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Deposited millions of years ago, borates are crystallised salts that contain boron.

Boron is a mineral essential to plant growth, so it is used in fertilisers, but it is also used in high tech applications, such as the heat-resistant glass for smartphones, materials for renewable energy – like wind, solar and EV batteries, wood protection and fiberglass insulation.

Commercially viable quantities of this rare and versatile mineral have been found in very few places in the world. One is in California’s Mojave Desert, where we started mining more than 150 years ago first in Death Valley and then moving, in 1927, to Boron.

Today our Boron operations in California, supply approximately 30% of global demand for refined borates, from one of the world’s 2 largest borate deposits. 

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A touch of glass

Heat-resistant glass takes centre stage in the world of smartphones, tablets and televisions. Borates help make this glass possible. A typical smartphone or tablet touchscreen contains 2 types of glass: cover glass, the borates-bearing, scratch-resistant surface that you touch; and substrate glass, enabling the technology for the display itself.

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Rio Tinto Boron

The mule teams that hauled borates out of our original mines in Death Valley are long gone, but the symbol endures in the 20 Mule Team® Borax brand – a symbol of high quality and consistency, supply reliability, technical support and service.

Borates have a variety of industrial uses. For example, boron is a micronutrient essential to plant growth. Our boron contains calcium-free sodium borates, which are optimal for agricultural use. We refine our borate minerals into boron-rich micronutrient fertilisers that help farmers, around the world, grow better crops in greater quantities.

Some of the many uses of boron include: glass, fibreglass, flame-retardants, ceramics, detergents, wood protection, pesticides, fertilisers, batteries and capacitors.

9 facts about Boron

1. Boron is a naturally-occurring element

Trace amounts are found in soil, water, plants and animals. The element boron does not exist by itself in nature. It combines with oxygen and other elements to form salts called borates.

2. Boron (B) was isolated as an element in 1808

It is the fifth element in the periodic table.

3. The first confirmed use of borates was in the 8th century

Arabian gold and silversmiths used them. It is thought that ancient Babylonian goldsmiths could have used borates as far back as 2,000 BCE.

4. Borates are used in cleaning

Borates’ unique properties enhance stain removal, whiten and brighten fabrics, and soften water, which is why they are used to produce laundry detergents, household or industrial cleaners and personal care products.

5. Borates are used in space travel

They 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 the Earth’s atmosphere.

6. Borates are an important ingredient in insulation fibreglass

This is the largest single use for the mineral worldwide.

7. Borates play a critical role in high-tech products

Such as the tough cover heat-resistant glass in smartphones, tablets and other electronic displays.

8. Boron is essential for plant life

It is integral to a plant's reproductive cycle, aiding with flowering, pollen production, germination, and seed and fruit development.

9. Boron deposits are rare

Boron is present everywhere in the environment but substantial deposits of borates are relatively rare. In fact, ores that contain boron are among the rarest minerals on Earth.

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