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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Energy

The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements

90 different elements form the building blocks for everything on Earth. Some are being used up, and soon could be endangered.

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The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements

The building blocks for everything on Earth are made from 90 different naturally occurring elements.

This visualization made by the European Chemical Society (EuChemS), shows a periodic table of these 90 different elements, highlighting which ones are in abundance and which ones are in serious threat as of 2021.

On the graphic, the area of each element relates to its number of atoms on a logarithmic scale. The color-coding shows whether there’s enough of each element, or whether the element is becoming scarce, based on current consumption levels.

ElementFull NameStatus
AcActiniumPlentiful supply
AgSilverSerious threat
AIAluminumPlentiful supply
ArArgonPlentiful supply
AsArsenicSerious threat
AtAstatinePlentiful supply
AuGoldLimited availability
BBoronLimited availability
BaBariumPlentiful supply
BeBerylliumPlentiful supply
BiBismuthLimited availability
BrBrominePlentiful supply
CCarbonPlentiful supply / serious threat
CaCalciumPlentiful supply
CdCadmiumRising threat
CeCeriumPlentiful supply
CIChlorinePlentiful supply
CoCobaltRising threat
CrChromiumRising threat
CsCesiumPlentiful supply
CuCopperRising threat
DyDysprosiumRising threat
ErErbiumPlentiful supply
EuEuropiumPlentiful supply
FFlourinePlentiful supply
FeIronPlentiful supply
FrFranciumPlentiful supply
GaGalliumSerious threat
GdGadoliniumPlentiful supply
GeGermaniumSerious threat
HHydrogenPlentiful supply
HeHeliumSerious threat
HfHafniumSerious threat
HgMercuryLimited availability
HoHolmiumPlentiful supply
IIodinePlentiful supply
InIndiumSerious threat
IrIridiumRising threat
KPotassiumPlentiful supply
KrKryptonPlentiful supply
LaLanthanumPlentiful supply
LiLithiumLimited availability
LuLutetiumPlentiful supply
MgMagnesiumLimited availability
MnManganeseLimited availability
MoMolybdenumLimited availability
NNitrogenPlentiful supply
NaSodiumPlentiful supply
NbNiobiumLimited availability
NdNeodymiumLimited availability
NeNeonPlentify supply
NiNickelLimited availability
OOxygenPlentiful supply
OsOsmiumRising threat
PPhosphorusLimited availability
PaProtactiniumPlentiful supply
PbLeadLimited availability
PdPalladiumRising threat
PoPoloniumPlentiful supply
PrPraseodymiumPlentiful supply
PtPlatinumRising threat
RaRadiumPlentiful supply
RbRubidiumPlentiful supply
ReRheniumPlentiful supply
RhRhodiumRising threat
RnRadonPlentify supply
RuRutheniumRising threat
SbAntimonyLimited availability
ScScandiumLimited availability
SeSeleniumLimited availability
SiSiliconPlentiful supply
SSulfurPlentiful supply
SmSamariumPlentiful supply
SnTinLimited availability
SrStrontiumSerious threat
TaTantalumSerious threat
TbTerbiumPlentiful supply
TeTelluriumSerious threat
TiTitaniumPlentiful supply
TIThaliumLimited availability
TmThuliumPlentiful supply
VVanadiumLimited availability
WTungstenLimited availability
XeXenonPlentiful supply
YYttriumSerious threat
YbYtterbiumPlentiful supply
ZnZincSerious threat
ZrZirconiumLimited availability
ThThoriumPlentiful supply
UUraniumRising threat

While these elements don’t technically run out and instead transform (except for helium, which rises and escapes from Earth’s atmosphere), some are being used up exceptionally fast, to the point where they may soon become extremely scarce.

One element worth pointing out on the graphic is carbon, which is three different colors: green, red, and dark gray.

  • Green, because carbon is in abundance (to a fault) in the form of carbon dioxide
  • Red, because it will soon cause a number of cataphoric problems if consumption habits don’t change
  • Gray because carbon-based fuels often come from conflict countries

For more elements-related content, check out our channel dedicated to raw materials and the megatrends that drive them, VC Elements.

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Mining

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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