As the global rhetoric around trade heats up, aluminum and steel are two metals that have been unexpectedly thrust into the international spotlight.
Both metals are getting considerable attention as journalists and pundits analyze how tariffs may impact international markets and trade relations. But in that coverage so far, one thing that may have been missed is the interesting history and context of these metals, especially within the framework of trade in North America.
Aluminum and Steel in North America
Today’s infographic tells the story of an ongoing North American partnership in these goods, and how this cooperation even helped U.S. and Canadian efforts in World War 2, as well as in addressing other issues of national security.
Aluminum and steel are metals that are not only essential for industry to thrive, but they are also needed to build infrastructure and to ensure national security.
Because of the importance of these metals, countries in North America have been cooperating for many decades to guarantee the best possible supply chains for both aluminum and steel.
The History: Aluminum and Steel
Here are some of the major events that involve the two metals, from the perspective of North American trade and cooperation.
The Pittsburgh Reduction Company, later the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), begins construction of a power plant and aluminum smelter in Shawinigan Falls, Quebec.
The company produces the first aluminum ever on Canadian soil.
This Canadian division is renamed the Northern Aluminum Company
New Uses & WW1
The Wright brothers use aluminum in their first plane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
The first Model T rolls off the assembly line, and steel is a primary component.
The U.S. and Canadian steel industries surround the Great Lakes region. At this point the U.S., produces more steel than any other country in the world.
The US passes the Underwood Tariff, a general reduction in tariff rates that affected Canadian exporters. Zero or near-zero tariffs were introduced for steel. (The Canadian Encylopedia)
At this point, 80% of American-made cars had aluminum crank and gear cases.
World War I
The Great War breaks out. It’s the first ever “modern war”, and metals become strategically important in a way like never before. For the first three years, the U.S. helps the Allies – including Canada – which is already at war, by providing supplies.
Steel was crucial for ships, railways, shells, submarines and airplanes. Meanwhile, aluminum was used in explosives, ammunition, and machine guns – and the Liberty V12 engine, which powered Allied planes, was 1/3 aluminum.
During this stretch, America produced three times as much steel as Germany and Austria. By the end of the war, military usage of aluminum is sucking up 90% of all North American production.
After the war, the interruption of European aluminum shipments to North America drives up Northern Aluminum sales to the United States. In 1919, U.S. aluminum imports from Northern Aluminum totals 5,643 tons, while all European producers add up to 2,360 tons.
After aluminum gains post-war acceptance from consumers, Alcoa uses this new momentum to strike a deal to build one of the world’s greatest aluminum complexes in Quebec on the Saguenay River.
These facilities become the base for Northern Aluminum, which changes its name to the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan). By 1927, the area includes an entire new company town (Arvida), a 27,000 ton smelter, and a hydro power plant. This complex would eventually become the world’s largest aluminum production site for WWII.
The “Roaring Twenties” saw consumer culture take off, with autos and appliances flying off the shelves. Steel and aluminum demand continues to soar.
World War II
Canada and the U.S. establish the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, still in operation today. Near the same time, the Canadian-American defense industrial alliance, known as the Defense Production Sharing Program, is also established.
Canada and the U.S. agree to coordinate production of war materials to reduce duplication, and to allow each country to specialize, with The Hyde Park Declaration of 1941.
The principles of this declaration recognize North America as a single, integrated defense industrial base.
Canada builds the Bagotville airbase to protect the aluminum complex and hydro plants of the Saguenay region, which were crucial in supplying American and Canadian forces. A Hawker Hurricane squadron is permanently stationed, to protect the area.
The Saguenay facilities were so prolific that Canada supplied 40% of the Allies’ total aluminum production.
“The record proves that in peaceful commerce the combined efforts of our countries can produce outstanding results. Our trade with each other is far greater than that of any other two nations on earth.” – Harry Truman, 33rd U.S. President, 1947
Cold War & North American Integration
The U.S. focuses on Canadian resources after the President’s Materials Policy Commission warns of future shortages of various metals, which could make the U.S. dependent on insecure foreign sources during times of conflict.
Canada and the U.S. sign the Defense Production Sharing Agreement, which aims to maintain a balance in trade for defense products. At this point, Canada relies on the U.S. for military technology – and the U.S. relies on Canada for important military inputs.
The St. Lawrence Seaway opens, providing ocean-going vessels access to Canadian and U.S. ports on the Great Lakes. This facilitates the shipping of iron ore, steel, and aluminum.
