Uses of Antimony
Sb is used in a variety of industrial operations such as production of flame-retardants, plastics, paint pigments, glassware and ceramics, ammunition alloys and battery manufacturing plants. As a result, the global consumption of Sb has increased to more than 1.4x10e5 tons each year (Guo et al., 2014; Henckens et al., 2016). Sb in mainly used as flame-retardants which up to date remain its main market. The demand for use in flame-retardants has increased in recent years and is likely to continue to grow as fire regulations become more stringent and widely imposed worldwide, particularly in Asia, eastern Europe and Latin America. In the European aircraft industry, this is of particular concern since this industry uses Sb trioxide as a fire-retardant. Sb is also widely used in the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) for plastic bottles, synthetic textiles and for the vulcanisation of rubber. However, its up-and-coming use may be for rechargeable lithium-ion and sodium-ion batteries since Sb-based materials seems to be promising anodes (e.g. Sun et al. 2010; Luo et al. 2017; He et al. 2018). Because of their high theoretical capacity and suitable operating voltage, Sb-based compounds have attracted considerable research interests as new candidate ultra-fast high-capacity anode materials for high-performance Li or Na-ion batteries (e.g. Zoller et al. 2018). Then, the Sb market is likely to increase in the incoming years. Because most of Sb supply of EU comes from China, it becomes urgent and strategic to increase our knowledge of EU resources, which are strongly underestimated despite of a known true potential. As a matter of fact, it is noteworthy that the European Commission has already carry out legal actions against the Chinese restrictions of Sb supply (European Commission Press Release IP-16- 2581, 19 July 2016).
Environmental issue related to Antimony
Elevated concentrations of Sb in environmental, biological and geochemical systems originating from natural, geological and anthropogenic sources are of particular global concern (Herath et al. 2017). Many cases of cancer caused by evidence of natural mineralisation far outside mine areas are known, reported in several European countries. In addition, there are many agricultural zones developed on metal dispersion halos that transmit the metalloids and metals to the human food chain. A first large-scale identification of these areas or metals can contaminate humans should be a priority (Herath et al. 2017). It will allowing the identification of global distribution of most vulnerable Sb-contaminated regions/countries along with aquifer sediments is an urgent necessity for the installation of safe drinking water wells. Such approaches could provide to the global population, a Sb safe drinking and irrigation water and hinder the propagation of Sb in toxic levels through the food chain.
The expected impacts are mainly new techniques, new concepts, better understanding and improved models to be used in mineral exploration and also on the improvement of methods for environmental impact assessment and public perception of raw material.
The AUREOLE project matches the expected impacts since it will bring new scientific knowledge on Sb deposits, for a better mineral exploration targeting, which is strongly necessary since Sb become a strategic and non-substitutable metal for EU (European Commission 2017 com. 490). The AUREOLE project aims to promote EU as an area of high potential for discovering new Sb deposits through the example of its Variscan basement (first Sb world producer at the beginning of the XXth century), although the Alpine basement also hosts numerous Sb deposits in EU. Because mineral exploration is lacking in EU, the probability of discovering new world-class Sb deposits is high. Furthermore, this probability of discovery can be greatly improved with a regional-scale 3D metallogenic models able to accurately predict the most interesting areas. It will provide new mineral exploration guidelines focused on Sb deposits containing most strategic (e.g. W) and precious (e.g. Au) co-products and with the least toxic metals (As, Hg). Then, it also will contribute to a new primary source of W, another critical metal for EU.
Short term impacts
- an increase of knowledge on geological processes that controls location and distribution of Sb deposits from deposit-scale to orogen-scale;
- highlighting the EU mining potential in Sb which is currently underestimated;
- the predictibility of the distribution of Sb mineralisation, helping to target interesting areas for mineral exploration;
- a better understanding of the metalloids and metals behaviour at the subsurface, helping to delineate contaminated areas by Sb and associated toxic metals (Hg, As).
From this new knowledge, it will be possible to establish a probability of environmental risk for Sb, As, Hg by crossing primary resource data (WP1) and physicochemical properties of soils coupled with climate data (WP2). This new layer of data will constitute a reference layer for a risk assessment report.
Medium term expected impacts
- a mineral exploration applied to Sb mineralising systems with limited impacts on the environment promoting a sustainable EU supply;
- a public awareness for Sb, As, Hg pollution of natural origin, which does not necessarily imply extractives industries
Long term expected impacts
- New discoveries of Sb deposits;
- an increase of Sb and W resources coming from EU limiting the China’s dependence;
- Modern geological approaches interfaced with existing technologies would be more beneficial to detect widespread distribution of Sb, As, Hg in global surface and groundwater systems, which could pave the way to reduce the toxicological effects of Sb on human and environmental health.
The expected outcomes will result in several high-impact deliverables devoted to the targeting of new Sb deposits and a new large-scale environmental assessment maps for decision-making dealing with humans health. It will result in the furnishing of the following deliverables:
- A new fully-integrated understanding of Sb-type mineralisating processes integrated within a regional-scale metallogenical model linked with deep and geodynamic processes.
- A new set of large-scale mineral prospectivity maps for Sb mineralisation on Variscan Iberian and Armorican Massifs.
- A new set of recommendations and exploration guidelines to be used by mining exploration companies
- A feedback to better guide stream sediment and soil geochemical survey during mineral exploration, by the understanding of metalloids & metals behaviour at the surface.
- A new environmental risk assessment data layer for Sb, As and Hg based on a strong geological knowledge, giving the probability of anomalous local concentrations of metals in soils and waters of EU.
He J., Wei Y., Zhai T., Li H. (2018) Antimony-based materials as promising anodes for rechargeable lithium-ion and sodium-ion batteries. Mater. Chem. Front. 2, 437-455.
Guo, X., Wu, Z., He, M., Meng, X., Jin, X., Qiu, N., Zhang, J., 2014. Adsorption of antimony onto iron oxyhydroxides: Adsorption behavior and surface structure. Journal of Hazardous Materials 276, 339–345.
Luo W., Gaumet J.J., Mai L.Q. (2017) Antimony-based intermetallic compounds for lithium-ion and sodium-ion batteries: synthesis, construction and application. Rare Met. 36, 321-338.
Sun Q., Li W.J., Fu Z.W. (2010) A novel anode material of antimony nitride for rechargeable lithium batteries. Solid State Sciences, 5th European Workshop on Piezoelectric Materials 12, 397-403.
Zoller F., Peters K., Zehetmaier P.M., Zeller P., Döblinger M., Bein T., Sofer Z., Fattakhova‐Rohlfing D. (2018) Making Ultrafast High-Capacity Anodes for Lithium-Ion Batteries via Antimony Doping of Nanosized Tin Oxide/Graphene Composites. Advanced Functional Materials 28, 1706529