Feldspars are a group of rock-forming aluminium tectosilicate minerals, containing sodium, calcium, potassium or barium. The most common members of the feldspar group are the plagioclase (sodium-calcium) feldspars and the alkali (potassium-sodium) feldspars. Feldspars make up about 60% of the Earth’s crust, and 41% of the Earth’s continental crust by weight.
Feldspars crystallize from magma as both intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks and are also present in many types of metamorphic rock. Rock formed almost entirely of calcic plagioclase feldspar is known as anorthosite. Feldspars are also found in many types of sedimentary rocks.
About 20 million tonnes of feldspar were produced in 2010, mostly by three countries: Italy (4.7 Mt), Turkey (4.5 Mt), and China (2 Mt).
Feldspar is a common raw material used in glassmaking, ceramics, and to some extent as a filler and extender in paint, plastics, and rubber. In glassmaking, alumina from feldspar improves product hardness, durability, and resistance to chemical corrosion. In ceramics, the alkalis in feldspar (calcium oxide, potassium oxide, and sodium oxide) act as a flux, lowering the melting temperature of a mixture. Fluxes melt at an early stage in the firing process, forming a glassy matrix that bonds the other components of the system together. In the US, about 66% of feldspar is consumed in glassmaking, including glass containers and glass fibre. Ceramics (including electrical insulators, sanitary ware, pottery, tableware, and tile) and other uses, such as fillers, accounted for the remainder.
Bon Ami, which had a mine near Little Switzerland, North Carolina, used feldspar as an abrasive in its cleaners. The Little Switzerland Business Association says the McKinney Mine was the largest feldspar mine in the world, and North Carolina was the largest producer. Feldspar had been discarded in the process of mining mica until William Dibbell sent a premium quality product to the Ohio company Golding and Sons around 1910.