manufacture electronic capacitors, a fundamental component of smartphones and other in-demand electronics. Tantalum has contributed hugely to the miniaturization of handheld electronic devices as it allows an electrical charge to be stored in small capacitors. For this reason alone, it’s easy to see the value coltan plays in modern life.

Tantalum is also extremely ductile and can be drawn into a thin wire. Because it causes no immune response in the human body, it is also used to make surgical appliances, as a replacement for bone, as a connector of torn nerves and as a binding agent for muscles.

  1. What is coltan? It is often mined by hand

Coltan may be an important mineral when it comes to construction of electronics, but as mentioned above, the methods used to mine it are not cutting edge at all.

As a report from the Daily Mail explains, coltan is often mined by artisanal miners using their hands in the DRC, with rock and sand being panned and filtered until the mineral sinks to the bottom. This process was common during the gold rush in the mid-1800s.

While some coltan mines, like the Luwow mine in the Eastern DRC, have been deemed conflict free, conditions are still very harsh. The Daily Mail notes that 12 hour days are often required, and that “mine safety procedures are non-existent.”

  1. What is coltan? Its a conflict mineral

Many investors are no doubt aware of tantalum’s conflict mineral status, so it should come as no surprise that coltan falls under the same banner. There have been reports that neighboring countries in Central Africa, including Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, have smuggled coltan from the DRC to fund war and conflicts in the region, although all countries deny that is the case.

A 2001 Amnesty International report says, “By one estimate, the Rwandan army made at least US$250 million over a period of 18 months through the sale of coltan, even though no coltan is mined in Rwanda.”

And demand for the technological material has only grown in the almost two decades since.

So where does all of this coltan end up? Its path is hard to trace, but regulatory authorities are doing their best to ensure that electronics corporations are not funding conflict in the DRC by buying coltan and thus contributing to human rights violations.

About The Coltan
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