Certain commodities tend to fly under the radar for periods of time.
For example, it was only in the last couple of years that markets have been able to digest the potential impact of the electric vehicle boom, and what it may mean for raw materials. The lithium, graphite, and cobalt prices reacted accordingly, and suddenly these essential ingredients for lithium-ion batteries were hot commodities.
Another one of those metals that comes and goes is zinc – and after shooting up in price over 35% this year, it definitely has the attention of many investors and speculators again.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Pistol Bay Mining, a company that is too focusing on zinc, and it highlights 11 things that investors need to know about a metal that is gaining substantial momentum.
Here’s why the metal is back in fashion:
1. Zinc is a $34 billion per year market.
It’s bigger than the silver ($18 billion), platinum ($8 billion), and molybdenum ($5 billion) markets combined. In fact, it is the fourth-most used metal worldwide.
2. Zinc smelting and production technology came way later than it did for other metals.
The ancients were able to smelt copper, lead, and iron, but it wasn’t until much later that people were able to work with zinc in any isolated state.
3. Even despite this, it was a crucial metal for ancient peoples.
They would smelt zinc-rich copper ores to make brass, which was used for many different purposes including weaponry, ornaments, coins, and armor.
4. Zinc is also crucial to produce many alloys today.
For example, brass is used for musical instruments and hardware applications that must resist corrosion. Solder and nickel-silver are other important alloys.
5. The world’s first-ever battery used zinc as an anode.
The voltaic pile, made in 1799 by Alessandro Volta, used zinc and copper for electrodes with brine-soaked paper as an electrolyte.
6. The metal remains crucial for batteries today.
Zinc-air, silver-zinc, zinc-bromine, and alkaline batteries all use zinc, and they enable everything from hearing aids to military applications to be possible.
7. Galvanizing is still the most important use.
About 50% of the metal is used in galvanizing, which is essentially a way to coat steel or iron so that it doesn’t rust.
8. China is both a major producer and end-user.
China mined 37% of the world’s 13.4 million tonnes of zinc production in 2015. It consumed 47% of the world’s supply that same year.
9. Major mines have been shutting down.
In 2016, China ordered the shutdown of 26 lead and zinc mines in parts of the Hunan province for environmental reasons. Meanwhile, Ireland’s Lisheen Mine and Australia’s Century Mine both shut down last year after being depleted of resources. That takes 630,000 tonnes of annual production off the table.
10. Stockpiles are dwindling.
Warehouse levels are less than half of where they were in 2013.
11. Zinc has been one of the best performing metals in 2016 in terms of price.
It started the year around $0.70/lb, but now it trades for $1.04/lb.
Silver Through the Ages: The Uses of Silver Over Time
The uses of silver span various industries, from renewable energy to jewelry. See how the uses of silver have evolved in this infographic.
Silver is one of the most versatile metals on Earth, with a unique combination of uses both as a precious and industrial metal.
Today, silver’s uses span many modern technologies, including solar panels, electric vehicles, and 5G devices. However, the uses of silver in currency, medicine, art, and jewelry have helped advance civilization, trade, and technology for thousands of years.
The Uses of Silver Over Time
The below infographic from Blackrock Silver takes us on a journey of silver’s uses through time, from the past to the future.
3,000 BC – The Middle Ages
The earliest accounts of silver can be traced to 3,000 BC in modern-day Turkey, where its mining spurred trade in the ancient Aegean and Mediterranean seas. Traders and merchants would use hacksilver—rough-cut pieces of silver—as a medium of exchange for goods and services.
Around 1,200 BC, the Ancient Greeks began refining and minting silver coins from the rich deposits found in the mines of Laurion just outside Athens. By 100 BC, modern-day Spain became the center of silver mining for the Roman Empire while silver bullion traveled along the Asian spice trade routes. By the late 1400s, Spain brought its affinity for silver to the New World where it uncovered the largest deposits of silver in history in the dusty hills of Bolivia.
Besides the uses of silver in commerce, people also recognized silver’s ability to fight bacteria. For instance, wine and food containers were often made out of silver to prevent spoilage. In addition, during breakouts of the Bubonic plague in medieval and renaissance Europe, people ate and drank with silver utensils to protect themselves from disease.
The 1800s – 2000s
New medicinal uses of silver came to light in the 19th and 20th centuries. Surgeons stitched post-operative wounds with silver sutures to reduce inflammation. In the early 1900s, doctors prescribed silver nitrate eyedrops to prevent conjunctivitis in newborn babies. Furthermore, in the 1960s, NASA developed a water purifier that dispensed silver ions to kill bacteria and purify water on its spacecraft.
