Sources of Beryllium
Beryllium occurs naturally in the earth’s crust and in the air, soil and water. Every day, people are exposed naturally to extremely small amounts of beryllium by breathing the air, drinking water and eating food grown in soil.
Beryllium is also introduced into our lives through human activities. Here, the material typically ends up in a solid form that is designed into and contained within consumer or industrial products -- everything from portable electronics to cell phones to industrial machinery to medical devices. In virtually all human-generated end-use applications, beryllium is enclosed within products and is not readily exposed to, or accessible to, people. In these enclosed forms, beryllium provides no special health risks.
Only three countries, the United States, China and Kazakhstan, currently process commercially viable quantities of beryllium ores and concentrates into beryllium products.
Today, the extraction of beryllium begins with the mining of raw materials (bertrandite ore and/or beryl ore). Beryl ore is melted in industrial furnaces, solidified and crushed, then treated with sulfuric acid to produce a water-soluble sulfate. Bertrandite ore is crushed, made into slurry and treated with sulfuric acid to form a sulfate. The sulfate solutions undergo a series of chemical extraction steps to ultimately produce extremely pure beryllium hydroxide, from which virtually all contaminants have been removed. Beryllium hydroxide is the common input material for copper beryllium alloys, beryllia ceramics and pure beryllium metal manufacturing.