Every day, you’re likely to encounter metals that cannot be found anywhere on the periodic table.
You may play a brass instrument while wearing a white gold necklace – or maybe you cook with a cast iron skillet and store your leftovers in a stainless steel refrigerator.
It’s likely that you know these common metal alloys by name, and you can probably even imagine what they look and feel like. But do you know what base metals these alloys are made of, exactly?
Common Metal Alloys
Today’s infographic comes to us from Alan’s Factory Outlet, and it breaks down metal and non-metal components that go into popular metal alloys.
In total, 20 alloys are highlighted, and they range from household names (i.e. bronze, sterling silver) to lesser-known metals that are crucial for industrial purposes (i.e. solder, gunmetal, magnox).
Humans make metal alloys for various reasons.
Some alloys have long-standing historical significance. For example, electrum is a naturally-occurring alloy of gold and silver (with trace amounts of copper) that was used to make the very first metal coins in ancient history.
However, most of the common metal alloys on the above list are actually human inventions that are used to achieve practical purposes. Some were innovated by brilliant metallurgists, while others were discovered by fluke, but they’ve all had an ongoing impact on our species over time.
Alloys with an Impact
The Bronze Age (3,000 BC – 1,200 BC) is an important historical period that is rightfully named after one game-changing development: the ability to use bronze. This alloy, made from copper and tin, was extremely useful to our ancestors because it is much stronger and harder than its component metals.
Steel is another great example of an alloy that has changed the world. It is one of the most important and widely-used metals today. Without steel, modern civilization (skyscrapers, bridges, etc.) simply wouldn’t be possible.
While nobody knows exactly who invented steel, the alloy has a widely-known cousin that was likely invented in somewhat accidental circumstances.
In 1912, English metallurgist Harry Brearley had been tasked with finding a more erosion-resistant steel for a small arms manufacturer, trying many variations of alloys with none seeming to be suitable. However, in his scrap metal heap – where almost all of the metals he tried were rusting – there was one gun barrel that remained astonishingly untouched.
The metal alloy – now known to the world as stainless steel – was a step forward in creating a corrosion-resistant steel that is now used in many applications ranging from medical uses to heavy industry.
Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country
We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium reserves by country, with 3 countries accounting for more than half of total reserves.
Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country
There can be a tendency to believe that uranium deposits are scarce from the critical role it plays in generating nuclear energy, along with all the costs and consequences related to the field.
But uranium is actually fairly plentiful: it’s more abundant than gold and silver, for example, and about as present as tin in the Earth’s crust.
We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium resources by country, as of 2021. Figures come from the World Nuclear Association, last updated on August 2023.
Ranked: Uranium Reserves By Country (2021)
Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada have the largest shares of available uranium resources—accounting for more than 50% of total global reserves.
But within these three, Australia is the clear standout, with more than 1.7 million tonnes of uranium discovered (28% of the world’s reserves) currently. Its Olympic Dam mine, located about 600 kilometers north of Adelaide, is the the largest single deposit of uranium in the world—and also, interestingly, the fourth largest copper deposit.
Despite this, Australia is only the fourth biggest uranium producer currently, and ranks fifth for all-time uranium production.
|Share of Global
|Uranium Reserves (Tonnes)
|🇿🇦 South Africa
|🌍 Rest of World
Figures are rounded.
Outside the top three, Russia and Namibia both have roughly the same amount of uranium reserves: about 8% each, which works out to roughly 470,000 tonnes.
South Africa, Brazil, and Niger all have 5% each of the world’s total deposits as well.
China completes the top 10, with a 3% share of uranium reserves, or about 224,000 tonnes.
A caveat to this is that current data is based on known uranium reserves that are capable of being mined economically. The total amount of the world’s uranium is not known exactly—and new deposits can be found all the time. In fact the world’s known uranium reserves increased by about 25% in the last decade alone, thanks to better technology that improves exploration efforts.
Meanwhile, not all uranium deposits are equal. For example, in the aforementioned Olympic Dam, uranium is recovered as a byproduct of copper mining occurring at the same site. In South Africa, it emerges as a byproduct during treatment of ores in the gold mining process. Orebodies with high concentrations of two substances can increase margins, as costs can be shared for two different products.
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