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Beryllium

December 19, 2017

Beryllium is a mineral commodity that is used in a variety of industries to make products that are essential for the smooth functioning of a modern society. Two minerals, bertrandite (which is supplied domestically) and beryl (which is currently supplied solely by imports), are necessary to ensure a stable supply of high-purity beryllium metal, alloys, and metal-matrix composites and beryllium oxide ceramics. Although bertrandite is the source mineral for more than 90 percent of the beryllium produced globally, industrial beryl is critical for the production of the very high purity beryllium metal needed for some strategic applications. The current sole domestic source of beryllium is bertrandite ore from the Spor Mountain deposit in Utah; beryl is imported mainly from Brazil, China, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Portugal. High-purity beryllium metal is classified as a strategic and critical material by the Strategic Materials Protection Board of the U.S. Department of Defense because it is used in products that are vital to national security. Beryllium is maintained in the U.S. stockpile of strategic materials in the form of hot-pressed beryllium metal powder.

Because of its unique chemical properties, beryllium is indispensable for many important industrial products used in the aerospace, computer, defense, medical, nuclear, and telecommunications industries. For example, high-performance alloys of beryllium are used in many specialized, high-technology electronics applications, as they are energy efficient and can be used to fabricate miniaturized components. Beryllium-copper alloys are used as contacts and connectors, switches, relays, and shielding for everything from cell phones to thermostats, and beryllium-nickel alloys excel in producing wear-resistant and shape-retaining high-temperature springs. Beryllium metal composites, which combine the fabrication ability of aluminum with the thermal conductivity and highly elastic modulus of beryllium, are ideal for producing aircraft and satellite structural components that have a high stiffness-to-weight ratio and low surface vibration. Beryllium oxide ceramics are used in a wide range of applications, including missile guidance systems, radar applications, and cell phone transmitters, and they are critical to medical technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, medical lasers, and portable defibrillators.

The United States is expected to remain self-sufficient with respect to most of its beryllium requirements, based on information available at the time this chapter was prepared (2013). The United States is one of only three countries that currently process beryllium ores and concentrate them into beryllium products, and these three countries supply most of the rest of the world with these products. Exploration for new deposits in the United States is limited because domestic beryllium production is dominated by a single producer that effectively controls the domestic beryllium market, which is relatively small and specialized, and the market cannot readily accommodate new competition on the raw material supply side.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title Beryllium
DOI 10.3133/pp1802E
Authors Nora K. Foley, Brian W. Jaskula, Nadine M. Piatak, Ruth F. Schulte
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1802
Index ID pp1802E
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center