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Coltan is the industrial name for columbitetantalite, a dull black metallic mineral from which the elements niobium (formerly "columbium") and tantalum are extracted. The niobium-dominant mineral is columbite, hence the "col" half of the term. The mineral concentrates dominated by tantalum are referred to as tantalite.[1]

Tantalum from coltan is used to manufacture electronic capacitors, used in consumer electronics products such as cell phones, DVD players, video game systems and computers. Export of coltan from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to European and American markets has been cited by experts[2][3] as helping to finance the present-day conflict in the Congo, with the DanChurchAid agency asserting that “much of the finance sustaining the civil wars in Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is directly connected to coltan profits.”[4] An estimated 6.9 million people have died since 1998 in the war in the Congo[citation needed].


Production and supply

Tantalum minerals are mined in Australia (leading producer[5][6]), Brazil, Canada, China, Ethiopia and Mozambique. The United States Geological Survey reports in its 2006 yearbook that the Democratic Republic of the Congo produces a little less than 1% of the world's tantalum, peaking at ~10% in 2000 and 2008.[7] Tantalum is also produced in Thailand and Malaysia as a by-product of tin mining and smelting.

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