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Fast Fact
Barites form huge sedimentary deposits on the surface of oceanic plates. The oxygen content in these deposits aids in controlling the paleotemperature ranges of the oceanic crust.

If you have come across weighing agents that are used in drilling muds, have you wondered what do they consist of? These agents are made up of barite, an inert high density mineral found extensively in the hydrothermal veins of limestones, marine deposits, and cavities of igneous rocks. Barite is usually found in a crystallized manner (also known as "crested barite"). These crystals are coarse and granular in nature.

Major Properties

Chemical formulaBaSO4
Mineral compositionBarium sulfate with minuscule amount of strontium
ColorColorless or multicolored (red, orange, yellow, white, and brown)
Hardness2.5 - 3.5 (on Mohs scale of hardness)
Specific gravity4.3 - 4.6
Found inCalcite, Cerussite, Dolomite, Quartz, Sulfur, and Gypsum
TenacityBrittle
Other namesBaryte, Heavy spar, Desert rose
SolubilityNon soluble in water, and inert to acids and bases
ToxicityNon toxic

What are the Uses of Barite?

One of the primary applications is to make weighing agents in oil extraction. Barite is finely crushed and mixed with water, forming a mixture known as thixotropic mud. This mixture is now pumped into drill stem for oil rigging. Pertaining to the high density property of barite, the pressure exerted by the mixture on the walls of the oil well, forces the oil and gas to get released from the ground. This is also a reason as to why barite is used as an aggregate in preparation of heavy concrete and cement, which are in turn used in heavy construction equipment, and for making ballasts for tires of tractors. Many of the oil rig operators use barite mixtures in oil and mineral extractions. Also, this mixture prevents any probability of explosion during oil rigging. In the United States, this mineral is significant used for drilling activities in majority of oil rigging services.

Barite is also mixed with cement to make special radioactive storage containers to store radioactive materials. The leaded glasses used in computer monitors and television tubes to minimize radiation effects are made from using barite chemicals. Manufacturing of clutches of cars, trucks, and brake pads also involve the usage of this mineral. Ground barite is used as fillers in floor coverings (linoleum flooring), and in manufacturing of paper, oil cloth, rubber, and cosmetics. Besides this, precipitated form of this mineral also serves as an additive in paints, plastics, and enamels. Barite is a key player in preparing white pigment (lithopone), which is a mixture of barium sulfate and zinc sulfide. This pigment is used in making white paint, which provides a nice appearance to wooden artifacts. Compounds of barite are also used as a catalytic agents in initiating aluminothermic reactions in welding rail tracks.

One of the major uses of this mineral is in medical science. Special X-ray tests designed for examining colons and intestines use barite. Actually, this mineral acts an enema for patients, who are being treating for any intestinal disorders, and gives a clear picture of the organs during scanning. This is because, barite has a unique ability to completely absorb gamma and X-rays. The opaque nature of barite pertains to its high density and specific gravity. However, there are a few side effects barium sulfate, which should be taken into consideration before opting for a scan.

Barite serves effectively when it comes to driving away rats from your home, as it is an important ingredient in rat poison. It is also used in commercial applications like sugar refining. Besides this, barite compounds containing nitrates are used in the manufacturing of ceramic glazes and fireworks. The compounds containing fluorides are used in infrared applications for making optics. Even fuel cells and electronic vacuum tubes (used as oxygen scavengers) use the elemental form of barite.

The deposits of this mineral are abundant found in Spain, China, Australia, Morocco, United States, and England. "Desert rose" (nickname for yellow barite) is extensively found in Sahara desert of Africa. Since it is found in a colorless and multicolored state, its identification can be done only by determining specific gravity and hardness. Also, it is a unique mineral that emits a yellowish green flame when exposed to blowpipe flame. Besides this, it chemically reacts with a moist paper after ignition, resulting in an alkaline reaction. For instance, if barite is fused with sodium carbonate and charcoal dust, it leaves behind a residue. However if this residue is moistened, it produces a dark stain of silver sulfide on a clear surface of silver.