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The Base Metal Boom: The Start of a New Bull Market?

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Base metals are the most fundamental minerals produced for the modern economy, and metals such as copper, zinc, nickel, lead, and aluminum are the key components that support sustained economic growth.

During periods of economic expansion, these are the first materials to support a bustling economy, reducing inventory at metal warehouses and eventually their source, mines.

A Base Metal Boom?

Today’s infographic comes to us from Tartisan Nickel and it takes a look at the surging demand for base metals for use in renewable energy and EVs, and whether this could translate into a sustained bull market for base metals.

The Base Metal Boom: The Start of a New Bull Market?

Over the last three years, prices of base metals have risen on the back of a growing economy and the anticipation of usage in new technologies such as lithium-ion batteries, green energy, and electric vehicles:

Cobalt: +232%
Zinc: +64%
Nickel: +59%
Copper: +45%
Lead: +34%
Tin: +36%
Aluminum: +42%

As goes the success and development of nations, so goes the production and consumption of base metals.

Why Higher Prices?

Development outside of the Western world has been the main driver of the base metal boom, and it will likely continue to push prices higher in the future.

China has been the primary consumer of metals due to the country’s rapid economic expansion – and with recent efforts to improve environmental standards, the country is simultaneously eliminating supplies of low quality and environmentally toxic metal production. India and Africa will also be emerging sources of base metal demand for the coming decades.

But this is not solely a story of developing nations, as there are some key developments that will include the developed world in the next wave of demand for base metals.

New Sources of Demand

Future demand for base metals will be driven by the onset of a more connected and sustainable world through the adoption of electronic devices and vehicles. This will require a turnover of established infrastructure and the obsolescence of traditional sources of energy, placing pressure on current sources of base metals.

The transformation will be global and will test the limits of current mineral supply.

Renewable Energy Technology
The power grids around the world will adapt to include renewable sources such as wind, solar and other technologies. According to the World Energy Outlook (IEA 2017), it is expected that between 2017 to 2040, a total of 160 GW of global power net additions will come from renewables each year.

Renewables will capture two-thirds of global investment in power plants to 2040 as they become, for many countries, the cheapest source of new power generation. Renewables rely heavily on base metals for their construction, and would not exist without them.

Electric Vehicles
Gasoline cars will be fossils. According to the International Energy Agency, the number of electric vehicles on the road around the world will hit 125 million by 2030. By this time, China will account for 39% of the global EV market.

Dwindling Supply

Currently, warehouse levels in the London Metals Exchange are sitting at five-year lows, with tin leading the pack with a decline of 400%.

According to the Commodity Markets Outlook (World Bank, April 2018), supply could be curtailed by slower ramp-up of new capacity, tighter environmental constraints, sanctions against commodity producers, and rising costs. If new supply does not come into the market, this could also drive prices for base metals higher.

New Supply?

There is only one source to replenish supply and fulfill future demand, and that is with mining.

New mines need to be discovered, developed and come online to meet demand. In the meantime, those that invest in the base metals could see scarcity drive prices up as the economy moves towards its electric future on a more populated planet.

An extended base metal boom may very well be on the horizon.

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Base Metals

All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization

This massive infographic reveals the dramatic scale of 2019 non-fuel mineral global production.

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All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization

We live in a material world, in that we rely on materials to make our lives better. Without even realizing it, humans consume enormous amounts of metals and minerals with every convenient food package, impressive building, and technological innovation.

Every year, the United States Geological Service (USGS) publishes commodity summaries outlining global mining statistics for over 90 individual minerals and materials. Today’s infographic visualizes the data to reveal the dramatic scale of 2019 non-fuel mineral production.

Read all the way to the bottom; the data will surprise you.

Non-Fuel Minerals: USGS Methodology

A wide variety of minerals can be classified as “non-fuel”, including precious metals, base metals, industrial minerals, and materials used for construction.

Non-fuel minerals are those not used for fuel, such as oil, natural gas and coal. Once non-fuel minerals are used up, there is no replacing them. However, many can be recycled continuously.

The USGS tracked both refinery and mine production of these various minerals. This means that some minerals are the essential ingredients for others on the list. For example, iron ore is critical for steel production, and bauxite ore gets refined into aluminum.

Top 10 Minerals and Metals by Production

Sand and gravel are at the top of the list of non-fuel mineral production.

As these materials are the basic components for the manufacturing of concrete, roads, and buildings, it’s not surprising they take the lead.

RankMetal/Mineral2019 Production (millions of metric tons)
#1Sand and Gravel50,000
#2Cement4,100
#3Iron and Steel3,200
#4Iron Ore2,500
#5Bauxite500
#6Lime430
#7Salt293
#8Phosphate Rock240
#9Nitrogen150
#10Gypsum140

These materials fertilize the food we eat, and they also form the structures we live in and the roads we drive on. They are the bones of the global economy.

Let’s dive into some more specific categories covered on the infographic.

