About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The most valuable mineral commodity

Before you read on, take a guess. What non-fuel mineral commodity adds up to the most valuable mineral industry in the United States? “Non-fuel mineral commodity” means minerals, metals, rocks, natural mineral-rich solutions, stuff taken from the earth other than oil, natural gas, and coal. And not water.

Here’s a hint: it’s not iron ore, not lead, not gold. It’s not silver, aluminum, or copper.

The most valuable mineral commodity was worth more than $13 billion in the U.S. in 2008, but its average price was just $8.98 for a ton. We used almost 1½ billion tons of this common stuff, and had to import a bit (just 2%) of what we used, mostly from Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas.

Every state produces it, from more than 4,000 sites operated by more than 1,600 companies employing more than 80,000 workers. Texas, Pennsylvania, and Missouri are the top three producing states.

This most valuable material declined in use by a third from 2006 to 2009, a statistic that may suggest that its uses relate to factors affected by the recession. Indeed, the greatest use reported for the commodity is in construction, mostly road construction and repair. What is it? Crushed stone.

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