Bismuth is a naturally occurring metal that is widely sought-after for its many uses across a range of industries, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and electrics. Although bismuth compounds, bismuth alloys, bismuth oxychloride and bismuth salts, have many appealing industrial applications, the metal has gained popularity over the past few years for its use in the creation of vibrant bismuth crystal jewelry and sculptures.

The interest bismuth has garnered has many wondering how this fascinating metal is formed in the first place. In this blog, we will touch on where bismuth is found, we will dive into how it is formed, and we’ll detail some of the most common techniques used to separate bismuth from the metals it is extracted alongside.

Where is Bismuth Found?

Bismuth is a chemical element that is found alongside other metals in the Earth’s crust in small amounts. This metal is formed through the process of geological differentiation, which occurs when the Earth’s molten magma cools and solidifies. As the magma cools, minerals and other elements settle out of the liquid and form deposits. Through careful mining and refinement processes, these natural stores of bismuth are extracted and manufactured into various final products.

Today, the largest bismuth producing countries include China, Vietnam, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, and Canada. However, despite world bismuth production being limited to relatively few countries, new research from the British Geological Survey indicates that bismuth is geologically available in more places than was previously believed. This is an exciting discovery that has positive implications for the supply of bismuth as this growing industry looks to the future.

The Formation of Bismuth Compounds

Bismuth is typically formed in the presence of other minerals, such as copper, tin, lead, silver, and gold. These minerals and their metal ores contain trace amounts of bismuth, which is acquired as a byproduct of the extraction process. The bismuth found in these ores most often appears in the form of bismuth minerals. Some of the most common bismuth minerals found in nature are bismuthinite, bismutite, bismuth ochre, and bismutosphaerite.

Another factor that influences the formation of bismuth is the presence of sulfide minerals. Sulfides, such as bismuth sulfide, are important components in the formation of bismuth, and their presence can have a significant impact on the way this metal is formed. Sulfides are typically found in hydrothermal veins, which are created when hot, mineral-rich fluids circulate through the Earth’s crust. These veins can contain high concentrations of bismuth, which is why bismuth sulfide minerals are the primary form in which bismuth metal is found.

Bismuth Extraction

The extraction of bismuth from the metals it is typically found alongside is a crucial step in accessing this valuable chemical element. Given its numerous practical applications across various industries, it is imperative that the extraction process is carried out in an efficient and effective manner. This requires careful planning and attention to detail, as even small variations in the extraction process can impact the quality and quantity of the bismuth obtained. The two most common methods used are the Betterton-Kroll process and the dry process.

The Betterton-Kroll Process

The Betterton-Kroll process is an established and widely used method for the extraction of bismuth from lead. This process leverages the melting point differential between the two metals to divide one from the other.

The process starts with a molten lead and bismuth bath. To this bath, calcium and magnesium are added, which creates a new compound that is composed of bismuth, calcium, and magnesium. This new compound has a higher melting point and lower density compared to lead, which allows for the separation of bismuth from lead.

The next step in the Betterton-Kroll process involves the addition of chlorine. This chemical addition serves to isolate the pure bismuth metal from the calcium and magnesium present in the bath. The chlorine reacts with the calcium and magnesium, resulting in the formation of calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, which are readily removed from the bath. This leaves the pure bismuth metal, which can then be further refined and processed.

The Dry Process

The dry process is a highly efficient method for the extraction of bismuth from its ores, such as bismite and bismuthinite. This process differs from traditional wet processes, as it does not involve the use of liquids or solvents, hence the name ‘dry process.’

The extraction process starts with the heating of bismuth ores to melt the bismuth, which has a relatively low melting point. Once melted, reducing agents, such as carbon or ethanol, are added to the melt to eliminate any oxides or sulfides that may be present in the ore. The choice of reducing agent will depend on the specific characteristics of the ore, and the desired outcome of the extraction process. 

The process is then repeated, with further refining and purification steps, until the pure bismuth metal is obtained. This is a clean and elegant method of extraction. As the oxides and sulfides are eliminated, you are left with high-quality bismuth.

Visit The Bismuth Smith for Beautiful Bismuth Jewelry, Crystals, and Sculptures

Bismuth is an exciting metal with interesting applications and perhaps an even more intriguing formation and excavation process. 

From being formed through the process of geological differentiation, which involves the cooling of molten magma in the Earth’s crust, to then being melted back down during Betterton-Kroll and dry extractions, bismuth’s ability to change and adapt is clear to see. Here at The Bismuth Smith that malleability is manifested in the form of our hand-crafted crystal pieces.

In our online shop, we offer an array of bismuth crystals for you to explore and admire. If you’re fascinated by this remarkable element and its properties, we encourage you to take a look. 

We’re confident that you’ll discover something that piques your interest across our one-of-a-kind collection. So don’t wait any longer, visit our shop and buy bismuth crystals to experience the allure of this magnificent metal for yourself.