Archive for October 19th, 2009

From charlatan to charlatan: Venezuela has lots of Coltan

October 19, 2009


The charlatanic rage in Venezuela has  a name: Coltan. Ignorance is like that. Show some shiny stones to the indians and they will sell your wife to you in exchange for them. Tell a Government that only believes in magical solutions, that they have the mythical El Dorado or a Rosetta stone and they will believe it. Even worse, they will hold a press conference to talk and tell the world about it.

Call it blue gold, tell the world that without coltan, there are no cell phones or video games. Keep talking, Coltan may save Venezuela, just like Chavez. Except…

The world market for Coltan is only around US$ 2 billion, so no matter how huge the deposits may be, it will pale in comparison with Venezuela’s gold, diamond and oil deposits. Because Australian companies are quitting producing Coltan because the price of Coltan ore is actually low, it is the finished product that is worth something.

Because Coltan is the mineral that contains Niobium (formerly Columbite) and Tantalum, two transition metals that are worth little as metals (They are superconductors, but useless as such). I once visited a coltan mine in Brazil, they were desperate to find an alternate use.

But the only use known for it is to turn it into oxide (A great process, stick a fuse in and the stuff melts under a reaction which is exothermic, i.e. it sustains itself, the stuff melts, you have a spigot and collect it  you get pure Tantalum Oxide or Niobium Oxide)

And the only thing you do with the oxide is make capacitors. We are not talking chips, oscillators, memories, we are talking good old capacitors (condensers if you are older), used in circuits to store charge. Both Tantalum Oxide and Niobium Oxide have high dielectric constants, which allows you to have more capacitance or ability (capacitance!) to store charge since the capacitance of a Capacitor is proportional to that constant.

But you see, companies that produce Coltan ore, or Tantalum Oxide, find electronics to be only a marginal busines and it’s currently a money losing one. So, imagine a money losing business run by Chavistas.

You get the picture.

But by now Chavez is an expert, we are told Coltan is to blame for Congo’s (Zaire, Rwanda?) instability. Coltan is the future of humanity. After the uranium that we are helping the Iranians find, prospect or whatever.

Coltan is like the revolution, but mineral…so, you can sell it.

or something like that.