All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization
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All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization
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Metals are all around us, from our phones and cars to our homes and office buildings.
While we often overlook the presence of these raw materials, they are an essential part of the modern economy. But obtaining these materials can be a complex process that involves mining, refining, and then converting them into usable forms.
So, how much metal gets mined in a year?
Metals vs Ores
Before digging into the numbers, it’s important that we distinguish between ores and metals.
Ores are naturally occurring rocks that contain metals and metal compounds. Metals are the valuable parts of ores that can be extracted by separating and removing the waste rock. As a result, ore production is typically much higher than the actual metal content of the ore. For example, miners produced 347 million tonnes of bauxite ore in 2019, but the actual aluminum metal content extracted from that was only 62.9 million tonnes.
Here are all the metals and metal ores mined in 2019, according to the British Geological Survey:
|Metal/Ore||Quantity Mined (tonnes)||% of Total|
|Technology and Precious Metals||1,335,848||0.04%|
Miners produced roughly three billion tonnes of iron ore in 2019, representing close to 94% of all mined metals. The primary use of all this iron is to make steel. In fact, 98% of iron ore goes into steelmaking, with the rest fulfilling various other applications.
Industrial and technology metals made up the other 6% of all mined metals in 2019. How do they break down?
From construction and agriculture to manufacturing and transportation, virtually every industry harnesses the properties of metals in different ways.
Here are the industrial metals we mined in 2019.
|Metal||Quantity Mined (tonnes)||% of Total|
|Chromium Ores and Concentrates||38,600,000||19%|
|Titanium (Titanium Dioxide Content)||6,300,000||3%|
|Zirconium Minerals (Zircon)||1,337,000||1%|
Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
It’s no surprise that aluminum is the most-produced industrial metal. The lightweight metal is one of the most commonly used materials in the world, with uses ranging from making foils and beer kegs to buildings and aircraft parts.
Manganese and chromium rank second and third respectively in terms of metal mined, and are important ingredients in steelmaking. Manganese helps convert iron ore into steel, and chromium hardens and toughens steel. Furthermore, manganese is a critical ingredient of lithium-manganese-cobalt-oxide (NMC) batteries for electric vehicles.
Although copper production is around one-third that of aluminum, copper has a key role in making modern life possible. The red metal is found in virtually every wire, motor, and electrical appliance in our homes and offices. It’s also critical for various renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles.
Technology and Precious Metals
Technology is only as good as the materials that make it.
Technology metals can be classified as relatively rare metals commonly used in technology and devices. While miners produce some tech and precious metals in large quantities, others are relatively scarce.
|Metal||Quantity Mined in 2019 (tonnes)||% of Total|
|Rare Earth Elements||220,000||16%|
|Platinum Group Metals||457||0.03%|
Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
Tin was the most-mined tech metal in 2019, and according to the International Tin Association, nearly half of it went into soldering.
It’s also interesting to see the prevalence of battery and energy metals. Lithium, cobalt, vanadium, and molybdenum are all critical for various energy technologies, including lithium-ion batteries, wind farms, and energy storage technologies. Additionally, miners also extracted 220,000 tonnes of rare earth elements, of which 60% came from China.
Given their rarity, it’s not surprising that gold, silver, and platinum group metals (PGMs) were the least-mined materials in this category. Collectively, these metals represent just 2.3% of the tech and precious metals mined in 2019.
A Material World
Although humans mine and use massive quantities of metals every year, it’s important to put these figures into perspective.
According to Circle Economy, the world consumes 100.6 billion tonnes of materials annually. Of this total, 3.2 billion tonnes of metals produced in 2019 would account for just 3% of our overall material consumption. In fact, the world’s annual production of cement alone is around 4.1 billion tonnes, dwarfing total metal production.
The world’s appetite for materials is growing with its population. As resource-intensive megatrends such as urbanization and electrification pick up the pace, our material pie will only get larger.
Why Copper and Nickel Are the Key Metals for Energy Utopia
With more renewables and EVs plugging into the grid, copper and nickel are essential building blocks for the energy transition.
Copper and Nickel: The Key Metals for Energy Utopia
The raw materials required to transport and store clean energy are critical for the energy transition. Copper and nickel are two such metals.
Copper is essential for the transmission and distribution of clean electricity, while nickel powers lithium-ion batteries for EVs and energy storage systems.
The above infographic sponsored by CanAlaska Uranium explores how copper and nickel are enabling green technologies and highlights why they are essential for a utopian energy future.
Copper: Transporting Clean Energy
When it comes to conducting electricity, copper is second only to silver. This property makes it an indispensable building block for multiple energy technologies, including:
- Electric vehicles: On average, a typical electric car contains 53kg of copper, primarily found in the wirings and car components.
- Solar power: Solar panels use 2.8 tonnes of copper per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity, mainly for heat exchangers, wiring, and cabling.
- Wind energy: Onshore wind turbines contain 2.9 tonnes of copper per MW of capacity. Offshore wind turbines, which typically use copper in undersea cables, use 8 tonnes per MW.
- Power grids: Copper, alongside aluminum, is the preferred choice for electric transmission and distribution networks due to its reliability and efficiency.
BloombergNEF projects that, due to its expansive role in clean energy, the demand for copper from clean energy applications will double by 2030 from 2020 levels. The table below compares annual copper demand from clean energy, in tonnes, in 2020 vs. 2030:
|Year||Power Grids||EV batteries||Wind||Solar||EV charging||Total
Although power grids will account for the largest portion of annual copper demand through 2030, EV batteries are projected to spearhead the growth.
Nickel: Powering Lithium-ion Batteries
Nickel is a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries for EVs and stationary energy storage systems. For EVs, nickel-based cathodes offer more energy density and longer driving ranges as compared to cathodes with lower nickel content.
According to Wood Mackenzie, batteries could account for 41% of global nickel demand by 2030, up from just 7% in 2021.
|End-use||2021 % of Nickel Demand||2040P % of Nickel Demand|
Nickel-based cathodes for lithium-ion batteries, including NMC (Nickel Manganese Cobalt) and NCA (Nickel Cobalt Aluminum), are prevalent in EVs and make up more than 50% of the battery cathode chemistry market.
A Bright Future for Copper and Nickel
Both copper and nickel are essential building blocks of EVs and other key technologies for the energy transition and ultimately energy utopia.
As more such technologies are deployed, these metals are likely to be in high demand, with clean energy applications supplementing their existing industrial uses.
CanAlaska is a leading exploration company with a strategic portfolio of uranium, nickel, and copper projects in North America. Click here to learn more.
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