Beryllium is a light metal having a weight comparable to that of magnesium or two-thirds that of aluminum. It is six times stronger than steel, has a high melting point, a very high heat capacity, is non-sparking, is transparent to x-rays and in small amounts prevents metal fatigue failure in alloys with other metals. It is very rare and is seldom found in economic mineral deposits.
Beryllium is best known for its gemstones emerald, aquamarine, and chrysoberyl. The main ore minerals of beryllium are beryl and bertrandite. Beryl is mined by hand cobbing in several countries around the world and is used in part as a supplement to bertrandite mineral processing.
APPLICATIONS OF BERYLLIUM
Beryllium is mostly used in three broad categories: as a metal, in alloys with copper, aluminum, and even gold, and in beryllia ceramics.
- Metal: Because of its lightness and strength, beryllium metal is used in satellites and aerospace structural components. Beryllium is transparent to x-rays and accordingly is used in x-ray tube windows. Its nuclear properties find use in nuclear and fusion power generation in shielding and as a neutron moderator, and in particle accelerators. Its antimagnetic properties see its use in inertial navigation systems and its anti-sparking properties lend to its use in handling of explosives. It is also used in radio speakers, micro-wave ovens, computer chip layout, sub-sea petroleum gathering systems, and in cosmogenic age dating. It has even been used in bicycle frames and golf club shafts.
- Alloys: The largest end-use of beryllium is in alloy form with copper and aluminum where it imparts a fatigue, or failure resistance to spring and stressed functions. Accordingly it is found in aerospace applications, skidoos, motorcycles, ATV and automobile suspension, electronics, circuit boards, electrical and electronic connectors, electromechanical devices, spring functions such as keyboards and computer printers, non-sparking explosive handling tools, undersea oil wellheads and gathering systems, electric motors, generators, alternators, fibre optics and lasers, air-bag connectors and contacts, thermostats and eyeglass frames. In critical functions such as electrical and electronic connectors in satellites where repairs cannot be affected, beryllium is sometimes alloyed with gold.
- Ceramics: Beryllium ceramics (or ´beryllia´) is used for computer chip heat sinks, radio tubes, microwave guides, and electrical insulators.
- Other: The unique properties of beryllium also lend to its use in medical diagnostic equipment and heart implants.
Beryllium Copper Pipe
The Ontario Government has issued advisories that workers engaged in the production, fabrication and finishing of beryllium and beryllium alloys may be exposed to dust and fume. Mining of beryl ore has not been associated with adverse health effects. Beryllium in solid form and in finished products presents no special health risks.
However studies have identified a range of health effects with solubility of the chemical form of beryllium as a key determinant whether the effects are acute (short term) or chronic (long term). Brush Wellman, the leading global supplier of high performance copper, nickel and beryllium alloys and the only fully integrated producer of beryllium and beryllium oxide in the world issued regular communication which summarizes current information regarding beryllium health research, Brush Wellman´s programs for promoting the safe handling of beryllium, the status of occupational standards and testing procedures. Sandia Laboratories´ Beryllium Health and Safety Committee is also committed to preventing beryllium sensitization and chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD) and other adverse health effects that can be cased by workplace exposure to beryllium. Their respective web-links are provided below.
Avalon´s Thor Lake Rare Metals Project, specifically the North T Deposit, hosts the highest-grade beryllium resource known in the world. An NI 43-101 compliant resource estimate prepared by Wardrop Engineering in 2007 confirmed an Indicated resource in one sub-zone of the North T deposit, of 498,409 tonnes grading 0.98% BeO. The primary beryllium ore mineral in the North T Deposit is phenacite, a benign silicate mineral containing up to 44% BeO, or about four times the beryllium content of the more common beryllium ore mineral beryl.
However, Avalon´s current focus at Thor Lake is on the Lake Zone rare earth element ("REE") deposit, a separate and distinct deposit located over 1km to the south of the T Zone. The Lake Zone does not contain any significant beryllium, but is rather uniquely concentrated in the Heavy REE from europium through lutetium plus yttrium, which are in far higher demand at the present time and represent the best near term development opportunity for the project.
Beryllium production in North America is dominated by a single producer; Brush Wellman Engineered Materials, that controls a market which remains too small to readily accommodate new competition on the raw material supply side.
Consequently, Avalon sees no near term economic potential for the North T beryllium deposit and has no immediate plans to initiate its development.
Should there be any change in beryllium markets in the future creating a new business opportunity, Avalon, as a matter of corporate policy, would engage and seek approval from key local stakeholders in a public exchange of information on the merits of the opportunity, before proceeding with any development work.