As a aid to aluminium processing and other industrial uses and as mineral specimensCryolite is an uncommon mineral of very limited natural distribution. Mostly considered a one locallity mineral, for although there are a few other minor locallities, it was only found in large quantities on the west coast of Greenland.
It was used as a solvent of the aluminium rich ore, bauxite, which is a combination of aluminium oxides such as gibbsite, boehmite and diaspore. It is very difficult to remove atoms of aluminium from atoms of oxygen which is necessary in order to produce aluminium metal. Cryolite made an excellent flux to make the process less expensive. Now it is too rare to be used for this purpose and sodium aluminium fluoride is produced artificially to fill the void.
A curious note about cryolite is the fact that it has a low index of refraction close to that of water. This means that if emersed in water, a perfectly clear colourless crystal of cryolite or powdered cryolite will essentially disappear. Even a specimen of cloudy cryolite will become more transparent and its edges will be less distinct, an effect similar to ice in water except that the ice floats.
Physical CharacteristicsColour : clear or white to yellowish, but can also be black or purple
Luster : vitreous
Transparency : crystals are transparent to translucent
Crystal System : monoclinic; 2/m
Crystal Habits :
usually massive and as pseudo-cubic crystals, some with psuedo-octahedral truncations
absent, but three parting directions produce what looks like a psuedo-cubic cleavage
Fracture : uneven
Hardness : 2.5 - 3
pecific Gravity : 2.95 (average)
Streak : white
index of refraction is 1.338 which is close to the index of refraction of water. As a consequence, clear cryolite crystals or powdered cryolite will nearly disappear in water. Also there is no salty taste which is helpful in distinguishing cryolite from the mineral halite
Associated Minerals :
include siderite, quartz, topaz, fluorite, chalcopyrite, galena, cassiterite, molybdenite, columbite and wolframite
Major Occurrences :
include Ivigtut area of Greenland and also at the foot of Pikes Peak at Creede, Colorado, USA, Mont Saint-Hilaire and Francon Quarry, Montreal, Quebec, Canada and at Miask, Russia
Best Indicators :
lack of salty taste, density, index of refraction, locallity and crystal habit