Never heard of borates? You’re looking at them right now.

:: Sunday, May 1, 2016

From your daily laundry to space travel – boron is an element with many uses. Here are ten things to know about one of the unsung heroes of the periodic table:

  1. Boron is a naturally occurring element. Trace amounts are found in soil, water, plants, animals and people. However, the element boron does not exist by itself in nature. It combines with oxygen and other elements to form boric acid or inorganic salts commonly called “borates”.
  2. Boron (B) was officially isolated as an element in 1808. It’s the fifth element in the periodic table.
  3. The first confirmed use of borates was in the 8th century AD, when they were used by Arabian gold and silver smiths in metal working. However it is thought that borates could have been used as far back as 2,000 BC by the ancient Babylonian goldsmiths.
  4. While boron is present everywhere in the environment, substantial deposits of borates are relatively rare. In fact boron-containing ores are among the rarest minerals on Earth.
  5. Boron is essential for plant life. It’s integral to a plant’s reproductive cycle; controlling flowering, pollen production, germination, and seed and fruit development. The mineral also acts as a fuel pump, helping the transmission of sugars from older leaves to new growth areas and root systems.
  6. If you’re reading this on your smartphone or tablet, then you’re being helped by borates. Borates have a crucial part to play in the high technology products – such as the tough cover glass in smartphones, tablets and other electronic displays.
  7. Borates are an important ingredient in insulation fiberglass, which is the largest single use for the mineral worldwide. Insulation fiberglass works by trapping air within its mesh of fibers to reduce the rate of heat transfer. Borates in the glass fibres increase the absorbance of infrared radiation, which significantly increases insulation performance.
  8. Borates play an important role in keeping astronauts safe. They are used to coat the ceramic tiles on the underside of a space shuttle to help it withstand the thermal shock of re-entry. Thermal shock occurs when temperatures change suddenly, as when the shuttle leaves the freezing temperatures of space and re-enters Earth’s atmosphere at nearly 1,650 degrees Celsius.
  9. Many different forms of borates are used to produce laundry detergents, household or industrial cleaners and personal care products. Borates’ unique properties enhance stain removal, whiten and brighten fabrics, and soften water. Borates also act as a biostat, serving to control bacteria and fungi.
  10. Borates provide an affordable, durable and safe treatment system to protect wood homes. They prevent fungal decay and are deadly to termites, carpenter ants and cockroaches – but are safe for people, pets and the environment.

Find out more about borates, or take a look behind the scenes at Rio Tinto’s Boron Operations in California, which supplies 30% of the world’s demand for refined borates.


 boron basics technology

U.S. Borax, part of Rio Tinto, is a global leader in the supply and science of borates—naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. We are 1,000 people serving 500 customers with more than 1,700 delivery locations globally. We supply 30% of the world’s need for refined borates from our world-class mine in Boron, California, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.  Learn more about Rio Tinto.

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