The History of North American Cooperation on Aluminum and Steel
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The History of North American Cooperation on Aluminum and Steel

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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.

The History of North American Cooperation on Aluminum and Steel

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.

1899
The Pittsburgh Reduction Company, later the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), begins construction of a power plant and aluminum smelter in Shawinigan Falls, Quebec.

1901
The company produces the first aluminum ever on Canadian soil.

1902
This Canadian division is renamed the Northern Aluminum Company

New Uses & WW1

1903
The Wright brothers use aluminum in their first plane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

1908
The first Model T rolls off the assembly line, and steel is a primary component.

1910
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.

1913
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)

1914
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.

Interwar Period

1919
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.

1925
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.

1929
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

1940
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.

1941
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.

1942
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.

1945
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

1952
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.

1956
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.

1959
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.

1965
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.

1989
The U.S. and Canada sign a free trade agreement, which eventually gets rolled into NAFTA in 1994.

Modern Aluminum and Steel Trade

Today
The U.S. and Canada are each other’s best international customer for a variety of goods – including steel and aluminum.

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Mapped: The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production

Gold mining companies produced over 3,500 tonnes of gold in 2021. Where in the world are the largest gold mines?

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The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Gold mining is a global business, with hundreds of mining companies digging for the precious metal in dozens of countries.

But where exactly are the largest gold mines in the world?

The above infographic uses data compiled from S&P Global Market Intelligence and company reports to map the top 10 gold-producing mines in 2021.

Editor’s Note: The article uses publicly available global production data from the World Gold Council to calculate the production share of each mine. The percentages slightly differ from those calculated by S&P.

The Top Gold Mines in 2021

The 10 largest gold mines are located across nine different countries in North America, Oceania, Africa, and Asia.

Together, they accounted for around 13 million ounces or 12% of global gold production in 2021.

RankMineLocationProduction (ounces)% of global production
#1Nevada Gold Mines🇺🇸 U.S. 3,311,0002.9%
#2Muruntau🇺🇿 Uzbekistan 2,990,0202.6%
#3Grasberg🇮🇩 Indonesia 1,370,0001.2%
#4Olimpiada🇷🇺 Russia 1,184,0681.0%
#5Pueblo Viejo🇩🇴 Dominican Republic 814,0000.7%
#6Kibali🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo 812,0000.7%
#7Cadia🇦🇺 Australia 764,8950.7%
#8Lihir🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea 737,0820.6%
#9Canadian Malartic🇨🇦 Canada 714,7840.6%
#10Boddington🇦🇺 Australia 696,0000.6%
N/ATotalN/A13,393,84911.7%

Share of global gold production is based on 3,561 tonnes (114.5 million troy ounces) of 2021 production as per the World Gold Council.

In 2019, the world’s two largest gold miners—Barrick Gold and Newmont Corporation—announced a historic joint venture combining their operations in Nevada. The resulting joint corporation, Nevada Gold Mines, is now the world’s largest gold mining complex with six mines churning out over 3.3 million ounces annually.

Uzbekistan’s state-owned Muruntau mine, one of the world’s deepest open-pit operations, produced just under 3 million ounces, making it the second-largest gold mine. Muruntau represents over 80% of Uzbekistan’s overall gold production.

Only two other mines—Grasberg and Olimpiada—produced more than 1 million ounces of gold in 2021. Grasberg is not only the third-largest gold mine but also one of the largest copper mines in the world. Olimpiada, owned by Russian gold mining giant Polyus, holds around 26 million ounces of gold reserves.

Polyus was also recently crowned the biggest miner in terms of gold reserves globally, holding over 104 million ounces of proven and probable gold between all deposits.

How Profitable is Gold Mining?

The price of gold is up by around 50% since 2016, and it’s hovering near the all-time high of $2,000/oz.

That’s good news for gold miners, who achieved record-high profit margins in 2020. For every ounce of gold produced in 2020, gold miners pocketed $828 on average, significantly higher than the previous high of $666/oz set in 2011.

With inflation rates hitting decade-highs in several countries, gold mining could be a sector to watch, especially given gold’s status as a traditional inflation hedge.

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The 50 Minerals Critical to U.S. Security

This graphic lists all minerals that are deemed critical to both the economic and national security of the United States.

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The 50 Minerals Critical to U.S. Security

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

The U.S. aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as part of its commitment to tackling climate change, but might be lacking the critical minerals needed to achieve its goals.

The American green economy will rely on renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, along with the electrification of transportation. However, local production of the raw materials necessary to produce these technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles, is lacking. Understandably, this has raised concerns in Washington.

