British Geological Survey: wars main driver to changes in minerals supply and demand
Published: Friday, 02 May 2014
A new BGS report offers businesses and policymakers information on where to find the minerals needed to guarantee economic growth of their markets and countries in order to ensure commercial growth and mitigate supply risk to maintain mineral independence.
Wars have both helped as well as hindered the development of
the industrial minerals sector, finds the British Geological
Surveys (BGS) latest world mineral production data
Celebrating 100 years of its annual publication, the BGS says
the First World War emphasised the importance of collecting
mineral production data.
The BGS is driven by mineral supply security concerns, said
Andrew Bloodworth, director of science minerals and waste,
BGS, at an event at the Geological Society in London on
He said mineral intelligence in a resource
constrained world was paramount to improve the
understanding of the resource consequences of our
World War One interrupted supplies of key minerals from
overseas, such as manganese, tungsten and phosphates leading to
the urgent search for resources in the UK and the British
However, the Second World War resulted in no data being
published for eight years, between 1939 and 1947, as well as
creating complications as a result of changing territories.
The introductory note to the 1948 edition highlighted some of
the difficulties in acquiring meaningful data. It said:
Some of the trade statistics for European countries are,
however, not strictly comparable owing to the
annexation of certain territories by
It also said: Trade statistics for Japan as published in
the official returns do not include trade between that country
and the rest of the Japanese Empire, which at that time,
included most of the countries in South East Asia.
The idea of countries becoming mineral independent gained
popularity during the Cold War between 1947 and 1991, as the US
and Soviet Union looked to source commodities locally, and
where that was not possible, from allies.
Supply and demand
Over the last 100 years, the minerals included in and removed
from the BGS report mirrors, not only geopolitical issues, but
also technological advancements.
The production of commodities such as antimony, cobalt and
lithium, which are essential to a range of green technologies
have grown rapidly in the last 30 years and were added to the
publication in 1925.
Speaking to IM, Bloodworth said understanding
where resources are, in what quantities they are produced, and
where they are supplied is important in order to assess the
long term supply of minerals for end-markets.
Its important from a sort of resource security
perspective that we know and understand the risks of supply of
certain minerals from certain places, said
For example, Chinas dominant position in the rare earths
market has raised concerns within the international
Last month, the World Trade Organization ruled against
Chinas rare earths export
restrictions, which China said were in place to protect its
natural resources and the environment.
China was the leading producer of 14 of the commodities in 1995
and by 2012, it was the leading producer of 44 commodities in
addition to being a top three producer of a further 12
China produces more than 90% of global rare earths production,
or 95,000 tpa, and it also has a near monopoly on the
technology for their extraction and refining.
This verdict was welcomed by the US, EU and Japan, which
complained about Chinas rare earths exports restrictions
in 2012, following a surge in the minerals prices as a
result of the Chinese quotas.
However, Bloodworth does not believe Chinas monopoly over
rare earths will change, but if they become reluctant to
export then obviously that has implications for other
I think inevitably patterns of supply change. [In terms
of] threats to supply I think physical depletion is the
least of our worries. Were not going to literally run out
of many things, Bloodworth told IM.
Alumina and bauxite: Since 1962, the distribution of world
production has changed, where Jamaica had the largest market
share, whereas in 2012, Australian bauxite made up 31% of the
Global production remained at 248m tonnes between 2011 and
2012, having increased from 227m in 2010. On the other hand,
between 2008 and 2012, alumina has seen a steady rise in
production from 82.8m tonnes in 2008 to 95.6m in 2012,
Chromite: The BGS said that the leading producer of chromite in
2012 was South Africa with 11.3m tonnes, followed by Kazakhstan
with 5.2m tonnes, and in third place India with just over 3m
Fluorspar: China is the leading producer of the mineral,
holding 62% of the market, followed by Mexico with 17% and
Mongolia with 6%.
Production of fluorspar has grown since the 1920s, with a huge
spike just after 1970, as a result of the wide-spread
commercial application of chlorofluorocarbons.
Graphite: Used in refractory and foundry applications, most
types of batteries, lubricants in industrial processes and
automotive parts, China is one of the leading producers holding
86% of the total world market share.
In 2012, the world total reached 2.1m tonnes, which fell from
2.4m tonnes in 2008.
Lithium: Growth has dramatically increased since the 2000s, as
a result of the growing green technology market, having been
steadily produced between the 1950s and 1990s.
Phosphate: Despite supplies of minerals like phosphate, along
with manganese, tungsten and petroleum, being interrupted
during the First World War, production picked up just after the
Second World War.
In 1962, the US was the dominant producer, which moved to China
by 2012, producing 95.3m in that year. The US is currently
producing around 29.2m.
Zircon: Australia is currently the largest producer of the
mineral with 605,000 tonnes in 2012, although this is a 20%
decrease from the previous year when the country produced
World Mineral Production is an annual publication based on data
held in a comprehensive database maintained by the BGS and
provided by official bodies in individual countries. To find
out more click here.