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Main Differences Between Ore and Mineral You Should Know

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Ore and mineral are two quite widespread terms. We do hear them quite often in geological, mining, mineralogical, jewelry, and even economical sphere, however a little confusion in their proper understanding can occur. Ore is more about mineral deposits, mineral processing, mining technics, while minerals are more about jewelry, gemstones, and crystal healing.

The main difference between ore and minerals is that ore composed of valuable minerals, bearing an economically potential element that can be extracted from ore profitably. The mineral cannot be composed of ore. Ore is always composed of minerals. The ore is mostly an economical term, while the mineral is more scientific.

All ores are minerals, but not all minerals are ore. The mineral can be a simply nice-looking piece of natural material and have no valuable metal in its composition. While minerals with a high content of iron, aluminum, nickel, lead, etc, can be considered as ore minerals.

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Understanding of Mineral, Rock & Ore

Main Differences Between Ore and Mineral
Main Differences Between Ore and Mineral

To be an absolute expert in ore and mineral differentiation it is useful to understand each term separately:

A mineral – is a naturally occurring inorganic material with an orderly internal structure and characteristic mineral composition. Examples of minerals are quartz, diamond, malachite, smithsonite, chrysoberyl, corundum (ruby and sapphire), and other five thousand and seven hundred representatives.

An ore is a material composed of one or more minerals, which contain an economically valuable element, mostly metal.

According to USGS (United States Geological Survey), the ore is the naturally occurring material from which a mineral or minerals of economic value can be extracted. It is generally prefixed by the economic mineral and element, eg. Gold ore.

To memorize the difference for good we need to clarify another term.

A rock. The difference between rock and mineral is quite simple. Rocks are composed of minerals. Minerals which compose the rock can be different (for example typical granite should be composed of 4 minerals: quartz, plagioclase, feldspar, and mica).

However other rocks can be composed of one type of mineral (for example quartzite – composed of quartz only, or marble – composed of calcite exceptionally).

But what is the difference between ore and rock? Both of them are composed of minerals. Ore is a rock, but a special one, which contains some economical value element.

BTW: Do you want to know more about rocks and minerals identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):

What is the Difference Between Ore and Mineral? Simple Examples

Hematite mineral
Hematite mineral

Iron ore is a good example to show the difference between ore and minerals. According to the name, we understand that this ore is the source of iron.

The rock can be named iron ore if it contains more than 50% of iron (Fe) which can be easily extracted. Hematite (Fe2O3) and magnetite (Fe3O4) are the main iron-bearing minerals. Both of them are oxides. And these two minerals are essential components of iron ore.

Minerals like pyrite (FeS2) and siderite (FeCO3) also contain iron in their composition. However, as they are sulfide and carbonates respectively, it’s very hard to break chemical bonds between ions and extract pure iron.

That’s why rock, which contains magnetite and hematite can be processed much more easily and be economically profitable.

At the same time, more money will be spent for processing pyrite or siderite-bearing rock to extract iron, than profit received.

All base metals (iron, lead, zinc, nickel, and cooper) are extracted from ores.

TIP: It is good to know the difference between ore and minerals but do you know the main differences between rocks, minerals, and crystals? Check out the article below and know the difference:


Rock, Mineral, or Crystal? What’s the Difference?


Not Every Mineral is Ore

Ore minerals are minerals with high valuable metal concentrations and where the metal can be easily extracted. The table below provides the most important ore minerals based on Craig, J. R. (2001).

Mineral nameMineral formulaValue
MagnetiteFe3O4the main source of iron
HematiteFe2O3the main source of iron
GalenaPbSthe principal source of lead
SphaleriteZnSthe principal source of zinc
Pentlandite(Fe,Ni)9S8the essential mineral for nickel production
ChalcociteCu2Sused for the production of copper
Ilmenite  FeTiO3the main source of titanium
Chromite(Fe,Mg)Cr2O4a source of chromium
CassiteriteSnO2a source of tin
Pyrolusite MnO2the main source of manganese
UraniniteUO2used for the production of metallic uranium
AcantiteAgS2used for the production of silver
BerylBe3Al2(Si6O18)used for the production of beryllium
The most important ore minerals

Not every mineral is ore. Well, know quartz can form a huge amount of quartzite and make up the whole coastlines and cliffs, however, these rocks are absolutely deficient for desired metals and have no points to be called ore.

It is essential to mention that ore deposit doesn’t consist entirely of a single ore mineral. The ore mineral is always mixed together with unwanted or economically valueless rocks and minerals.

