Ever since Lot's wife turned into salt, industrial minerals have played a significant role in the Holy Land. Indeed they constitute the country's
main mineral resources, in particular bromine, potash, magnesia, phosphates, various types of clays, limestone and lime, silica sand,
together with salt, building and construction raw materials. In addition,
there are deposits of oil shales, and small amounts of natural gas
and crude oil.
DEAD SEA PRODUCTS
Interest in the Dead Sea dates back to early historical days. From
the 4th century BC the Nabateans collected and sold floating bitumen
to the Egyptians for use in embalming.
Compared with ordinary sea water, in the Dead Sea there is some 20 times as much potassium, 32 times more magnesium and 81 times more bromine. This level of concentration makes it a veritable storehouse of elements, particularly sodium, potassium, bromine, magnesium, and calcium. For example, it is estimated that the Dead Sea contains some 21,400 million tons of MgCl2, 1,800 million tons of KCl and 800 million tons of MgBr2. The highly mineralized waters and associated muds and hot sulfur springs, together with virtually non-stop sunshine and 10% more oxygen in the air, form the basis for the modern tourist and natural health and beauty spa business.
Potash and Salt
Each year some 300 million cubic meters of brine are pumped into the evaporation ponds at Sedom where they are evaporated in two stages. During the initial stage about 20 million tons/year of common salt precipitates on the floor of the evaporation ponds which calls for the surrounding dikes to be raised every few years in order to maintain the brine volumes in the ponds. Some of the salt is harvested and then electrolysed to produce caustic soda and chlorine which in turn are used in the bromine production cycle. Then halite-stripped brine is pumped into a series of evaporating pans extending over an area of about 140 km2 where carnallite is allowed to crystallize out over time. The crystal is actually a mixture of carnallite and salt with the proportions varying according to evaporation conditions and the stage of the evaporation process. Carnallite is then harvested from the pond bottom via specially designed suction dredges mounted on floating pontoons which forms a slurry of crystals in brine which is then pumped to the nearby potash processing plant.
The "waste" brine remaining after the carnallite has been dredged from the evaporation ponds contains 11,000 to 12,000 ppm of bromine, making it the richest feed material of any commercial bromine operation. At the bromine plant the brine is heated to around 90°C by preheaters and a heat exchanger prior to being introduced into a reaction column or "blowout" tower. Chlorine (the oxidant), produced from the salt collected in the initial evaporation stage, is introduced to oxidize the bromine ions to elemental bromine. Then steam is used to strip the bromine out of the reaction column and into a condenser from which the bromine flows to a phase separator. Total bromine production in Sedom was approximately 180,000 tons in 1996.
Magnesium Chloride, Magnesium Metal
Magnesium chloride-rich solution derived in the potash process is an ideal feed stock for the production of magnesia, magnesium metal as well as magnesium chloride. High concentration brine is pumped to Dead Sea Periclase in Mishor Rotem where high grade magnesium oxide is produced.
At the end of 1996 Dead Sea Magnesium (DSM) in a joint venture with Volkswagen AG of Germany (33%) commissioned a magnesium metal plant near the Sedom facility. The 55,000 tons/year installations will be built in two phases: Phase 1, completed at the beginning of 1997 for a capital investment of some $250 million, includes a 27,500 tons/year production unit plus the expansion of the nearby power station; Phase 2, scheduled for completion in 1999, will add an addition 27,500 tons/year of capacity, making Israel the third largest producer of magnesium in the world. An electrolytic process is used to produce the magnesium.
Other Products from the Dead-Sea
Several types of brines and black muds are used in the cosmetics industry to prepare a wide variety of products. Daily "use" of the brines and the black muds is evident in several health resorts along the western shore of the Dead Sea.
