Background: Coltan as Commodity

COLTAN Research Resources
Background: Coltan as Commodity
From UCSC SEED program materials (
What Is Coltan? Coltan, short for Columbite-Tantalite, is an ore containing two rare metals:
Niobium and Tantalum. Coltan is primarily refined to produce Tantalum, which has a high melting
point (2996° C) and is used in the production of heat resistant super-alloys and capacitors with
unique properties for storing electrical charge. Tantalum's unique capacitance properties has
recently allowed for the design of progressively smaller, more powerful, and more reliable
electronic products. Currently, Tantalum is primarily used for the production of capacitors in
mobile phones, laptop computers, video cameras, video game players, and automotive electronics.
It is a particularly vital component in the capacitors that control current flow in cell phone circuit
boards. Therefore, as the trend toward the integration of small and powerful electronic systems
into everyday objects continues, we can expect to see the use of tantalum capacitors expand.
Of the 525 tons of tantalum used in the USA in 1998, 60% was used in tantalum capacitors, with a
predicted growth rate of 14% per annum (from Uganda Gold Mining Ltd web site). An estimated
80% of the world supply of this resource is found in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC), with other smaller deposits in Austrialia, Brazil, Canada, Greenland, and China.
Mining Coltan
In Central Africa, coltan occurs in streambeds, alluvial deposits and soft rock. It is easily extracted
by pick and shovel, although the hillsides are steep and fatal collapses frequent. The creuseurs or
boulonneurs (miners) dig, pan, and bag the coltan. In the Congo coltan is mined by hand by groups
of men who dig basins in streams after scrapping off the surface mud. They then "slosh" the water
around the crater, which causes the Coltan ore to settle to the bottom of the crater where it is
retrieved by the miners. A team can "mine" one kilo of Coltan per day.
Image from
The Coltan Commodity Chain
click here to access the Coltan Commodity Chain Resource Table
Stakeholders in the Coltan Commodity Chain
Coltan Commodity Chain Resource Table (great starting resources)
Coltan Commodity Chain Table
Additional resources found by students working on this project in
previous semesters:
Online resources
“Coltan Mining and Eastern Congo’s Gorillas” NPR.
Blaine Harden. "The Dirt in the New Machine". New York Times. 2001.
Celine Mayrond and John Katunga. Coltan Exploration in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. April 23, 2012
Cellular News, Coltan, Gorillas, and Cellphones,, 20 April 2012.
Cellular-News, April 24th, 2012, Web.
Cemansky, Rachel."Conflict Minerals 101: Coltan, the Congo Act, and How You Can Help." How Stuff
Works Inc. Web. 22 May 2012.
Gahran, Amy. “Report: 90% of Americans Own a Computerized Gadget” CNN Tech. Web. 3 Feb. 2011.
GESI, May 24th, 2012, Web.
Global Witness Report: April 24, 2012
Ian Redmond. September 7th, 2009. Fish and Gorillas.
Munn, Andrew. Coltan Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Retrieved from University of
Michigan, Computer Industry Impacts on the Environment and Society website:
National Geographic article on the slaying of highland gorillas in the Virunga National Park, April 21 2012
Papp, John F. (January 2011), "Niobium (Columbium) and Tantalum", U.S. Geological Survey, 2009
Minerals Yearbook, pp. 52.1 - 52.14
myb1-2009-niobi.pdf, retrieved 2011-11-30
University of Michigan article, Coltan Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo,
What is Coltan?, April 21 2012
Wildlife Direct- Year of the Gorilla April 21 2012
Print resources
Greene, Kate. “Where Cell Phones Go to Die”. Technology Review. September 2008. Vol 111
“Guns, Money and Cell Phones” The Industry Standard Magazine. 11 June 2001.
Mantz. Jeffery. Improvisational economies: Coltan production in the eastern Congo.
Nadira Lalji. Harvard International Group. 2007
Natural Magazine. September 1. 2006 Vol 46 37-47
Nest, Michael. Coltan. Cambridge: Polity, 2011. Print.
Silva, Jeffrey, RCR Wireless News, 15330796, 3/8/2004, Vol. 23, Issue 10