Visualizing 50 Years of Global Steel Production
From the bronze age to the iron age, metals have defined eras of human history. If our current era had to be defined similarly, it would undoubtedly be known as the steel age.
Steel is the foundation of our buildings, vehicles, and industries, with its rates of production and consumption often seen as markers for a nation’s development. Today, it is the world’s most commonly used metal and most recycled material, with 1,864 million metric tons of crude steel produced in 2020.
This infographic uses data from the World Steel Association to visualize 50 years of crude steel production, showcasing our world’s unrelenting creation of this essential material.
The State of Steel Production
Global steel production has more than tripled over the past 50 years, despite nations like the U.S. and Russia scaling down their domestic production and relying more on imports. Meanwhile, China and India have consistently grown their production to become the top two steel producing nations.
Below are the world’s current top crude steel producing nations by 2020 production.
|Rank||Country||Steel Production (2020, Mt)|
|#5||🇺🇸 United States||72.7|
|#6||🇰🇷 South Korea||67.1|
Source: World Steel Association. *Estimates.
Despite its current dominance, China could be preparing to scale back domestic steel production to curb overproduction risks and ensure it can reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
As iron ore and steel prices have skyrocketed in the last year, U.S. demand could soon lessen depending on the Biden administration’s actions. A potential infrastructure bill would bring investment into America’s steel mills to build supply for the future, and any walkbalk on the Trump administration’s 2018 tariffs on imported steel could further soften supply constraints.
Steel’s Secret: Infinite Recyclability
Made up primarily of iron ore, steel is an alloy which also contains less than 2% carbon and 1% manganese and other trace elements. While the defining difference might seem small, steel can be 1,000x stronger than iron.
However, steel’s true strength lies in its infinite recyclability with no loss of quality. No matter the grade or application, steel can always be recycled, with new steel products containing 30% recycled steel on average.
The alloy’s magnetic properties make it easy to recover from waste streams, and nearly 100% of the steel industry’s co-products can be used in other manufacturing or electricity generation.
It’s fitting then that steel makes up essential parts of various sustainable energy technologies:
- The average wind turbine is made of 80% steel on average (140 metric tons).
- Steel is used in the base, pumps, tanks, and heat exchangers of solar power installations.
- Electrical steel is at the heart of the generators and motors of electric and hybrid vehicles.
The Steel Industry’s Future Sustainability
Considering the crucial role steel plays in just about every industry, it’s no wonder that prices are surging to record highs. However, steel producers are thinking about long-term sustainability, and are working to make fossil-fuel-free steel a reality by completely removing coal from the metallurgical process.
While the industry has already cut down the average energy intensity per metric ton produced from 50 gigajoules to 20 gigajoules since the 1960s, steel-producing giants like ArcelorMittal are going further and laying out their plans for carbon-neutral steel production by 2050.
Steel consumption and demand is only set to continue rising as the world’s economy gradually reopens, especially as Rio Tinto’s new development of atomized steel powder could bring about the next evolution in 3D printing.
As the industry continues to innovate in both sustainability and usability, steel will continue to be a vital material across industries that we can infinitely recycle and rely on.
Visualized: Seaport Trade Traffic by Country
This infographic highlights the countries with the highest container traffic across their ports, thus dominating seaport trade in 2021.
Visualized: Seaport Trade Traffic by Country
According to the World Bank, global seaport trade traffic reached 841 million TEUs (20-foot container equivalent units) in 2021.
In this infographic, Winifred Amase uses that data to highlight the countries with the highest seaport trade traffic.
China Leads All Seaport Trade Traffic
With a third of the world’s total seaport trade traffic surrounding its many ports, it’s no surprise to see China on top of the list.
In addition to owning seven of the world’s 10 busiest ports, the country also owns close to 100 ports across 63 other countries. This brought the country’s container traffic up to 263 million TEUs in 2021.
|Country||20-Foot Container Count (2021)|
|🇺🇸 United States||61M|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||30M|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||19M|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR, China||18M|
In second place is the United States, which saw container traffic of 61 million TEUs. Massive U.S. ports in Los Angeles and New York are some of the busiest ports on the continent.
Asian countries dominated the rest of the top 10 list, taking up seven of the remaining eight spots.
Singapore came in third with 37 million 20-foot container units passing through in 2021. The port handled 599 million tonnes of freight, making it the busiest single port in total shipping tonnage.
The ports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi make the United Arab Emirates a key player in Middle Eastern trade. With a container traffic of 19 million TEUs, the UAE is seventh on the list of nations with the highest seaport traffic in 2021.
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