The best mining museums in the UK

Posted July 21st 2017

Museum of Lead Mining

High in the hills of Scotland, in a village called Wanlockhead, is the Museum of Lead Mining, a Visit Scotland 4 Star Visitor Attraction and treasure trove of information about lead mining. The museum is set around a genuine 18th century lead mine which visitors can venture into on their tour, and shows how lead miners lived and worked at different periods as lead mining evolved. The museum offers daily guided tours of the mine, the miners cottages and the miners library, to give visitors a comprehensive and unique insight into the world of lead mining.

Keswick Mining Museum

Keswick Mining Museum explores the history of mining in Keswick, and how the industry has shaped the rural town throughout the centuries. Beginning with Copper and Lead, before progressing on to Borrowdale graphite, the mining industry here went through many stages of change before and eventually the mining of Slate, Coal and Iron dominated the town as the advent of the railway become more popular. As the first mining museum to be located in Cumbria it delivers a much-needed insight into the history of mining in the area and houses a lot of significant memorabilia.

Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum

A celebration of ironstone mining, the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum is located on the site of Loftus Mine, the very first mine to be opened in Cleveland. Fittingly, it explores the rich history and subsequent legacy of iron mining in the UK, which at one time supplied iron to Europe, America, Africa, India and Australia, creating the railway infrastructure and bridges in these countries.

Peak District Lead Mining Museum

Offering guided tours and activities to suit children and adults of all ages, this museum explores the history of lead mining in the Derbyshire area. The museum itself is home to thousands of items that are displayed in different exhibits. Guided tours are also provided to Temple Mine where visitors can see how a mine worked during the 1920s and 1950s, as well as the equipment miners would have used.


Mining in Outer Space

Posted July 17th 2017

It may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of a potential area for mining metals, but many metals can be found in outer space and as the supply on our planet dwindles, the discussion of how we can mine these metals becomes ever more serious.

Although it seems more suited to a science fiction novel than reality, mining in space is something now being approached as a potentially viable option. For example, Deep Space Industries is a company developed to meet the potential need for asteroid mining and one which, according to their website, provides ‘the technical resources, capabilities and system integration required to prospect for, harvest, process, manufacture and market in-space resources.’ They acknowledge their missing as ‘a daring one’, and yet it cannot be denied that the ability to mine certain materials from space would be a huge benefit for us.

Meteorites that have fallen to earth in the past of yielded huge amounts of precious metals such as platinum, gold, palladium, iridium and rhodium. As these are only small chunks of larger asteroids, the amounts of metal that a full asteroid could contain are potentially huge. Bernstein, a Wall Street research firm, asserts that one particular asteroid known as ’16 Psyche’, could contain more than 17 million billion tons of nickel-iron. An amount like this would be enough to provide for our current needs for millions of years.

Despite this, travel into space in order to mine these materials is still a distant dream and in order to get there huge developments are still needed in the space travel industry. Who knows what the future holds?


Fears for patients with ‘metal-on-metal’ hip implants

Posted July 5th 2017

An alert issued by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) means that thousands of people could be at risk of damage from ‘metal-on-metal’ hip implants which have raised concerns over their levels of toxicity.

The implants are thought to have been used on approximately 56,000 people in the UK and will be recalled for testing amidst fears that they could cause bone or muscle damage if any metal particles have detached and settled into the surrounding tissue. If this is the case, then further surgery could be required. Although patients with smaller size implants have not been considered high risk in the past this view has now changed to consider all patients with this type of implant at potential risk.

Dr Neil McGuire, clinical director of medical devices for the MHRA, said, ‘We’ve now included a group of people who were at low risk, but were not at no risk. It’s more about catching people who could be developing these complications early.’

Whilst the MHRA has stated that it does not anticipate an increase in the number of revision surgeries that will need to be performed, thousands of extra patients will now need to undergo testing to rule them out. McGuire also stated that ‘although the majority of patients with these metal-on-metal devices have well-functioning hips, it is known some may develop soft tissue reactions related to their implant. The clinical advice we have received indicates patients will likely have the best outcomes if these problems are detected early, monitored and treated if necessary’.


The environmental consequences of our smartphone addiction

Posted June 26th 2017

Most of us now use smartphones on a daily basis, but we give little thought as to the materials contained within them. All smartphones contain a mix of precious metals such as platinum, palladium, gold, silver and copper.

A typical iPhone, one of the most predominant smartphones on the market, contains a mix of 0.034g of gold, 0.34g of silver, 0.015g of palladium and a very small amount of platinum (under a thousandth of a gram). In addition to this it also contains 25g of aluminium and 15g of copper.

