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Measuring the Level of Competition for Valuable Minerals

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Resource Monopolies: Measuring the Level of Competition for Valuable Minerals

Measuring Competition for Valuable Minerals

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

Everybody loves a little competition.

It levels the playing field and ensures prices and products are kept affordable and available. But how do you measure and track the competitiveness of specific sectors?

The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) is a commonly accepted measurement of market concentration, and in today’s case, we use it to show which mineral sectors have healthy competition between countries, as well as the sectors that are more monopolistic.

What is the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index?

The HHI is calculated by squaring the market share of each competitor and then summing up the resulting numbers. It can range from zero to 10,000.

The closer a market is to a monopoly, the higher the market’s concentration, and the lower its competition. If there were only one company in an industry, that company would have a 100% share of the market, and the HHI would equal 10,000, demonstrating a monopoly.

Conversely, if there were thousands of firms competing, the HHI would be near zero, indicating almost perfect competition.

  • HHI below 1,500: a competitive marketplace
  • HHI between 1,500 – 2,500: a moderately concentrated marketplace
  • HHI of 2,500 or greater: a highly concentrated marketplace

Interestingly, the same technique is also used by the U.S. Department of Justice to look at market competition and potential anti-trust violators, as well.

Global Metal Production

Today’s chart uses data from the World Mining Congress to look at the competition for global minerals between countries. The HHI scores show the minerals most and least exposed to competition, while uncovering opportunities for countries looking to bolster their own mineral production.

Here are 33 minerals ranked, going from highest score (most monopolistic) to lowest (least monopolistic):

RankMineralHHI ScoreType of Mineral
#1Niobium (Nb2O5)8,413Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#2REE (Rare Earth Elements)7,219Non-Ferrous Metals
#3Oil Sands6,871Mineral Fuels
#4Tungsten (W)6,828Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#5Platinum (Pt)5,383Precious Metals
#6Graphite4,990Industrial Minerals
#7Asbestos3,738Industrial Minerals
#8Vanadium (V)3,573Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#9Coking Coal3,423Mineral Fuels
#10Cobalt (Co)3,184Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#11Palladium (Pd)3,163Precious Metals
#12Aluminum (Al)3,078Non-Ferrous Metals
#13Chromium (Cr2O3)2,942Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#14Molybdenum (Mo)2,812Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#15Boron (B)2,749Industrial Minerals
#16Lithium (Li2O)2,749Non-Ferrous Metals
#17Steam Coal2,639Mineral Fuels
#18Lead (Pb)2,505Non-Ferrous Metals
#19Uranium (U308)2,233Mineral Fuels
#20Tin (Sn)2,036Non-Ferrous Metals
#21Iron (Fe)2,015Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#22Diamond1,904Gemstones
#23Zinc (Zn)1,687Non-Ferrous Metals
#24Manganese (Mn)1,627Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#25Potash1,565Industrial Minerals
#26Copper (Cu)1,136Non-Ferrous Metals
#27Titanium (TIO2)1,120Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#28Silver (Ag)1,015Precious Metals
#29Salt (NaCl)982Industrial Minerals
#30Nickel (Ni)949Iron and Ferro-Alloy Metals
#31Natural Gas884Mineral Fuels
#32Petroleum686Mineral Fuels
#33Gold (Au)557Precious Metals

The data here makes it clear that mineral production is not uniformly distributed throughout the world, giving some countries huge advantages while revealing potential supply problems down the road.

Renewables in the Spotlight

While commodities like gold and oil have robust levels of competition around the world, the renewable energy industry relies on more obscure raw materials to make solar, wind, and EVs work.

Rare earth elements (REE) rank #2 on the list with a HHI score of 7,219, while battery minerals such as graphite (#6), vanadium (#8), cobalt (#10), and lithium (#16) also appear high on the list as well.

According to a recent study, the production of rare earth elements is an area of particular concern. Used in everything from electric motors to wind turbines, rare earth demand will need to increase by twelve times by 2050 to reach emissions targets set by the Paris Agreement.

The only problem is that China currently controls 84% of global production, which increases the odds of bottlenecks and scarcity as demand rises. This ultimately creates an interesting scenario, where a sustainable future will be at the mercy of a few a producing nations.

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Batteries

Ranked: The World’s Largest Lithium Producers in 2023

Three countries account for almost 90% of the lithium produced in the world.

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Voronoi graphic showing the top lithium producers in 2023.

The World’s Largest Lithium Producers in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Three countries—Australia, Chile, and China—accounted for 88% of lithium production in 2023.

In this graphic, we list the world’s leading countries in terms of lithium production. These figures come from the latest USGS publication on lithium statistics (published Jan 2024).

Australia Leads, China Approaches Chile

Australia, the world’s leading producer, extracts lithium directly from hard-rock mines, specifically from the mineral spodumene.

The country saw a big jump in output over the last decade. In 2013, Australia produced 13,000 metric tons of lithium, compared to 86,000 metric tons in 2023.

RankCountryLithium production 2023E (metric tons)
1🇦🇺 Australia86,000
2🇨🇱 Chile44,000
3🇨🇳 China33,000
4🇦🇷 Argentina9,600
5🇧🇷 Brazil4,900
6🇨🇦 Canada3,400
7🇿🇼 Zimbabwe3,400
8🇵🇹 Portugal380
🌍 World Total184,680

Chile is second in rank but with more modest growth. Chilean production rose from 13,500 tonnes in 2013 to 44,000 metric tons in 2023. Contrary to Australia, the South American country extracts lithium from brine.

China, which also produces lithium from brine, has been approaching Chile over the years. The country increased its domestic production from 4,000 metric tons in 2013 to 33,000 last year.

Chinese companies have also increased their ownership shares in lithium producers around the globe; three Chinese companies are also among the top lithium mining companies. The biggest, Tianqi Lithium, has a significant stake in Greenbushes, the world’s biggest hard-rock lithium mine in Australia.

Argentina, the fourth country on our list, more than tripled its production over the last decade and has received investments from other countries to increase its output.

With all the top producers increasing output to cover the demand from the clean energy industry, especially for electric vehicle (EV) batteries, the lithium market has seen a surplus recently, which caused prices to collapse by more than 80% from a late-2022 record high.

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