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China Consumes Mind-Boggling Amounts of Raw Materials [Chart]

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China Consumes Mind-Boggling Amounts of Raw Materials [Chart]

China Consumes Mind-Boggling Amounts of Raw Materials [Chart]

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Over the last 20 years, the world economy has relied on the Chinese economic growth engine more than it would like to admit. The 1.4 billion people living in the world’s most populous country account for 13% of global GDP, which is significant no matter how it is interpreted. However, in the commodity sector, China has another magnitude of importance. The fact is that China consumes mind-bending amounts of materials, energy, and food. That’s why the prospect of slowing Chinese growth is likely to continue as a source of nightmares for investors focused on the commodity sector.

The country consumes a big proportion of the world’s materials used in infrastructure. It consumes 54% of aluminum, 48% of copper, 50% of nickel, 45% of all steel, and 60% of concrete. In fact, the country has consumed more concrete in the last three years than the United States did in all of the 20th century.

China is also prolific in accumulating precious metals – the country buys or mines 23% of gold and 15% of the world’s silver supply.

With many mouths to feed, China also needs large amounts of food. About 30% of rice, 22% of corn, and 17% of wheat gets eaten by the Chinese.

Lastly, the country is no hack in terms of burning fuel either. Notably, China uses 49% of coal for power generation as well as metallurgical processes in making steel. It also uses 13% of the world’s uranium and 12% of all oil.

These facts really hit home to show how important China is to the global consumption of raw materials. If China is unable to navigate its tricky transition to a consumer-driven economy and has a “hard landing”, it will be unlikely to see any growth in commodity prices triggered from the demand side. That said, supply is equally as important and it tells a different story: with companies like Glencore cutting copper production by 400,000 tons to better service its massive debt, the floor for commodities could be in.

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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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