Around 40% of a standard smartphone is composed of metals and the unfortunately less than 10% of these handsets are typically recycled which means the materials contained within them are not able to be recovered and used again. When you consider the sheer number of people who own a smartphone – over two billion – and the fact that most people will typically upgrade their phone every 1-2 years, the amount of material going to waste is staggering. With the smartphone obsession looking more likely to grow rather than fizzle out any time soon, the implications of this are important. These are finite resources and cannot just be tapped endlessly – there is a limit to what is available.

One solution would be to decrease the frequency with which we change smartphones, although this is highly unlikely to work in practice. It is, however, important to make people aware of the implications of their behaviour and encourage them to consider this. Awareness could also help to recover some of the materials sitting in old smartphones if people are encouraged to return them. Just one million old handsets could be turned into almost 16 tonnes of copper, 350kg of silver, 15 kg of palladium and 34kg of gold.

Although there is no clear solution this is certainly a problem that needs to be talked about. Awareness can help to alter people’s behaviour and may help us to preserve and recover some of these much needed resources.

metals in smartphone


The different types of stainless steel

Posted June 21st 2017

Stainless steel is an immensely popular steel alloy that is highly prized for its resistance to corrosion and used in a variety of ways, including cutlery, medicine and jewelry. There are different types of stainless steel and the type will depend on what has been added to it. The fact that different varieties can be formed gives this an alloy an immense versatility which explains its popularity and suitability for a wide number of applications.


Austenitic stainless steel can also be referred to as the 300 series and is formed by adding 18% chromium and 8% nickel. Over 70% of stainless steel production is for austenitic steel and it is popularly used in kitchens and food processing equipment due to its excellent hygiene properties.


Ferritic stainless steels are usually cheaper and often have better engineering qualities than austenitic. They can contain up to 27% chromium and their high resistance to corrosion means they can be used in severe environments, such as being submerged in seawater for prolonged periods of time, although austenitic is still more durable.


Less durable than ferritic and austenitic steels, martensitic was one of the first to be commercially produced and is still very strong. It contains up to 18% chromium with a very low amount of nickel and molybdenum. High temperatures can make it harder and it has commonly been used in cutlery, as well as pins and surgical instruments.


Duplex stainless steels are a mix of austenitic and ferritic, or at least the components that make them. The mix is usually half and half, although it can be slightly more weighted to in a 60/40 split, and has a high chromium content of up to 32% as well as low nickel and usually around 5% molybdeneum. The best qualities of each type show up in this version, which is highly resistant to corrosion, more so than any other variety, as well as strong and sometimes magnetic. Standard duplex is the variety most widely used but super duplex also exists which is considered the very best quality of stainless steel.

steel types

UK steel and the American market

Posted June 10th 2017

As Donald Trump increases protectionism in the United States, UK steel workers have voiced their concerns and begun lobbying the government in an effort not to be cut off from the American market.

In April of this year, President Donald Trump launched a ‘Section 232’ investigation with the purpose of studying steel imports in the country with a view to protecting the US industry. His aim was to ‘fight for American workers and American-made steel’, protecting the US steel sector, something he considers a matter of national security.

Currently, around 25% of the US steel market is made up through Chinese imports and Trumps concern comes from the worry that this could overwhelm the American industry with its huge steel making capacity. Although the investigation is not targeted at one particular nation according to authorities, the outcome could mean a significant increase in the tariffs that are placed on foreign steel, in an effort to protect and preserve the domestic industry.

Whilst steel production and import to the US is on nowhere the same scale for Britain as it is for China, British steel workers are still fearful that the outcome of the investigation could deal a heavy blow to the UK steel industry if larger tariffs were introduced for all imports to the US. Currently exports to the US from Britain account for a massive £340 million per year in sales and around 250,000 tonnes of the 7.6 million tonnes produced each year.


Titanium – why is it so expensive?

Posted May 25th 2017

Titanium is a lustrous, silvery coloured metal that is known to have particularly high strength and low density. It was first discovered in Cornwall in 1791 and takes it names from Greek mythology, after the Titans.

Titanium is used in a wide number of industries including aerospace and jewellery making, and it is valued for being highly resistant to corrosion particularly from chlorine and seawater. But why is it so expensive?

Titanium cannot be extracted by using carbon to reduce the ore as it forms titanium carbide making the metal very brittle. Instead, the extraction process involves several stages that are referred to as the Kroll Process. It is the complexity of this process and the energy expended in production that gives titanium its high market price. The metal must first be turned into a porous form, or titanium sponge as it is sometimes called. From this ingots can be formed by slowly melting the porous metal and these ingots can then be turned into smaller products such as bills, bars, sheets, strips and tubes. Successive re-melting of the metal still produces a high quality metal.

