Zinc: The Essential, Sustainable, and Versatile Metal
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Zinc: The Essential, Sustainable, and Versatile Metal

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The following content is sponsored by Trilogy Metals.

What would the world be like without zinc?

Long-running TV show The Simpsons showed us one depiction what this could look like—but in order to truly gauge the impact of the metal on our lives, we need a better understanding of the uses of zinc and its role in modern life.

Zinc’s Role in Modern Life

Zinc is a naturally occurring mineral that is present all around us: from our bodies, foods, and medicines to the buildings we live and work in. Despite this, very few people actually know how it gets there.

This infographic comes to us from Trilogy Metals and looks at the widespread uses of zinc in the modern economy, from construction and infrastructure to health, farming, and green energy.

The Zinc Supply Chain

Zinc is the fourth most used metal in the world behind iron, aluminum, and copper.

Before zinc makes it into its various applications, miners have to extract the metal from the ground. So which countries are the top producers of zinc?

CountryMined Zinc Production (2019, metric tons)Share of World Production (2019)
China4,300,00033%
Peru1,400,00011%
Australia1,300,00010%
Total7,000,00054%

China, Peru, and Australia account for 7 million tons or 54% of the world’s zinc production. Although the U.S. is among the world’s top five zinc producers, it only produced 780,000 metric tons of the silvery metal in 2019—roughly one-fifth of China’s zinc production.

We don’t always use zinc in its raw, metallic form; it is often refined and processed first.

The United States is lagging in the production of refined zinc, with a net import reliance of 87%. As the demand for zinc rises, local sources of mined and refined zinc will be valuable for import-reliant countries like the U.S.

But where does the demand for zinc come from, and what makes it so valuable?

Zinc Strengthens: Infrastructure and Alloys

Zinc is also referred to as the “galvanizing metal” for its role in protecting steel. In fact, galvanizing accounts for around 50% of total annual zinc usage.

Galvanizing with zinc improves steel in various ways:

  • Strength
    Adding zinc as a protective layer provides steel with higher impact strength
  • Longevity
    The zinc coating on galvanized steel lasts around 50 years, allowing structures made from steel to last longer
  • Corrosion-resistance
    Zinc acts as a sacrificial coating for the underlying steel, protecting it from corrosion and rust

From steel-frame buildings and bridges to furniture and automotive body parts, galvanized steel plays a critical role in building sustainable infrastructure.

According to a study by the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, corrosion costs the world $2.5 trillion annually. Given that only 6% of all steel produced annually is galvanized, increasing the use of zinc-coated steel could potentially reduce this economic impact.

Zinc in Alloys

Besides galvanizing, alloying is one of the most common uses of zinc. Zinc’s ability to provide other metals with strength and corrosion-resistance makes it an effective alloying material.

Around 25% of all zinc is used in alloys to create metals such as brass, which are commonly found in household fixtures, plumbing fittings, electronic devices, and musical instruments. Additionally, zinc alloys have a range of engineering applications, thanks to their rigidity, strength, and conductivity.

Zinc Improves: Health and Productivity

Zinc is not only a natural part of our body but also a critical nutrient for our immune systems.

The UN has labeled zinc a “life-saving commodity”—increased access to zinc could prevent 200,000 childhood deaths annually. Zinc is an essential nutrient for various reasons:

  • Helps fight infections
  • Vital for taste and smell
  • Enhances memory and thinking

Furthermore, zinc oxide, a compound produced by oxidizing metallic zinc, is a key ingredient in various health and medicinal products including cosmetics, food additives, and anti-fungal creams.

Zinc in Crops

Besides its critical role in the human body, zinc is also an essential micronutrient for plants.

When farmers add zinc to soils in the form of zinc oxide, it helps their crops resist tough conditions such as drought, salinity, and heat. A stable supply of zinc can also help crops reach higher productivity and yield levels.

As the global population grows, crop productivity will be important in addressing the higher demand for food. Zinc has an essential role to play in making crops resilient and more productive.

Zinc Supports: The Clean Energy Transition

The transition to a low-carbon, clean energy future will be mineral intensive—and zinc is playing a key role in boosting this transition.

Zinc-air batteries are quickly emerging as an efficient clean energy-storage solution that can provide renewable electricity in remote regions. Three factors make zinc-air batteries an integral part of the clean energy transition:

  • Efficient for storing non-constant renewable energy
  • Affordable because of their use of zinc
  • High energy density

In fact, NantEnergy’s zinc-air energy storage systems have already made a significant impact on sustainability.

