Cryolite (Na3AlF6, sodium hexafluoroaluminate) is an uncommon mineral identified with the once large deposit at Ivigtût on the west coast of Greenland, which ran out in 1987.
It was historically used as an ore of aluminium and later in the electrolytic processing of the aluminium rich oxide ore bauxite (itself a combination of aluminium oxide minerals such as gibbsite, boehmite and diaspore). The difficulty of separating aluminium from oxygen in the oxide ores was overcome by the use of cryolite as a flux to dissolve the oxide mineral(s). Cryolite itself melts below 900°C (1173 Kelvin) and can dissolve aluminium oxides sufficiently well to allow easy extraction of the aluminium by electrolysis. Considerable energy is still required for both heating the materials and the electrolysis, but it is much more energy-efficient than melting the oxides themselves. Now, as natural cryolite is too rare to be used for this purpose, synthetic sodium aluminium fluoride is produced from the common mineral fluorite for this purpose.