Coltan (short for columbite–tantalites and known industrially as tantalite) is a dull black metallic ore from which the elements niobium and tantalum are extracted. The niobium-dominant mineral in coltan is columbite and the tantalum-dominant mineral is tantalite. It is a dull metallic mineral which is a combination of columbite and tantalite and which is refined to produce tantalum. It is a valuable black mineral combining niobite and tantalite; used in cell phones and computer chips
Coltan is mined through a fairly primitive process similar to how gold was mined in California during the 1800s. Tantalum from coltan is used to manufacture tantalum capacitors, used in electronic products. Coltan mining has been cited as helping to finance serious conflict, for example, the Ituri conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Use and demand
Coltan is used primarily for the production of tantalum capacitors, used in many electronic devices. Many sources mention coltan’s importance in the production of mobile phones, but tantalum capacitors are used in almost every kind of electronic device.
It is also used in high-temperature alloys for air- and land-based turbines.
Approximately 71% of global tantalum supply in 2008 was newly mined, 20% was from recycling, and the remainder was from tin slag and inventory.
Tantalum minerals are mined in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, China, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. Tantalum is also produced in Thailand and Malaysia as a by-product of tin mining and smelting.