Iron and steel form the framework for civilization. Steel is a major component of cars, cans, ships, bridges, buildings, appliances, and armament. Even energy minerals are useless without furnaces, pipelines, engines, and reactors that are usually made of steel. This wide range of uses reflects the abundance of iron ore and the relative ease with which it can be converted to steel. The simplest form, carbon steel, contains less than 2% carbon, with minor manganese. Alloy steel, in which carbon is removed and other metals are mixed with iron (Table 8.1), accounts for about 15% of world production. These metals are known as ferroalloy metals and include chromium, manganese, nickel, silicon, cobalt, molybdenum, vanadium, tungsten, and niobium and they permit steel to be used in a wide variety of applications.
Annual world iron ore and steel production are worth about $300 billion each (Figure 8.1a). The value of ferroalloy metal production can be quoted in several ways because they are traded as ores, intermediate alloys such as ferromanganese and ferrochromium, and metals. Total world production, worth about $120 billion, is dominated by nickel, manganese, and chromium (Figure 8.1b, c). Prices of ferroalloy metals are higher than that of steel and thus increase its cost (Figure 8.1b, c). Even so, the properties that they impart are so important that consumption for most of them has increased more rapidly than steel, reflecting growth of alloy steel production (Figure 8.1d, e). Major producers and their reserves are summarized in Table 8.1 and important mines of most metals are given in Table 8.2.
Iron and steel
Steel is produced in 87 countries, making it one of the most widely produced mineral commodities (Fenton, 2011). Only about 42 countries produce iron ore, reflecting the more limited distribution of large iron deposits that can support steel making (Tuck and Virta, 2011). In view of the enormous value of world steel production, one could well ask why the steel industry has little of the glamor of the oil business? The answer lies in profits. Although steel produced some fortunes in the early 1900s, including that of Andrew Carnegie of US Steel, it has been less profitable than oil because it is more closely tied to the overall business cycle. It is much easier to put off buying a car than buying the gasoline to power it.