Vein quartz; nature’s bountiful gift to Lanka | Daily News

Vein quartz; nature’s bountiful gift to Lanka

Sri Lanka is famous throughout the world for the exquisite mineral varieties of very high purity. Among them vein quartz too holds prime importance. The material, generally known as quartz is primarily made of silicon and oxygen (silica-SiO2) and is considered one of the most abundant minerals found in the Earth's crust.

Major part of silicaproduced throughout the world is from silica sand.High purity silica sand is not so common; yet, high purity quartz is readily available in many areas of Sri Lanka. Most of these areas havereasonably large vein quartz deposits, (originated as veins) having very high purity (99.5 percent of SiO2).Vein type quartz deposits occur, abundantly,in Pussella, Opanayake, Rattota, Naula, Galaha, Mahagama (Embilipitiya) and Wellawaya areas.

High grade vein quartz can be used as a raw or refined material in many industries, but among them high-tech products especially solar cells and computer chips are exceptional. Most probably due to this setup, a certain part of Sri Lanka is sometimes referred to as the 'Silicon Valley.’

Contrary to the assumption that quartz gained popularity once its properties were identified by modern scientific applications,quartz was well known among the locals for ages. They knew how to make glass objects by smelting quartz. Some ancient furnaces having leftover glass slag were discovered during some archaeological excavations. A lot of carnelian (variety of quartz having very fine crystalline structure) and glass beads,found among the artifacts recovered during the excavations of the country's pre-historic burial grounds, revealed that glass beads were worn by the natives from prehistoric times.

Lankans knew the art of making spectacle lenses out of quartz. The industry could be traced back to the period of King Bhuvanekabahu IV (1346-1353), ruler of Sri Lanka during the Gampola period. It is also believed that Sri Lankans were the first to wear specially made spectacles to rectify squint as well as glasses to protect eyes from the harmful effects of sun glare (spectacles fitted with smoky (brown) quartz lenses).

Recently gathered evidence highlighting the knowledge of locals regarding the piezoelectric effect of quartz is most astonishing. Piezo electricity is a property of quartz revealed by the modern science and valued throughout the world. It is the property of quartz that induced the invention of modern day quartz watches and the computer chips, which revolutionized the world.

Once Buddhism was introduced to the country, Thuparama,the first dagaba or stupa,was built. There is a belief that this was initially adorned with a chatra (a parasol-like structure on top) similar to the dagabas in India.

At that time the tallest buildings in the country were dagabas and the locals were aware of the lightening hazard affecting tall structures. They came up with “Chuda Manikya”concept (briolette cutquartz block like a bananapod) instead of Chatra. Later on,all dagabas were adorned with a Chuda Manikya.

An incident of lightening striking a dagaba was not heard of during the past. Although it lacks scientific proof, this accomplishment can establish the fact that locals knew about the scientific properties of quartz.

Vein quartz is found in various colours, some transparent like water (clear quartz);some having milky colour (milky quartz); some having brown/ash colour (smoky quartz) andsome having rose or pink colour (rose quartz). Since, these colours are pleasing to the eye, Sri Lankans, who are very competent in making beautiful objects, decided to make carvings out of them, especially, Buddha statues. Cabochon shaped (spherical shape) rose quartz more often shows six rays asterism due to its silky effect. In addition,Lankans knew the healing properties of quartz; therefore, more often wore them as pendants or amulets. These are depicted in most ancient paintings.

Apart from that, they were conversant with the value of quartz and its long-lasting uses.The pink quartz mountain range found at Namal Uyana provides clear evidence as to its significance. Since, it appeared asa heap of salt the nearby villagers called it “Lunugal Debala” meaning Salt Mountain.History reveals that Great Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan during the construction of “Taj Mahal,” a tribute to His dead wife Mumtaz Mahal, brought different stone types from different parts of the world.

Most believe that He brought rose quartz from the Namal Uyana pink quartz mountain range in Sri Lanka.

