Gilsonite, also known as "uintahite", "asphaltum" or asphaltite, is a naturally occurring solid hydrocarbon, a form of asphalt (or bitumen) with a relatively high melting temperature. Although the substance has been historically mined in the Uintah Basin of Utah and Colorado, United States, resources are being discovered and mined more recently in other countries such as Colombia and Iran. Currently, its large-scale production occurs in the Uintah Basin.
Gilsonite is categorized as a soluble material in oil solutions such as CS2 or TCE (trichloroethylene). A major component of gilsonite is carbon; it also contains several other elements including nitrogen and sulfur and some volatile compounds.
Gilsonite is mined in underground shafts and resembles shiny black obsidian. Discovered in the 1860s, it was first marketed as a lacquer, electrical insulator, and waterproofing compound approximately 25 years later by Samuel H. Gilson.
By 1888 Gilson had started a company to mine the substance, but soon discovered the vein was located on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. Under great political pressure Congress removed some 7,000 acres (28 km2) from the reservation on May 24, 1888 to allow mining to proceed legally. Gilsonite mining became the first large commercial enterprise in the Uintah Basin, causing most of its early population growth.
Mining Gilsonite during World War II was manual, using a six-pound pick, then shoveling the ore into 200 pound sacks, which were sewn by hand. In 1949 at the Parriette Gilsonite mine near Myton, Utah, Reed Smoot McConkie set the world record for ore mined by hand. Using his pick and shovel, he mined 175 bags of ore in eight hours, 950 bags in a six-day week, 1925 bags in a month and 15,000 bags in one year.
Gilsonite-brand uintahite's earliest applications included paints for buggies and emulsions for beer-vat lining. It was used by Ford Motor Company as a principal component of the japan black lacquer used on most of the Ford Model T cars.
Reserves and uses
Gilsonite reserves are distributed globally, especially within basins.
This unique mineral is used in more than 160 products, primarily in dark-colored printing inks and paints, oil well drilling muds and cements, asphalt modifiers, foundry sand additives, and a wide variety of chemical products. The trademark, registered in 1921, belongs to the American Gilsonite Company.
A common application of gilsonite is in bitumen blending. This application is practiced in countries such as China, India and Iran.
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- Transactions of the American Institute of Mining; Locke, Joseph; 1887.
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