In this graphic, based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, we list all of the minerals that the government has deemed critical to both the economic and national security of the United States.

What are Critical Minerals?

A critical mineral is defined as a non-fuel material considered vital for the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies, whose supply may be at risk. This can be due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policy, or other factors.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a list of 35 critical minerals. The new list, released in February 2022, contains 15 more commodities.

Much of the increase in the new list is the result of splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as “mineral groups.” In addition, the 2022 list of critical minerals adds nickel and zinc to the list while removing helium, potash, rhenium, and strontium.

Mineral Example UsesNet Import Reliance
BerylliumAlloying agent in aerospace, defense industries 11%
AluminumPower lines, construction, electronics 13%
ZirconiumHigh-temparature ceramics production 25%
PalladiumCatalytic converters40%
GermaniumFiber optics, night vision applications50%
LithiumRechargeable batteries 50%
MagnesiumAlloys, electronics 50%
NickelStainless steel, rechargeable batteries 50%
TungstenWear-resistant metals50%
BariteHydrocarbon production75%
ChromiumStainless steel75%
TinCoatings, alloys for steel 75%
CobaltRechargeable batteries, superalloys76%
PlatinumCatalytic converters 79%
AntimonyLead-acid batteries, flame retardants 81%
ZincMetallurgy to produce galvanized steel 83%
TitaniumWhite pigment, metal alloys88%
BismuthMedical, atomic research 94%
TelluriumSolar cells, thermoelectric devices95%
VanadiumAlloying agent for iron and steel96%
ArsenicSemi-conductors, lumber preservatives, pesticides 100%
CeriumCatalytic converters, ceramics, glass, metallurgy100%
CesiumResearch, development100%
DysprosiumData storage devices, lasers100%
ErbiumFiber optics, optical amplifiers, lasers100%
EuropiumPhosphors, nuclear control rods 100%
FluorsparManufacture of aluminum, cement, steel, gasoline100%
GadoliniumMedical imaging, steelmaking100%
GalliumIntegrated circuits, LEDs100%
GraphiteLubricants, batteries100%
HolmiumPermanent magnets, nuclear control rods100%
IndiumLiquid crystal display screens 100%
LanthanumCatalysts, ceramics, glass, polishing compounds100%
LutetiumScintillators for medical imaging, cancer therapies 100%
ManganeseSteelmaking, batteries 100%
NeodymiumRubber catalysts, medical, industrial lasers 100%
NiobiumSteel, superalloys100%
PraseodymiumPermanent magnets, batteries, aerospace alloys100%
RubidiumResearch, development in electronics 100%
SamariumCancer treatment, absorber in nuclear reactors 100%
ScandiumAlloys, ceramics, fuel cells100%
TantalumElectronic components, superalloys100%
TerbiumPermanent magnets, fiber optics, lasers100%
ThuliumMetal alloys, lasers 100%
YtterbiumCatalysts, scintillometers, lasers, metallurgy 100%
YttriumCeramic, catalysts, lasers, metallurgy, phosphors 100%
IridiumCoating of anodes for electrochemical processesNo data available
RhodiumCatalytic converters, electrical componentsNo data available
RutheniumElectrical contacts, chip resistors in computersNo data available
HafniumNuclear control rods, alloysNet exporter

The challenge for the U.S. is that the local production of these raw materials is extremely limited.

For instance, in 2021 there was only one operating nickel mine in the country, the Eagle mine in Michigan. The facility ships its concentrates abroad for refining and is scheduled to close in 2025. Likewise, the country only hosted one lithium mine, the Silver Peak Mine in Nevada.

At the same time, most of the country’s supply of critical minerals depends on countries that have historically competed with America.

China’s Dominance in Minerals

Perhaps unsurprisingly, China is the single largest supply source of mineral commodities for the United States.

Cesium, a critical metal used in a wide range of manufacturing, is one example. There are only three pegmatite mines in the world that can produce cesium, and all were controlled by Chinese companies in 2021.

Furthermore, China refines nearly 90% of the world’s rare earths. Despite the name, these elements are abundant on the Earth’s crust and make up the majority of listed critical minerals. They are essential for a variety of products like EVs, advanced ceramics, computers, smartphones, wind turbines, monitors, and fiber optics.

After China, the next largest source of mineral commodities to the United States has been Canada, which provided the United States with 16 different elements in 2021.

The Rising Demand for Critical Minerals

As the world’s clean energy transitions gather pace, demand for critical minerals is expected to grow quickly.

According to the International Energy Association, the rise of low-carbon power generation is projected to triple mineral demand from this sector by 2040.

The shift to a sustainable economy is important, and consequently, securing the critical minerals necessary for it is just as vital.

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