Mining is the extraction of useful minerals and metals from the earth. Some of the substances we regularly mine include manganese, tantalum, cassiterite, copper, tin, nickel, bauxite, gold, silver, diamonds, and iron ore.
The process of mining stems from prehistoric times. The first mining efforts involved looking for stones to build tools and weapons. Ancient Egyptians mined copper as far back as 3,000 BC. Discoveries have also shown that flint pebbles were extracted from deposits in France and Britain during the Neolithic Age.
In the earliest days, mining was a slow-going process where miners would use primitive tools for digging. With time, however, human civilization has developed safer and more accurate tools for extracting crucial metals found on the earth.
There are two major categories of modern mining: surface mining and underground mining. In underground mining, tunnels are made under the ground for extracting minerals. Surface mining involves blasting the ground to remove metal ore near the earth’s surface and carrying it to refineries to extract the minerals. Many mining operations are now able to extract almost 85% of minerals and 98% of metallic ore using surface mining techniques.
The most-mined metals in 2021
According to data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), iron ore constituted a whopping 93% of the metals mined in 2021, of which 2.6 billion tonnes were extracted from the ground.
Iron ore is the material from which iron is produced. Iron ore is omnipresent in our lives, as 98% of it is converted into pig iron to make steel. The remaining 2% becomes magnets, auto parts, and catalysts. Steel made from iron ore is used in construction, transportation, and many household appliances. If you live in the city, you likely encounter something made out of steel every day - in cars and construction products, refrigerators and washing machines, cargo ships, and surgical scalpels.
Steel is by far the world's most vital engineering and construction material. Moreover, it can be recycled over and over again without loss of property. It's not a surprise, hence, that steel is mined so much today.
The USGS data also states that we mined over 181 million tonnes of industrial metals in 2021. These metals are largely used in steelmaking, chemical manufacturing, construction, and as alloying agents. Aluminum, meanwhile, totaled 37.4% of industrial metal production in 2021. The lightweight metal is primarily utilized by the construction industry, which uses nearly 25% of annually-produced aluminum. 23% of it goes into transportation.
Chromium, which accounted for 22.6% of industrial metal production in 2021, is used in the manufacturing of stainless steel. Most stainless steel contains about 18% chromium, which helps harden and toughen steel and increases its corrosion resistance.
Copper, manganese, and zinc were amongst other top industrial metals mined in 2021.
Technology metals are usually mined on a smaller scale compared to industrial metals. These metals include those that are commonly used in technology and devices such as tin, cobalt, lithium, vanadium, tungsten, gallium, niobium, selenium, and zirconium.
Electronics, meanwhile, need rare-earth metals such as lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, samarium, europium, silver, and dysprosium.
As the world’s economy continues to grow and cities keep demanding more resources, our metal consumption will keep increasing as well. Global production of both iron ore and aluminum has more than tripled when compared with the mid-1990s. Other metals, such as copper and steel, have seen considerable consumption growth as well. Experts believe the demand for steel is expected to rise significantly in the next decade.
Share this post with friends and family