Today, pure vein quartz has a huge demand because of its very special property called piezoelectricity. This property of quartz crystalisitscapabilityto produce electricity,oncesubjected toa mechanical stress. The word ‘piezo’ in Greek means pressure; therefore, piezoelectricity means electricity resulting frompressure. Quartz crystals maintain a precise frequency standard during the generation of piezoelectricity, hence could regulate a quartz watch or clock to indicate precisetimes (here quartz is used in watches because it acts as a piezoelectric oscillator). This phenomenon is also seen in radios, microprocessors, and many other technological and industrial applications, especially, computer chips. In order to make today's silicon products, high-quality quartz (99.9999 often referred as “six nines” or 6N pure, sometimes reckoned as 9N) is essential. Among thefew countries that produce very high purity quartz, Sri Lanka (99.5) is in the forefront. Since, Sri Lankan quartz hasa purity of 99.5; it can be upgraded to 6N or 9N depending on the requirement.

Although it is feasible to produce a variety of value added products out of our vein quartz, so far no one had come forward to venture into this type of value added quartz industry. Currently, the most discouraging disclosure is that Sri Lanka still imports end products derived from vein quartz from elsewhere such as solar cells, computer chips and silicon carbide, at an exorbitant price compared to the price of quartz exports.

One may ask why Sri Lanka is not adapting the value additionprocess for quartz and silica sand. Ostensibly, the inference would be that Sri Lanka lacks the necessary technology or the expertise to do so. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka even has Nano technology coupled with essential expertise at the moment. Sri Lankan experts are considered as some of the world's best.

Hence, at the moment, it is advisable to collect the vital expertise and channel it towards the entrepreneurs.

In spite of all thistechnological advancesSri Lanka still exports most of its vain quartz unrefined, either as lumps or powder. There are several companies involved in veinquartz industry, but most of them export quartz mostly in raw form merely subjected to some minor purifications.

No one dares to enter into high-tech industries, even to engage in the manufacture of conventional products such as glass, optical grade glass, filler material, good quality abrasives (Tripoli), etc. As such, it is time to collaborate with some parties to develop high tech material along with conventional products instead of exporting the raw material itself. If the government cannot immediately encourage these entrepreneurs to produce finished goods out of vein quartz it should curtail the raw material exports because most of the countries that import our vein quartz just stock pile our product in order to gain exorbitant profits in future.Furthermore, theentrepreneursmay require funding to setupassociated businesses as such banks must supplement their needs.

The price range of these high-tech items,especially,solar silicon and computer chips could fetch exorbitant prices, therebyenhancing the wealth of the country. This would in turn encourage entrepreneurs to develop high-tech finished products rather than dealing solely with unrefined material.

If we could develop vein quartz basedhigh-tech industries, especially, solar silicon, it could revolutionize the Sri Lankan economy. Considerable amount of money is consumed for petroleum imports. Major portion of that petroleum is used for power generation. If Sri Lanka could produce solar silicon from our vein quartz, it can minimize the thermal energy production, which is a great burden to the country at the moment.In 2013, hydro-electricity production in the country accounted for 17.416 GWh (55% the total energy) while the petroleum and coal based energy generation accounted for 9.471GWh and 4.38 GWh respectively (both representing 43.9%the total energy).

Solar silicon can replace this thermal energy production to some extent. The money thus saved can be used for development projects and to increase the quality of life in the country. In addition,solar energy is 100% environmental friendly and it also inhibits the heavy pollution caused by thermal power plants.

So it is an opportune moment to seriously organize a proper methodology to promote these vein quartzes based high-tech industries,as a prelude to handing over the benefits to future generation.

This happens to be an obligation of the country.Now is the opportune moment to collaborate with foreign or local companies having the necessary infrastructure and know-how to establish this kind of industries.

If everything goes well Sri Lanka couldsoon become a country that produces green energy and even become the hub of the modern day market of high-tech silicon products. Thus, it would approach the threshold of achieving the status of Asia's ‘Silicon Valley.’ 

Add new comment