A major belt of sedimentary phosphate mineralization stretches from Senegal through Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa into Egypt, Jordan, and the northern Negev region of Israel. An exploration program for phosphates in the Negev area in the 1970's and 1980's was spearheaded by the National Phosphate Survey (SAPA), a joint effort between Negev Phosphates Ltd. and the Geological Survey of Israel. The program included 700 boreholes and 50,000 samples followed by almost 1,200 boreholes and 70,000 samples as part of the feasibility study of the resources identified. The project identified extensive areas of phosphate mineralization as single or multiple beds, some with a combined thickness of 10 meters or more, comprising francolite and calcite with accessory gypsum, clay, quartz, iron oxide, halite, and dolomite. The P2O5 content ranged from 20% up to 35.5%. The program came up with 1.5 billion tons of identified reserves, two thirds of which were contained in five deposits each covering an area of 30 to 50 km2.
The Rotem Amfert Negev Ltd. (Rotem) has the capacity to produce 6.3 million tons/year of run-of mine phosphate rock equivalent to 4 million tons/year of product. This is derived from three operations in the northern Negev Desert: the Zin Mine which is the largest and is located some 20 km east of Oron, and the Oron and Arad mines which are about 30 km northeast of Oron. This impressive output makes Israel the seventh largest phosphate rock producer in the world, accounting for 3% of production and 7% of exports.
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CLAYS AND SILICA SAND
Negev Ceramic Materials Ltd's Ramon plant was set up in 1964-67 to exploit deposits of flint clays discovered in the Makhtesh Ramon in the Negev Desert. These flint clays, similar to those found in Missouri in the United States, occur in deposits that range from 4 to 8 meters thick as continuous beds, and up to 30 meters thick as deposits in paleo-erosional depressions, with an alumina content of 35 to 55%. The flint clay is a compact microcrystalline to crystalline clay composed mainly of well crystallized kaolinite which breaks with a pronounced conchoidal or "flinty" fracture, resists slaking, and has almost no plasticity. At Makhtesh Ramon some 50,000 tons/year are mined in a series of open pits. Processing includes magnetic separation and calcination in a rotary kiln at temperatures of 1,650°C plus crushing, grinding, and screening. The plants also supply two grades of kaolin - a low-iron S/5 grade and "chocolate" grade. At the Hatira plant, Negev Ceramic Materials Ltd mines and screens a high-purity quartz sand.
LIMESTONE AND LIME
Israel is an important producer of high-quality calcium carbonate for the domestic market and, more recently, for export. Exploited deposits are located in the Negev and the Galilee, some producing extremely high-grade material.
Significant reserves of oil shales have been discovered in Israel, particularly in the northern Negev region of the country. Resources of these organic-enriched and marly chalks in the Mishor Rotem area, for example, are estimated to total several billion tons.
The oil shale sequence in Israel is of Upper Campanian - Maastrichtian age, and is usually limited to the Ghareb Formation which overlies the main economic phosphorite layers. The host rocks are biomicritic limestones and chalks, the clay content of which varies considerably over the vertical section. The organic matter is generally homogeneously and finely dispersed throughout the rock, and is considered to be derived from algae and marine microfauna. The basins of deposition range in size from a few km2 to 20 km2 and are elongated parallel to the controlling synclinal axes.
BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION RAW MATERIALS
Israel is self-sufficient concerning basic raw materials for the building industry. Dolomite and limestone (mainly Cenomanian), basalt (Neogene) and granite (Precambrian) aggregates are produced from quarries located throughout the country. Unconsolidated stream pebble beds are also locally exploited. Portland cement is produced in three plants (Haifa, Ramla and Bet Shemesh). The source for the carbonate is mainly Turonian limestones; clay-rich soils from the Coastal Plain are the silicate source, and gypsum is quarried in Makhtesh Ramon and the Gesher quarries, south of the Sea of Galilee. Part of the gypsum output is used to produce gypsum powders, wall paneling, etc.
Limestone dimension stones are quarried, cut and polished in numerous locations in the Galilee and northern Negev. Marble and igneous dimension stones are imported from Europe and South America.