Base Metals

While cement, sand, and gravel may be the bones of global infrastructure, base metals are its lifeblood. Their consumption is an important indicator of the overall health of an economy.

Base metals are non-ferrous, meaning they contain no iron. They are often more abundant in nature and sometimes easier to mine, so their prices are generally lower than precious metals.

RankBase Metal2019 Production (millions of metric tons)
#1Aluminum64.0
#2Copper20.0
#3Zinc13.0
#4Lead4.5
#5Nickel2.7
#6Tin0.3

Base metals are also the critical materials that will help to deliver a green and renewable future. The electrification of everything will require vast amounts of base metals to make everything from batteries to solar cells work.

Precious Metals

Gold and precious metals grab the headlines because of their rarity ⁠— and their production shows just how rare they are.

RankPrecious Metal2019 Production (metric tons)
#1Silver27,000
#2Gold3,300
#3Palladium210
#4Platinum180

While metals form the structure and veins of the global economy, ultimately it is humans and animals that make the flesh of the world, driving consumption patterns.

A Material World: A Perspective on Scale

The global economy’s appetite for materials has quadrupled since 1970, faster than the population, which only doubled. On average, each human uses more than 13 metric tons of materials per year.

In 2017, it’s estimated that humans consumed 100.6B metric tons of material in total. Half of the total comprises sand, clay, gravel, and cement used for building, along with the other minerals mined to produce fertilizer. Coal, oil, and gas make up 15% of the total, while metal makes up 10%. The final quarter are plants and trees used for food and fuel.

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Base Metals

Prove Your Metal: Top 10 Strongest Metals on Earth

There are 91 elements that are defined as metals but not all are the same. Here is a breakdown of the top 10 strongest metals and their applications.

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Prove Your Metal: Top 10 Strongest Metals on Earth

The use of metals and the advancement of human civilization have gone hand in hand — and throughout the ages, each metal has proved its worth based on its properties and applications.

Today’s visualization from Viking Steel Structures outlines the 10 strongest metals on Earth and their applications.

What are Metals?

Metals are solid materials that are typically hard, shiny, malleable, and ductile, with good electrical and thermal conductivity. But not all metal is equal, which makes their uses as varied as their individual properties and benefits.

The periodic table below presents a simple view of the relationship between metals, nonmetals, and metalloids, which you can easily identify by color.

The Periodic Table

While 91 of the 118 elements of the periodic table are considered to be metals, only a few of them stand out as the strongest.

What Makes a Metal Strong?

The strength of a metal depends on four properties:

  1. Tensile Strength: How well a metal resists being pulled apart
  2. Compressive Strength: How well a material resists being squashed together
  3. Yield Strength: How well a rod or beam of a particular metal resists bending and permanent damage
  4. Impact Strength: The ability to resist shattering upon impact with another object or surface

Here are the top 10 metals based on these properties.

The Top 10 Strongest Metals

RankType of MetalExample UseAtomic WeightMelting Point
#1TungstenMaking bullets and missiles183.84 u3422°C / 6192 °F
#2 SteelConstruction of railroads, roads, other infrastructure and appliancesn/a1371°C / 2500°F
#3ChromiumManufacturing stainless steel51.96 u1907°C / 3465°F,
#4TitaniumIn the aerospace Industry, as a lightweight material with strength47.87 u1668°C / 3032°F
#5IronUsed to make bridges, electricity, pylons, bicycle chains, cutting tools and rifle barrels55.85 u1536°C / 2800°F
#6Vanadium80% of vanadium is alloyed with iron to make steel shock and corrosion resistance50.942 u1910°C / 3470°F
#7LutetiumUsed as catalysts in petroleum production.174.96 u1663 °C / 3025°F
#8ZirconiumUsed in nuclear power stations.91.22 u1850°C / 3.362°F
#9OsmiumAdded to platinum or indium to make them harder.190.2 u3000°C / 5,400°F
#10TantalumUsed as an alloy due to its high melting point and anti-corrosion.180.94 u3,017°C / 5462°F

Out of the Forge and into Tech: Metals for the Future

While these metals help to forge the modern world, there is a new class of metals that are set to create a new future.

Rare Earth elements (REEs) are a group of metals do not rely on their strength, but instead their importance in applications in new technologies, including those used for green energy.

MetalUses
NeodymiumMagnets containing neodymium are used in green technologies such as the manufacture of wind turbines and hybrid cars.
LanthanumUsed in catalytic converters in cars, enabling them to run at high temperatures
CeriumThis element is used in camera and telescope lenses.
PraseodymiumUsed to create strong metals for use in aircraft engines.
GadoliniumUsed in X-ray and MRI scanning systems, and also in television screens.
Yttrium, terbium, europiumMaking televisions and computer screens and other devices that have visual displays.

If the world is going to move towards a more sustainable and efficient future, metals—both tough and smart—are going to be critical. Each one will serve a particular purpose to build the infrastructure and technology for the next generation.

Our ability to deploy technology with the right materials will test the world’s mettle to meet the challenges of tomorrow—so choose wisely.

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