The Industrial Revolution drove the onset of silver’s industrial applications. Thanks to its high light sensitivity and reflectivity, it became a key ingredient in photographic films, windows, and mirrors. Even today, skyscraper windows are often coated with silver to reflect sunlight and keep interior spaces cool.
The 2000s – Present
The uses of silver have come a long way since hacksilver and utensils, evolving with time and technology.
Silver is the most electrically conductive metal, making it a natural choice for electronic devices. Almost every electronic device with a switch or button contains silver, from smartphones to electric vehicles. Solar panels also utilize silver as a conductive layer in photovoltaic cells to transport and store electricity efficiently.
In addition, it has several medicinal applications that range from treating burn wounds and ulcers to eliminating bacteria in air conditioning systems and clothes.
Silver for the Future
Silver has always been useful to industries and technologies due to its unique properties, from its antibacterial nature to high electrical conductivity. Today, silver is critical for the next generation of renewable energy technologies.
For every age, silver proves its value.
Visualizing 50 Years of Global Steel Production
Global steel production has tripled over the past 50 years, with China’s steel production eclipsing the rest of the world.
Visualizing 50 Years of Global Steel Production
From the bronze age to the iron age, metals have defined eras of human history. If our current era had to be defined similarly, it would undoubtedly be known as the steel age.
Steel is the foundation of our buildings, vehicles, and industries, with its rates of production and consumption often seen as markers for a nation’s development. Today, it is the world’s most commonly used metal and most recycled material, with 1,864 million metric tons of crude steel produced in 2020.
This infographic uses data from the World Steel Association to visualize 50 years of crude steel production, showcasing our world’s unrelenting creation of this essential material.
The State of Steel Production
Global steel production has more than tripled over the past 50 years, despite nations like the U.S. and Russia scaling down their domestic production and relying more on imports. Meanwhile, China and India have consistently grown their production to become the top two steel producing nations.
Below are the world’s current top crude steel producing nations by 2020 production.
|Rank||Country||Steel Production (2020, Mt)|
|#5||🇺🇸 United States||72.7|
|#6||🇰🇷 South Korea||67.1|
Source: World Steel Association. *Estimates.
Despite its current dominance, China could be preparing to scale back domestic steel production to curb overproduction risks and ensure it can reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
As iron ore and steel prices have skyrocketed in the last year, U.S. demand could soon lessen depending on the Biden administration’s actions. A potential infrastructure bill would bring investment into America’s steel mills to build supply for the future, and any walkbalk on the Trump administration’s 2018 tariffs on imported steel could further soften supply constraints.
Steel’s Secret: Infinite Recyclability
Made up primarily of iron ore, steel is an alloy which also contains less than 2% carbon and 1% manganese and other trace elements. While the defining difference might seem small, steel can be 1,000x stronger than iron.
However, steel’s true strength lies in its infinite recyclability with no loss of quality. No matter the grade or application, steel can always be recycled, with new steel products containing 30% recycled steel on average.
The alloy’s magnetic properties make it easy to recover from waste streams, and nearly 100% of the steel industry’s co-products can be used in other manufacturing or electricity generation.
It’s fitting then that steel makes up essential parts of various sustainable energy technologies:
- The average wind turbine is made of 80% steel on average (140 metric tons).
- Steel is used in the base, pumps, tanks, and heat exchangers of solar power installations.
- Electrical steel is at the heart of the generators and motors of electric and hybrid vehicles.
The Steel Industry’s Future Sustainability
Considering the crucial role steel plays in just about every industry, it’s no wonder that prices are surging to record highs. However, steel producers are thinking about long-term sustainability, and are working to make fossil-fuel-free steel a reality by completely removing coal from the metallurgical process.
While the industry has already cut down the average energy intensity per metric ton produced from 50 gigajoules to 20 gigajoules since the 1960s, steel-producing giants like ArcelorMittal are going further and laying out their plans for carbon-neutral steel production by 2050.
Steel consumption and demand is only set to continue rising as the world’s economy gradually reopens, especially as Rio Tinto’s new development of atomized steel powder could bring about the next evolution in 3D printing.
As the industry continues to innovate in both sustainability and usability, steel will continue to be a vital material across industries that we can infinitely recycle and rely on.
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