  • Avoided 50,000 tons of CO2 emissions
  • Reduced 4 million liters of diesel fuel use
  • Provided 200,000 people with access to power

Additionally, zinc protects the steel used to build renewable energy infrastructure. Offshore wind masts are made from zinc thermal sprayed steel to prevent corrosion, and solar PV panels use support structures made of galvanized steel.

Zinc in the Circular Economy

Zinc is part of a circular economy that restores, recovers, and reuses.

For starters, zinc is fully recyclable—it can be recycled from scrap without losing any of its properties. As a matter of fact, 60% of all produced zinc is still in use. Moreover, zinc’s 45% end-of-life recycling rate means that almost half of all the zinc produced is recycled after final-usage.

Zinc’s contribution to the circular economy will help minimize waste and improve resource sustainability as our material needs grow.

Zinc: Strengthening the Path to a Sustainable Future

The uses of zinc today are widespread and make an enormous impact on almost every aspect of our modern lives. Just as our present world could not function without zinc, so will our future.

As we transition to a cleaner world, zinc will continue strengthening, improving, and supporting the modern economy.

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Smashing Atoms: The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is among the world’s cleanest sources of energy, but how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?

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The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Uranium has been around for millennia, but we only recently began to understand its unique properties.

Today, the radioactive metal fuels hundreds of nuclear reactors, enabling carbon-free energy generation across the globe. But how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?

The above infographic from the Sprott Physical Uranium Trust outlines the history of nuclear energy and highlights the role of uranium in producing clean energy.

From Discovery to Fission: Uncovering Uranium

Just like all matter, the history of uranium and nuclear energy can be traced back to the atom.

Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, first discovered uranium in 1789 by extracting it from a mineral called “pitchblende”. He named uranium after the then newly discovered planet, Uranus. But the history of nuclear power really began in 1895 when German engineer Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays and radiation, kicking off a series of experiments and discoveries—including that of radioactivity.

In 1905, Albert Einstein set the stage for nuclear power with his famous theory relating mass and energy, E = mc2. Roughly 35 years later, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman confirmed his theory by firing neutrons into uranium atoms, which yielded elements lighter than uranium. According to Einstein’s theory, the mass lost during the reaction changed into energy. This demonstrated that fission—the splitting of one atom into lighter elements—had occurred.

“Nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy which we use today.”

—Winston Churchill, 1955.

Following the discovery of fission, scientists worked to develop a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. In 1939, a team of French scientists led by Frédéric Joliot-Curie demonstrated that fission can cause a chain reaction and filed the first patent on nuclear reactors.

Later in 1942, a group of scientists led by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard set off the first nuclear chain reaction through the Chicago Pile-1. Interestingly, they built this makeshift reactor using graphite bricks on an abandoned squash court in the University of Chicago.

These experiments proved that uranium could produce energy through fission. However, the first peaceful use of nuclear fission did not come until 1951, when Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-1) in Idaho generated the first electricity sourced from nuclear power.

The Power of the Atom: Nuclear Power and Clean Energy

Nuclear reactors harness uranium’s properties to generate energy without any greenhouse gas emissions. While uranium’s radioactivity makes it unique, it has three other properties that stand out:

  • Material Density: Uranium has a density of 19.1g/cm3, making it one of the densest metals on Earth. For reference, it is nearly as heavy (and dense) as gold.
  • Abundance: At 2.8 parts per million, uranium is approximately 700 times more abundant than gold, and 37 times more abundant than silver.
  • Energy Density: Uranium is extremely energy-dense. A one-inch tall uranium pellet contains the same amount of energy as 120 gallons of oil.

Thanks to its high energy density, the use of uranium fuel makes nuclear power more efficient than other energy sources. This includes renewables like wind and solar, which typically require much more land (and more units) to generate the same amount of electricity as a single nuclear reactor.

But nuclear power offers more than just a smaller land footprint. It’s also one of the cleanest and most reliable energy sources available today, poised to play a major role in the energy transition.

The Future of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Although nuclear power is often left out of the clean energy conversation, the ongoing energy crisis has brought it back into focus.

