In a little-known region of Belgium, located on the borders of Germany and the Netherlands at the edge of the Liège province, the names of its communes, such as La Calamine and Plombières, give away the secrets of its mining and industrial past. In the 19th century, Calamine and Plombières were, in fact, the epicentre of zinc and lead production in the world.
These days, there is almost no trace of this industrial past left in the region. Nature has reclaimed many of the former industrial regions. The mines are now plugged, and a thick layer of vegetation covers the landscapes. Yet the subsoil is still home to mineral treasures.
“With the mineralisation of lead, and zinc, we find a procession of other elements, such as germanium, gallium and indium,” says Eric Pirard. a professor from the University of Liège and a specialist in geo-resources.
These precious metals are, in particular, prized in the development of new technologies. Germanium is very valuable for the manufacture of optical fibres, indium for touch screens and gallium for lighting and optoelectronic sensors.
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