Metal Mining Megatrends Move to Magnets, Minerals

October 25, 2022

But the oft heard cries that “clean energy will take more mining” are BS.

Visual Capitalist:

“If you can’t grow it, you have to mine it” is a famous saying that encapsulates the importance of minerals and metals in the modern world.

From every building we enter to every device we use, virtually everything around us contains some amount of metal.

The above infographic visualizes all 2.8 billion tonnes of metals mined in 2021 and highlights each metal’s largest end-use using data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Iron ore accounted for 93% of the metals mined in 2021, with 2.6 billion tonnes extracted from the ground. It’s important to note that this is ore production, which is typically higher than metal production since metals are extracted and refined from ores. For example, the iron metal content of this ore is estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes.

With 98% of it converted into pig iron to make steel, iron ore is ubiquitous in our lives. Steelmade from iron ore is used in construction, transportation, and household appliances, and it’s likely that you encounter something made out of it every day, especially if you live in a city.

Due to its key role in building infrastructure, iron ore is one of the most important materials supporting urbanization and economic growth.

Aluminum accounted for nearly 40% of industrial metal production in 2021. China was by far the largest aluminum producer, making up more than half of global production. The construction industry uses roughly 25% of annually produced aluminum, with 23% going into transportation.

Chromium is a lesser-known metal with a key role in making stainless steel stainless. In fact, stainless steel is usually composed of 10% to 30% of chromium, enhancing its strength and corrosion resistance. 

Copper, manganese, and zinc round out the top five industrial metals mined in 2021, each with its own unique properties and roles in the economy.

Technology metals include those that are commonly used in technology and devices. Compared to industrial metals, these are usually mined on a smaller scale and could see faster consumption growth as the world adopts new technologies.

(Graph in 2 parts below)

The major use of rhenium, one of the rarest metals in terms of production, is in superalloys that are critical for engine turbine blades in aircraft and gas turbine engines. The petroleum industry uses it in rhenium-platinum catalysts to produce high-octane gasoline for vehicles.

In terms of growth, clean energy technology metals stand out. For example, lithium productionhas more than doubled since 2016 and is set to ride the boom in EV battery manufacturing. Over the same period, global rare earth production more than doubled, driven by the rising demand for magnets.

Indium is another interesting metal on this list. Most of it is used to make indium tin oxide, an important component of touchscreens, TV screens, and solar panels.


3 Responses to “Metal Mining Megatrends Move to Magnets, Minerals”

  1. Whether or not the amounts of mining for renewables and batteries are comparable to the mining needed for coal oil and gas (and nuclear), the mining and processing for these minerals is not being done and there are not plans for opening all the new mining that would be required. Also, wind is not interchangeable with coal:

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Coal is nasty, and lignite is the nastiest form of coal.

      BTW, mining follows the market, it does not lead it. We expect to need more mining of certain minerals in the future, and that’s why investors are putting more money (even in a bear market) into companies which are developing lithium mines and processing. It’s a pretty solid bet, investment-wise, even if individual EV or end-product battery makers go bankrupt. The demand for grid, home or EV batteries is
      not going away, even if supply lags in keeping up.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      What is your problem?
      The point of this post is that the total projected lithium and other metal needs are not a point of environmental concern compared to the existing mining operations for metals and the huge amount of mining for non-reusable coal.

      Are you pro-coal?

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