About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mineral production up in 2011

To the extent that mineral production reflects the economy, it looks like things were improving in 2011. The US Geological Survey released its 2012 Mineral Commodities Summaries, covering 2011, and most metals show significant increase in value.

Gold and copper are usually the leading metals by value produced in the US. In 2008, thanks to low gold prices, the copper industry yielded ore worth half again the value of gold: $9.4 billion vs. $6.7 billion for gold. Copper depends sensitively on the building industry, and with the recession in 2009, its value fell to $6.2 billion while gold held relatively steady at $6.4 billion.

In 2010, the copper business was worth $8.4 billion and gold was at $8.9 billion, but with continuing increases in gold’s price, in 2011 gold was valued at $12.2 billion, surpassing copper’s record value of $10 billion.

Other 2011 commodity business values include iron ore at $6 billion (triple the 2009-2010 amount) and the titanium dioxide industry, at $3.8 billion, surpassing its 2008 rate of $3.7 billion for the first time.

The most valuable non-fuel mineral commodity produced in the U.S. has been crushed stone, holding steady in 2009-2011 at $11 billion, more valuable than gold, copper, or any other metal, but gold took the lead in 2011 for the first time in recent years.

Despite the surge in value for gold produced in the U.S., the nation went from a net exporter of gold to a net importer in 2010-2011, with about 38% of consumption imported. Much of this was raw ore for processing. Copper imports have been fairly steady for the past 5 years at about one-third of total consumption (35% of our copper was imported in 2011).

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