All the metals we mined in one visualization
Metals are everywhere around us, from our phones and cars to our homes and office buildings.
Although we often forget the presence of these raw materials, they are an essential part of the modern economy. But obtaining these materials can be a complex process that involves extraction, refining, and then converting them into usable forms.
So how much metal is mined in a year?
Metals versus minerals
Before digging into the numbers, it’s important to distinguish between minerals and metals.
Ores are natural rocks that contain metals and metal compounds. Metals are the valuable parts of ores that can be mined by separating and removing waste rock. As a result, the ore production is generally much higher than the actual metal content of the ore. For example, miners produced 347 million tonnes of bauxite ore in 2019, but the actual aluminum metal content mined was only 62.9 million tonnes.
Here are all the metals and metal ores mined in 2019, according to the British geological survey:
|Metal / Ore||Quantity extracted (tonnes)||% Of total|
|Industrial metals||207 478 486||6.39%|
|Technology and precious metals||1.335.848||0.04%|
The miners produced approximately three billion tonnes of iron ore in 2019, i.e. nearly 94% of all metals extracted. The main use of all this iron is to make steel. In reality, 98% iron ore goes into steel industry, the rest fulfilling various other applications.
Industrial and technological metals made up the remaining 6% of all metals mined in 2019. How do they break down?
Of construction and from agriculture to manufacturing and transportation, virtually all industries exploit the properties of metals in different ways.
Here are the industrial metals we mined in 2019.
|Metal||Quantity extracted (tonnes)||% Of total|
|Chromium ores and concentrates||38,600,000||19%|
|Titanium (titanium dioxide content)||6,300,000||3%|
|Zirconium minerals (Zircon)||1,337,000||1%|
|Total||207 478 486||100%|
Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.
It is not surprising that aluminum is the most widely produced industrial metal. Lightweight metal is one of the most commonly used materials around the world, with uses ranging from making beer foils and kegs to buildings and aircraft parts.
Manganese and chromium rank second and third, respectively, in terms of metals mined and are important ingredients in the manufacture of steel. Manganese helps convert iron ore into steel, and chrome hardens and hardens steel. Additionally, manganese is an essential ingredient in lithium manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) batteries for electric vehicles.
Even if the copper production is around a third that of aluminum, copper has a key role in making modern life possible. The red metal is found in virtually every wire, motor, and electrical device in our homes and offices. It is also essential for various renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles.
Technology and precious metals
Technology is only as good as the materials it is made of.
Technological metals can be classified as relatively rare metals commonly used in technology and devices. While miners produce certain technologies and precious metals in large quantities, others are relatively rare.
|Metal||Quantity extracted in 2019 (tonnes)||% Of total|
|Rare earth elements||220,000||16%|
|Platinum group metals||457||0.03%|
Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.
Tin was the most mined tech metal in 2019, and according to the International Tin Association, almost half was devoted to welding.
It is also interesting to see the prevalence of batteries and energetic metals. Lithium, cobalt, vanadium, and molybdenum are all essential for various energy technologies, including lithium-ion batteries, wind farms and energy storage technologies. In addition, the miners also extracted 220,000 tons of rare earth elements, of which 60% came from China.
Given their rarity, it’s no surprise that gold, silver, and platinum group metals (MPGs) were the least exploited materials in this category. Collectively, these metals represent only 2.3% technology and precious metals mined in 2019.
A material world
Although humans mine and use massive amounts of metals every year, it’s important to put these numbers into perspective.
According to Circle economy, the world consumes 100.6 billion tonnes of materials every year. Of this total, 3.2 billion tonnes of metals produced in 2019 would only represent 3% of our overall material consumption. In fact, global annual cement production alone is around 4.1 billion tonnes, eclipsing total metal production.
The world’s appetite for materials increases with its population. As resource-hungry megatrends like urbanization and electrification accelerate, our material pie will only get bigger.