Several countries are going nuclear in a bid to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while building reliable energy grids. For example, nuclear power is expected to play a prominent role in the UK’s plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Furthermore, Japan recently approved restarts at three of its nuclear reactors after initially phasing out nuclear power following the Fukushima accident.

The resurgence of nuclear power, in addition to reactors that are already under construction, will likely lead to higher demand for uranium—especially as the world embraces clean energy.

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Showcasing the Strength of Canadian Gold Mining

Canadian gold mining has grown to become a highly prolific industry, thanks to its geological riches and political stability.

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Showcasing the Strength of Canadian Gold Mining

Gold mining has long played an integral role in shaping Canada’s cities and its modern day economy. The gold mining infrastructure that was built alongside the country’s towns in the 19th century has grown to provide $21.6 billion worth of exports for Canada in 2020.

When combined with the country’s superb geology, Canada’s jurisdictional strengths make it one of the most prolific and secure locations in the world for mining companies to explore, develop, and produce gold.

This infographic sponsored by Clarity Gold dives into how Canada has grown into a nation built for gold mining. Both in how the country facilitates the production of gold, and how the gold mining industry supports Canada’s economy and local communities.

Canada’s Golden Geology and Production

Gold is scattered across the Canadian landscape in a variety of gold mining regions and districts, with the most prolific located between Ontario and Québec.

The 2 billion year-old Archean greenstone belt that arcs through the centre of the Canadian shield provides the foundation for the Abitibi gold belt, which has produced more than 190Moz of gold.

Gold Mining District/RegionProvinces/TerritoriesGold Produced (million troy ounces)
Abitibi Greenstone BeltOntario and Québec>190Moz
Trans-Hudson CorridorSaskatchewan and Manitoba>40Moz
Red LakeOntario>30Moz
Golden TriangleBritish Columbia>5Moz

Source: Resource World

The Trans-Hudson corridor in Saskatchewan and Manitoba has produced more than 40Moz of gold, while the Red Lake mining district of eastern Ontario and the Golden Triangle in British Columbia have delivered >30Moz and >5Moz respectively.

Last year, Canada’s top 10 mines produced 3.26 million ounces of gold combined, equating to more than $6 billion worth of the yellow precious metal.

MineProvince/TerritoryPrimary Owner/Operator2020 Gold Production (thousand troy ounces)
Canadian MalarticQuébecYamana/Agnico Eagle569Koz
Detour LakeOntarioKirkland Lake517Koz
LaRonde (incl. LZ5)QuébecAgnico Eagle350Koz
BrucejackBritish ColumbiaPretium348Koz
PorcupineOntarioNewmont319Koz
MeliadineNunavutAgnico Eagle312Koz
Rainy RiverOntarioNew Gold229Koz
HemloOntarioBarrick Gold223Koz
MeadowbankNunavutAgnico Eagle209Koz
MacassaOntarioKirkland Lake183Koz

Source: Kitco

Ontario and Québec are the powerhouse provinces of Canadian gold production, hosting 30 mines between the two provinces.

A Nation Built for Gold Mining

Canada’s politically secure nature and established permitting process has resulted in five of the 10 largest gold mining companies having projects in Canada. Three Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan, Québec, and Newfoundland & Labrador) are among the world’s 10 most attractive mining investment jurisdictions according to the Fraser Institute’s 2020 survey of mining companies.

Beyond the legal and permitting strengths of the nation, Canada’s extensive network of capital markets has enabled the Canadian companies to dominate the world’s gold mining industry. With Agnico Eagle and Kirkland Lake’s upcoming merger, three of the world’s top five gold mining companies will be headquartered in Canada.

The Canadian equity markets are a key driver of the world’s gold exploration and development funding, with the TSX having raised $7.5 billion in mining equity capital in 2020. Gold still remains the major driver of these money flows, with gold mining companies making up more than half of Canada’s mining exploration budget.

How Gold Mining Gives Back to Canada

Ever since the first discoveries of gold across Canada in the 1800s, the development and production of gold mines has been the foundation for many towns and merchants across the nation.

Today, Canada’s mining industry directly employs more than 392,000 Canadians, with the sector offering the highest average annual industrial rate of pay in the country at $123,000. The industry is also proportionally the largest private sector employer of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

From the nation’s prolific gold deposits to its network of funding through robust public markets for mining equities, gold mining has grown into one of Canada’s most important strengths. The discovery, development, and production of the precious metal will remain an essential pillar of Canada’s economy.

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