Because titanium has such a high melting point, the temperatures required for this process are extremely high and it is thought that the conversion of the metal to ingots accounts for around 30% of the cost of the entire process. A lot of energy is needed and the process is labour intensive. The strength of titanium means the process is slow and once the finished product is done around 90% of the original material has been lost. When used in the aerospace industry, for example, 1kg of finished titanium has come from almost 11kg.


Hyperbaric welding – what is it?

Posted May 18th 2017

Welding is the process of joining together materials, usually metals, but fusing them together through melting the surface points. Two pieces of metal can then be joined to form a single piece. Welding is used for all sorts of reasons from creating metal structures such as bridges and sculptures, to repairing damaged metal structures such as ships.

Hyperbaric welding is a specialist form of welding that requires elevated pressure to work. It is usually performed underwater for this reason. The process can be performed either ‘wet’ or ‘dry’. Wet is when it is performed in the water, and dry is when it takes place in a positive pressure enclosure, or isolation chamber, which gives an increased level of pressure. It is most commonly referred to as hyperbaric welding but when performed in a wet environment it can also be called underwater welding. Hyperbaric welding can be used to repair ships, oil rigs and underwater pipes, and steel is the main material that is used.

Dry hyperbaric welding, as we touched on above, involves the process being carried out in an environment with increased pressure, in a sealed chamber. There will usually be a gas mixture around the chamber. Wet welding is less commonly used and is a skill that less people possess. The welder must also be able to dive, and they are exposed to the risk of electric shock whilst they do this. To prevent this all equipment must be properly insulated and the welding current should be well controlled.

The benefits of this type of welding are that things like oil rigs and ships that are submerged in water can be easily repaired. This makes their maintenance much easier, and more cost effective, as well as enabling the repair to be carried out more quickly than if the structure had to be removed from the water.


How does a metal detector work?

Posted May 11th 2017

Metal detectors are electronic instruments that are used to detect the presence of metal if it is in close proximity. They can be particularly useful for finding metal that may be underground or hidden and are often used for archaeological purposes.

Different metal detectors can work in different ways, depending on their uses, but in a simple form they usually consist of a transmitter coil, through which electricity flows to create a magnetic field. This turns the metal detector into an electromagnet. By moving the detector, the magnetic field that has been created is moved too and when it comes close to another metal a second magnetic field is created which is what the detector is looking for. There is another coil, called a receiver coil, on the detector that will usually emit a noise when it comes into contact with the magnetic field. Generally, the stronger the magnetic field is the louder the noise will be to indicate how close you are to the metal object.

Metal detectors are also used for security purposes in places such as government buildings and airports. Since the 1970s, metal detectors have been largely used across the world in airports to screen passengers before they board a flight. In addition to this, security officials are often in possession of smaller hand-held devices that can be swept over the body to detect metal.

Anyone can own a metal detector and in England and Wales their use is not prohibited, providing that permission has been granted by the landowner of the area they are to be used on. The only exclusions are if the area in question is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, an SSSI (site of special scientific interest) or falls under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.


Metal Detector


Metal and Armour

Posted April 18th 2017

Plate armour was historically worn in Europe during the late middle ages. Inspired by the Greeks and Romans, who both used partial armour plates to protect important areas such as their chest, it began to be used widely from the 13th century onwards.

A full set of armour was incredibly complex, consisting of many different parts, and good sets were highly prized. Steel was the main material used, and each individual piece would be shaped and hammered out by hand before being polished to a high shine and often finished with intricate detailing. A typical set of armour could weigh between 15-25kg but a good smith would ensure this was spread throughout the body to enable the wearer to be able to move freely.

Elaborately decorated armour was common for royalty, often called parade armour, and could include fine embossing in different colours. Particularly fine sets would be immortalised in paintings or even kept on show for visitors, such as the Line of Kings at the Tower of London which displays an impressive array of royal armour in the world’s longest running visitor attraction.

Jousting armour was another type, and this was usually substantially heavier than a typical set of plate armour to withstand the heavy blows it was expected to encounter. As the wearer was seated on a horse, there was also less need for free movement, although it still needed to be light enough to be carried by the horse.

As weapons developed and firearms became more commonly used, traditional plate armour became useless for the most part. Modern body armour is now usually made from synthetic fibres, replacing the traditional steel plates. Ballistic vest are usually made from Kevlar since its introduction in the 1970s, although sometimes trauma plates may also be used made of steel or titanium.