The Canada-U.S. Auto Pact allows for the integration of the Canadian and US auto industries in a shared North American market. This paves the way for iron ore, steel, and aluminum trade.
The U.S. and Canada sign a free trade agreement, which eventually gets rolled into NAFTA in 1994.
Modern Aluminum and Steel Trade
U.S. Steel buys the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) for $1.9 billion
The U.S. and Canada are each other’s best international customer for a variety of goods – including steel and aluminum.
20 Common Metal Alloys and What They’re Made Of
You can’t find stainless steel, brass, sterling silver, or white gold on the periodic table. Learn about 20 common metal alloys, and what they are made from.
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.
How AI and Big Data Will Unlock the Next Wave of Mineral Discoveries
Mineral exploration produces massive amounts of data. With AI, geologists can produce geological insights from this data to make the next discovery.
How AI and Big Data Will Unlock the Next Mineral Discovery
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are rapidly proving their value across many industries.
Today’s infographic comes from GoldSpot Discoveries, and it shows that when this tech is applied to massive geological data sets, that there is growing potential to unlock the next wave of mineral discoveries.
Mineral Exploration: Fortunes Go to the Few
Discovering new sources of minerals, such as copper, gold, or even cobalt, can be notoriously difficult but also very rewarding. According to Goldspot, the chance of finding a new deposit is around 0.5%, with odds improving to 5% if exploration takes place near a known resource.
On the whole, mineral exploration has not been a winning prospect if you compare the total dollar spend and the actual value of the resulting discoveries.
Measuring Discovery Performance by Region (2005 to 2014)
|Region||Exploration Spend||Estimated Value of Discoveries||Value/Spend ratio|
|Australia||$13 billion||$13 billion||0.97|
|Canada||$25 billion||$19 billion||0.77|
|USA||$10 billion||$5 billion||0.48|
|Latin America||$33 billion||$19 billion||0.57|
|Pacific/SE Asia||$8 billion||$4 billion||0.49|
|Africa||$20 billion||$23 billion||1.19|
|Western Europe||$4 billion||$2 billion||0.42|
|Rest of World||$27 billion||$8 billion||0.32|
|Total||$140 billion||$93 billion||0.57|
Figures in 2014 dollars. (Source: MinEx Consulting, March 2015)
Aside from the geographic insights, on the surface this data reveals that mineral exploration does not pay for itself. That said, there are still significant discoveries worth billions of dollars – it’s just the returns go inordinately to a few small players that make big finds.
Much of the money spent on exploration may not have produced the next great discovery, but you can be sure it created massive volumes of data that could be used for further refining of exploration models.
So, What is the Problem?
Every exploration failure or success produces geological insights. The mineral exploration process is the source of massive amounts of data in the form of soil samples, chip samples, geochemistry, drill results, and assay results. Each drill hole is a tiny snapshot into the processes that form the earth.
A single drill hole can create 200 megabytes of data and when there are many drill holes coupled with other types of information, an exploration project can produce terabytes of data. If you wanted to compare your one project to hundreds of others to find the best insights, the amount of data becomes dizzying.
All these data points are clues that can be used to find new mineral deposits, but to sort through them is too much for even an entire team of capable geologists.
Luckily, using today’s technology, this data can now be used to train computers to spot the areas showing similar patterns to past discoveries.
The true power of AI will be in its ability to empower technically trained professionals to make decisions in an increasingly complex and data-driven world.
Professor Ajay Agrawal, a noted academic in AI and founder of the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab, categorizes human activities into five categories:
- Data collection
- Information retrieval
He concludes that machines should do the first three and that humans – such as geologists, doctors, lawyers, investment bankers and others – should make the judgment calls and take the actions based on predictive capabilities of AI.
The mineral exploration industry presents a good example of how AI and big data can help technical professionals make discoveries faster, with less money, using a wide variety of data inputs created.
Opportunity Generator and the AI-friendly Future
AI can take the large amounts of data from many different projects in order to spot the right opportunities to further explore, building on decades of geological data from projects around the world.
The right technology can help reduce the risk inherent in exploration and lead to more mineral discoveries on budget, rewarding those that deployed their data most effectively. Companies that are able to harness this power will tip the scales in their favor.
As a result, mineral exploration is no longer so much an art of interpretation – but instead, it becomes closer to a pure science, giving geologists a whole-field perspective of all the data.
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