These rocks or minerals are generally known as gangue. Usually, the ore and the gangue are mined together. Further separation of ore from the gangue process is known as mineral processing.

There is a separate discipline in mineralogy – ore mineralogy which studies metal-bearing minerals only.

The most important ore types are:

  • Iron ore
  • Aluminum ore
  • Titanium ore
  • Chromium ore
  • Copper ore

Iron ore is one of the most abandoned. It gathers a lot of people around, it is a reason for new infrastructure and even cites occurrence. Iron ore builds up the economy of many countries. The main iron ore minerals are hematite Fe3O4 and magnetite Fe3O4

Aluminum ore is the same important as iron ore does. Aluminum ore is also called bauxite. Three types of minerals are found in bauxite:

  • Gibbsite – Al2O3 · 3H2O
  • Boehmite γ-AlO(OH)
  • Diaspore α-AlO(OH)

All of them are considered to be the main aluminum ore minerals

Titanium ore is also considered to be an ore of great significance. Titanium is a very strategically important metal. The main minerals for titanium ore formation are rutile TiO2 and ilmenite FeTiO3.

Chromium ore is essential for the metal industry. Chromite (Fe, Mg)Cr2O4 is the principal chromium ore mineral. This mineral is extremely dense and hard and requires a very specific condition to be met for its formation.

Copper ore can be distinguished into two groups: 

  • Sulfides. These ore minerals are represented by chalcopyrite CuFeS2 and chalcocite Cu2S
  • Oxides. Cuprite Cu2O is the main mineral in this group.

TIP: While reading this article, I immediately thought, are these minerals safe? Are these minerals radioactive? Check out the article below and find out the most common radioactive minerals:


What are Radioactive Minerals? 6 Common Radioactive Rocks


Is That Ore or Mineral? Know the Difference

If you have found something solid and want to understand is that or in front of you or not, here is a simple algorithm:

1. TIP: Does the material look like a crystal? Does it have facets? Is it transparent? If yes, it’s a mineral in front of you. If it is well-formed and its facets are even – it’s a monocrystal.

2. TIP: If it’s something opaque, without any facets, and you can distinguish grains of different colors – most probably it’s a rock (the material composed of different minerals).

3. TIP: If all grains look similar (all grains or crystals are isometric, elongated, or flattened) – most probably it’s a mono-mineral rock in your hand. Quartzite, mica, or amphibolites – as examples of isometric grained rock, elongated and flattened crystal rocks respectively.

4. TIP: In case the rock composition is not homogeneous – it’s a rock, too, but composed of different minerals. It can be granite, syenite, eclogite, etc. Still not an ore.

5. TIP: In case the rock’s weight is relatively big and you can observe metallic luster of the surface, most probably it’s an ore. The reason for higher weight is that metallic ore usually contains metals, which are much harder and denser, than non-metals.

6. TIP: In case there is a rock, which strongly resembles gold and your heart is beating faster, take a breath. If this piece of rock is quite big, most probably it’s pyrite in your hands. It looks like gold; however, it’s iron sulfide (FeS2). It is not considered to be iron ore, as there are some other minerals of iron, which are more economically profitable.

7. TIP: Another goldish mineral that can mislead you is chalcopyrite. This is copper ore! The main difference between this yellowish metallic mineral from pyrite (the previous one) is that it has a similar optic effect on the surface as the petrol rainbow on water. You will see iridescent colors. Sometimes chalcopyrite can be called “peacock ore” because of this effect.

8. Bonus tip! Test your rock with a magnet. If the magnet sticks to the rock – congratulation! You have found a profitable iron ore composed of hematite minerals (Fe2O3).

TIP: Do you know using a metal detector is great for finding minerals? Find out more about using a metal detector for rockhounding in the article below:


How to Actually Find Gems with a Metal Detector? It is Easy!


Conclusion

The difference between ore, rock, ore mineral, and simply mineral now is clear for us. Ore is a general term for rock or mineral containing a potentially economic quantity of extractable metals or other elements and necessary part to make a mineral deposit.

The most widespread ores are iron ore, aluminum ore, gold ore, lead ore, zinc ore, manganese ore, and many others.

  • Ore – is an economic term for valuable rock.
  • All ores are essentially composed of minerals.
  • All ores are minerals, but not all minerals are ore.
  • Ore minerals and gangue minerals make up the ore.

TIP: So what are your next steps? Searching for gold ore? Or any other ore? No matter what you look for next time don’t forget to stay safe when rockhounding. Find out recommended safety equipment for rockhounding in the article below:


Recommended Safety Equipment for Rockhounding: Stay Safe!