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“If you can’t grow it, you have to mine it” is a famous saying that encapsulates the importance of minerals and metals in the modern world.
From every building we enter to every device we use, virtually everything around us contains some amount of metal.
The above infographic visualizes all 2.8 billion tonnes of metals mined in 2021 and highlights each metal’s largest end-use using data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Iron ore accounted for 93% of the metals mined in 2021, with 2.6 billion tonnes extracted from the ground. It’s important to note that this is ore production, which is typically higher than metal production since metals are extracted and refined from ores.
With 98% of it converted into pig iron to make steel, iron ore is ubiquitous in our lives. Steel made from iron ore is used in construction, transportation, and household appliances, and it’s likely that you encounter something made out of it every day, especially if you live in a city.
Due to its key role in building infrastructure, iron ore is one of the most important materials supporting urbanization and economic growth.
Industrial metals are largely used in steelmaking, construction, chemical manufacturing, and as alloying agents. In 2021, the world mined around 177 million tonnes of these metals.
Aluminum accounted for nearly 40% of industrial metal production in 2021. China was by far the largest aluminum producer, making up more than half of global production. The construction industry uses roughly 25% of annually produced aluminum, with 23% going into transportation.
Chromium is a lesser-known metal with a key role in making stainless steel stainless. In fact, stainless steel is usually composed of 10% to 30% of chromium, enhancing its strength and corrosion resistance.
Copper, manganese, and zinc round out the top five industrial metals mined in 2021, each with its own unique properties and roles in the economy.
Technology metals include those that are commonly used in technology and devices. Compared to industrial metals, these are usually mined on a smaller scale and could see faster consumption growth as the world adopts new technologies.
The major use of rhenium, the rarest metal in terms of production, is in superalloys that are critical for engine turbine blades in aircraft and gas turbine engines. The petroleum industry uses it in rhenium-platinum catalysts to produce high-octane gasoline for vehicles.
In terms of growth, clean energy technology metals stand out. For example, lithium production has more than doubled since 2016 and is set to ride the boom in EV battery manufacturing. Over the same period, global rare earth production more than doubled, driven by the rising demand for magnets.
Indium is another interesting metal on this list. Most of it is used to make indium tin oxide, an important component of touchscreens, TV screens, and solar panels.
The world’s material consumption has grown significantly over the last few decades, with growing economies and cities demanding more resources.
Global production of both iron ore and aluminum has more than tripled relative to the mid-1990s. Other metals, including copper and steel, have also seen significant consumption growth.
Today, economies are not only growing and urbanizing but also adopting mineral-intensive clean energy technologies, pointing towards further increases in metal production and consumption.
(This article first appeared in the Visual Capitalist Elements)