Beryllium: Economic Geology, Material Flow, and Global Importance of a Key Critical Mineral

Science Center Objects

Beryllium (Be) is a critical metal mineral commodity with unique chemical properties, making it indispensable to the computer, telecommunication, aerospace, medical, defense, and nuclear industries. We are studying known deposits of beryllium to determine where undiscovered beryllium resources might be found, analyzing how and where beryllium becomes concentrated in Earth’s crust, gathering a comprehensive modern inventory of global ore samples,studying supporting mineral assessment strategies for beryllium resources, and addressing controversies about the geological uniqueness of the world-class Spor Mountain, Utah, beryllium deposit. 

beryllium nodule

Beryllium nodule from Spor Mountain, Utah.

(Credit: E.K. Ayuso, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

Science Issue and Relevance

Beryllium (Be) is a critical metal mineral commodity with unique chemical properties, making it indispensable to the computer, telecommunication, aerospace, medical, defense, and nuclear industries. In the U.S., beryllium is obtained primarily from the mineral bertrandite (Be4Si2O7(OH)2), from the Spor Mountain, Utah, deposit.

Domestic beryllium reserves and production capabilities are diminishing. There is a lack of understanding of the geology of beryllium resources – how they are formed, and what the future resource supply might be. Hence, a U.S. Department of Defense partnership with Materion Corporation, the only U.S. producer of beryllium, was established to ensure a long-term stable supply of beryllium metal. The mined deposits of bertrandite and related mineralized rocks at Spor Mountain make up a single world class resource whose apparent geological uniqueness is a source of conflicting opinions among scientists.

Methodology to Address Issue

We are studying known deposits of beryllium to determine where undiscovered beryllium resources might be found. We are analyzing how and where beryllium becomes concentrated in Earth’s crust, gathering a comprehensive modern inventory of global ore samples, and studying supporting mineral assessment strategies for beryllium resources. We are also addressing controversies about the geological uniqueness of the world-class Spor Mountain, Utah, beryllium deposit.

scientists collecting samples

USGS scientists Brian Jaskula and Robert Ayuso collecting samples at Spor Mountain, Utah.

(Credit: Nora Foley, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

  • Domestic and Global Inventories for Beryllium Resources
    We are compiling global data on all aspects (geochemistry, mineralogy, mining statistics, production, uses, markets) of beryllium resources, both bertrandite and beryl types. We are characterizing the bertrandite ore currently produced at Spor Mountain, Utah, and comparing it with related occurrences in the trend from Utah-New Mexico-Texas into northern Mexico. Global inventories for another major type of beryllium ore, lithium-cesium-tantalum (LCT) pegmatites, exist, but we are focusing on their beryl resources rather than the previous focus on their lithium resources. Inventories of comparable international resources (for example, the central Gobi volcanic zone, Mongolia; and rare earth element-rich alkaline volcano-plutonic rocks within the Transbaikal-Mongolian rare-metal province, Siberia) will provide a global context for forecasting future resources.
  • Geologic Processes and Mineralogical Characteristics of Deposits
    We are analyzing ore samples from various beryllium deposits, to determine the timing, duration and recurrence patterns of geologic processes favorable for enrichment of beryllium to economic grades. We are also determining the mineralogical and chemical requirements of beryl intended for use in production of high-purity beryllium metal. Analyses using sensitive high resolution ion microprobe (SHRIMP), laser-ablation inductively coupled mass spectroscopy (LA-ICPMS), and electron microprobe are being performed.

  • Material Flow / Lifecycle Studies
    We are analyzing beryllium production, uses, and future resources. Our findings will help reduce U.S. supply vulnerabilities, as we will be better able to identify beryllium resources, and to forecast long-term trends in beryllium production and material flow.

    beryllium tuff

    Closeup of the Beryllium Tuff member, Spor Mountain, Utah.

    (Credit: Nora Foley, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)