Bismuth is an exceptional metal that has captured the attention of industries and consumers alike for its unique properties and versatile applications. This metal is highly valued for both its aesthetically pleasing appearance and its many uses across a wide range of industries, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and the wider industrial sector.
One of the most widely known applications of bismuth is in the form of bismuth salts, which are one of the active ingredients in the popular digestive remedy, Pepto-Bismol. Bismuth oxychloride, another derivative of bismuth, is also widely used in the cosmetic industry as a key ingredient in nail polishes and lipsticks to give them their sheen.
Other popular applications of bismuth include bismuth compounds, which are employed to make rubber, low melting alloys which are utilized in the production of fire extinguishers, and pure bismuth metal which is harnessed to create bismuth crystals and stunning bismuth jewelry.
Amidst all the excitement around the several interesting uses we have for bismuth, you may be wondering “where does bismuth come from?” Not to worry, in this blog we will answer this pressing question as well as shed light on where the largest bismuth deposits are, what countries are the largest bismuth producers, and whether or not bismuth production can keep up with growing demand.
Where Does Bismuth Come From?
Bismuth (element #83 on the periodic table) is naturally occurring and present in the Earth’s crust. It is recognized for its unique properties and is prized for its distinctive appearance, which ranges from a soft, pinkish hue to a brilliant, metallic white, which is why in the 15th century bismuth was referred to as wismut, a term based on the German phrase for “white mass.”
Bismuth is found in both its pure form as a metal and in various bismuth ores, such as bismuth oxide and bismuth sulfide. When it comes to abundance, bismuth is said to be approximately twice as plentiful as gold and equally as abundant as silver.
Bismuth, a chemical element prized for its unique properties and versatility, can primarily be obtained from bismuthinite, a mineral composed of bismuth sulfide (Bi2S3). This mineral is widely recognized as the most abundant source of bismuth, but other sources of the element also exist, including bismuth ochre (Bi2O3), bismutite (BiO)2CO3, and bismutosphalerite. Despite its many uses, bismuth is not typically mined as a standalone product.
Instead, it is extracted as a byproduct from the mining and refining of copper, tin, lead, silver, and gold ores, as bismuth minerals rarely occur in sufficient quantities to be extracted as the main product. The Tasna Mine in Bolivia and a mine in China were once the only mines where bismuth was mined as a primary product, but the Tasna Mine has been inactive since the late 1990s.
Bismuth Deposits and Production
Bismuth can be found in a number of regions across the globe, including Bolivia, Japan, Peru, Mexico, and Canada. Australia, despite not being a prominent bismuth-producing nation at present, was once the leading producer of bismuth in the world, holding this distinction from the early 1970s until the mid 1980s.
As time progressed, countries located in Latin America emerged as important contributors in the bismuth production industry. However, by the start of the 21st century, China had established itself as the dominant player in the bismuth market, both in terms of mining and refining the element. This position has largely been maintained since then, as China continues to be one of the leading producers of bismuth in the world.
Today, the worldwide production of bismuth is primarily concentrated at the Núi Pháo mine situated in Vietnam, as reported by the British Geological Survey. In China and Vietnam, the extraction of bismuth occurs as a byproduct of lead and tungsten, which are utilized for the manufacture of various products such as light bulb filaments, drill bits, and golf clubs. The prominence of bismuth production in these countries is a testament to their rich natural resources and the expertise of their mining industries.
More Bismuth Than We Thought?
In recent years, bismuth has gained popularity due to its numerous applications and the rapidly increasing demand for bismuth crystal, bismuth jewelry, and other types of vibrant bismuth sculptures. Due to its being produced in so few countries, there was concern in the bismuth industry that the demand for bismuth would quickly outgrow the amount of bismuth we can produce, causing bismuth to be labeled a ‘critical raw material’ in 2017 and 2018.
Luckily, according to a statement by Eimear Deady, a BGS Minerals Geoscientist and independent study lead in 2022, “research shows that [bismuth] is geologically available in many more countries than currently produce it. This mitigates any concerns we should have around the geological availability of bismuth, which in fact is far greater than previously understood.”
Because of its unique versatility, as more countries become involved in the production of bismuth, its uses are expected to become more prevalent and wide-ranging, particularly as methods of recycling bismuth become more sophisticated.
The Bismuth Smith – The Home of High-Quality Bismuth Jewelry, Crystals, and Sculptures
Bismuth is a fascinating metal that is quickly growing in popularity for its adaptability and iridescent hues. Today, the global production of bismuth is largely concentrated in China and Vietnam, and despite there being concerns about the supply of bismuth, recent research revealing that bismuth is more available than we previously believed has the bismuth industry and bismuth enthusiasts excited for the future.
If you’re interested in learning more about bismuth and its unique properties, we invite you to browse our online shop. There you can buy bismuth crystals and appreciate the beauty of this fascinating element for yourself. Whether you’re a collector, a scientist, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of minerals, we’re sure you’ll find something of interest in our store. So don’t wait, check the pieces we have to offer across all our amazing collections.