A base metal is defined as a common metal that is not considered precious, such as copper, tin or zinc. Base metals play an enormous role in our modern lives, and are used to produce a myriad of everyday products that we consider essential. And as our priorities change along with technology, so do the uses of base metals. Here is a snapshot of the top four base metals and where they are most often mined.
- Aluminum: Aluminum is the second most abundant metallic element in earth’s crust after silicon. It is used in soda cans and other packaging, aircraft and automobiles, construction and even cell phones. Aluminum is a third of the weight of steel or copper and easy to mold, fold and recycle. It resists corrosion and stands up to repeated use. A single Boeing-747 contains 147,000 pounds (more than 66,000 kilograms) of aluminum, according to Chemicool. China was the largest producer of aluminum in 2017, producing 32.6 million metric tonnes (Mt). Russia and Canada followed with 3.6 Mt and 3.2 Mt respectively. India, the United Arab Emirates and Australia were in fourth, fifth and sixth place respectively, as aluminum producers.
- Zinc: This metal’s anti-corrosive properties lend itself to galvanizing other metals, and alloying. It is combined with copper to form brass, and with other metals to form materials used in automobiles, electrical components and household fixtures. A third significant use of zinc is in the production of zinc oxide (the most important zinc chemical by production volume), which is used in rubber manufacturing and as a protective skin ointment. China is the world’s largest zinc producer, accounting for about 35% of global production. Zinc is often found in conjunction with lead, as in the case of the Taylor zinc-lead-silver deposit in Arizona, which was owned by Vancouver-based Arizona Mining Inc., until the company agreed to be purchased in 2018 by Australia’s South32 Ltd. Richard Warke, who was Executive Chairman of Arizona Mining, sees the project as likely to become one of the top five zinc mines in the world. Although zinc is not commonly thought of as an EV (electric vehicle) metal like copper and nickel, new battery technologies are emerging that use zinc and could change the way we think about energy storage.
- Copper: Copper is easily stretched, molded, and shaped and is resistant to corrosion. The metal conducts heat and electricity efficiently and is ideal for a variety of domestic, industrial, and high-technology applications: building construction, power generation and transmission, electronic product manufacturing, and the production of industrial machinery and transportation vehicles. Copper is used in appliances, heating and cooling systems, and telecommunications links that are used every day in homes and businesses. Motors, wiring, radiators, connectors, brakes and bearings in cars and trucks require copper. This valuable and indispensable base metal is mined all over the world, but the largest producer is found in Chile. Controlling about 19 percent of the world’s reserves of copper, Codelco – or the Corporación Nacional delCobre de Chile – is a company owned by the government of Chile. Codelco produced approximately 1.8 Mt of refined copper in 2017 (roughly 11 percent of the world’s total), worth approximately $13 billion, based on late 2017 prices.
- Nickel: Discovered in 1751 by Axel Fredrik Cronstedt of Sweden, nickel is now used in more than 300,000 products created for multiple markets: consumer, industrial, military, transport and aerospace, marine and architectural. It is resistant to corrosion, alloys well with other metals and is used in stainless steel, magnets, coins, rechargeable batteries as well as plating on plumbing fixtures. The Philippines leads the world’s top 15 nickel-exporting countries, representing 32% of total nickel exports by value, and mining.com indicates that Brazil-based Vale was the largest producer in 2017.Vale’s main nickel assets are concentrated in Canada and include mines in Ontario’s Sudbury Basin, Voisey’s Bay in Labrador and Thompson in Manitoba.