Metals are a big part of our daily lives, found in every building we enter and all devices we use.
Today, major industries that directly consume processed mineral materials contribute 14% of the United States economy.
The above infographic visualizes all 2.8 billion tonnes of metals mined in 2022 and highlights each metal’s largest end-use using data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Iron ore dominates the metals mining landscape, comprising 93% of the total mined. In 2022, 2.6 billion tonnes of iron ore were mined, containing about 1.6 billion tonnes of iron.
Iron ores are found in various geologic environments, such as igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary rocks, and can contain over 70% iron, with many falling in the 50-60% range.
Combined with other materials like coke and limestone, iron ore is primarily used in steel production. Today, almost all (98%) iron ore is dedicated to steelmaking.
The ore is typically mined in about 50 countries, but Australia, Brazil, China, and India are responsible for 75% of the production.
Because of its essential role in infrastructure development, iron ore is one of the most crucial materials underpinning urbanization and economic growth.
Industrial metals occupy the second position on our list, constituting 6.6% of all metals mined in 2022. These metals, including copper, aluminum, lead, and zinc, are employed in construction and industrial applications.
Aluminum constituted nearly 40% of industrial metal production in 2022. China was responsible for 56% of all aluminum produced.
In the second position is chromium, which plays a primary role in rendering stainless steel corrosion-resistant. South Africa led chromium production, accounting for 44% of the total mined last year.
Despite representing less than 1% of all the metals mined, technology metals have been on the news over the last few years as countries and companies seek these materials to reduce carbon emissions and improve productivity.
They include lithium and cobalt, used in electric vehicles and battery storage, and rare earths, used in magnets, metal alloys, and electronics. Many of them are considered critical for countries’ security due to their role in clean energy technologies and dependency on other nations to supply domestic demand.
However, despite increasing interest in these metals, they are still behind precious metals such as gold and silver regarding market size.
The gold market, for example, reached $196 billion in 2022, compared to $10.6 billion for the rare earths market.
(This article first appeared in the Visual Capitalist Elements)