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
The U.S. and Canada are each other’s best international customer for a variety of goods – including steel and aluminum.
The Top 10 Biggest Companies in Brazil
What drives some of the world’s emerging economies? From natural resources to giant banks, here are the top 10 biggest companies in Brazil.
The Top 10 Biggest Companies in Brazil
In 2009, the at-the-time emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China held their first formal summits as members of BRIC (with South Africa joining in 2010).
Together, BRICS represents 26.7% of the world’s land surface and 41.5% of its population. By GDP ranking, they’re also some of the most powerful economies in the world.
But what drives their economies? We’re highlighting the top 10 biggest companies in each country, starting with Brazil.
What Are the Biggest Public Companies in Brazil?
Brazil isn’t just one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world, it is also an economic powerhouse.
With over 213 million people, Brazil is the sixth most populous country on Earth and the largest in Latin America. It’s also the wealthiest on the continent, with the world’s 12th-largest economy.
Once a colony focused on sugar and gold, Brazil rapidly industrialized in the 20th century. Today, it is a top 10 exporter of industrial steel, with the country’s economic strength coming chiefly from natural resources and financials.
Here are Brazil’s biggest public companies by market capitalization in October 2021:
|Top 10 Companies (October 2021)||Category||Market Cap (USD)|
|Vale||Metals and Mining||$73.03B|
|Petróleo Brasileiro||Oil and Gas||$69.84B|
|Banco Santander Brasil||Financial||$24.70B|
|Rede D’Or Sao Luiz||Hospital||$23.79B|
At the top of the ranking is Vale, a metals and mining giant that is the world’s largest producer of iron ore and nickel. Also the operator of infrastructure including hydroelectricity plants, railroads, and ports, It consistently ranks as the most valuable company in Latin America.
Vale and second-ranking company Petróleo Brasileiro, Brazil’s largest oil producer, were former state-owned corporations that became privatized in the 1990s.
Finance in Brazil’s Top 10 Biggest Companies
Other than former monopolies, the top 10 biggest companies in Brazil highlight the power of the banking sector.
Five of the 10 companies with a market cap above $20 billion are in the financial industry.
They include Itaú Unibanco, the largest bank in the Southern Hemisphere, and Banco Santander Brasil, the Brazilian subsidiary of Spanish finance corp.
Another well-known subsidiary is brewing company Ambev, which produces the majority of the country’s liquors and also bottles and distributes PepsiCo products in much of Latin America. Ambev is an important piece of Belgian drink juggernaut Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is one of the world’s largest 100 companies.
Noticeably missing from the top 10 list are companies in the agriculture sector, as Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of coffee, soybeans, beef, and ethanol. Many multinational corporations have Brazilian subsidiaries or partners for supply chain access, which has recently put a spotlight on Amazon deforestation.
What other companies or industries do you associate with Brazil?
Correction: Two companies listed had errors in their market cap calculations and have been updated. All data is as of October 11, 2021.
All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization
From iron ore to rare earths, over 3 billion tonnes of metals are mined each year. This chart shows them all on a relative scale.
All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization
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.
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