Miscellaneous Metal Ores, NEC

SIC 1099

Industry report:

This category covers establishments that are primarily engaged in mining, milling, and preparing miscellaneous metal ores. Production of metallic mercury by furnacing or retorting at the mine site is also included.

Industry Snapshot

The production of miscellaneous metals is segregated into mining and metal refining according to respective metal product. Individual metal production is subdivided further into primary and secondary production. In the early 2010s, approximately 18 percent of mining firms in the industry additionally operated preparation plants. Virtually all the total product output (99 percent) was from primary products. The principal economic sectors or industries responsible for the purchase of miscellaneous metal ores are manufacturers of intermediate products for industrial use.

Metal ores included in this category include: aluminum, antimony, bastnasite, bauxite, beryl, beryllium, cerium, cinnabar, ilmenite, iridium, mercury, microlite, monazite, osmium, palladium, platinum, quicksilver, the rare-earth metals, rhodium, ruthenium, rutile, thorium, tin, titaniferous-magnetite (chiefly for titanium content), titanium, and zirconium. U.S. industry relies on imported product to satisfy its needs, and a trade deficit exists in these areas. Additionally, the U.S. government maintains a strategic stockpile of product, especially of import-dependent metals, that is crucial to the military and to the national security. The stockpile serves to sustain military reserves at adequate levels and creates a small, insulated metals market with limited fluctuation for certain producers. Specific metals in the U.S. government stockpiles include bauxite, titanium, platinum, and tin. In addition, environmental pressure for stricter regulation on mining and recycling strained the mining of ores.

According to a 2010 industry report, 54 establishments operated in this category, employing 4,755 workers and generating $405.9 million in annual revenues. Montana dominated the industry, with two establishments employing just 25 percent of workers but generating nearly 97 percent of industry revenues, based on mining of platinum group metals. Other states employing significant number of workers included Utah (39 percent) and Kentucky (21 percent).

Background and Development

The mining of the miscellaneous metals is very much intertwined because multiple products are frequently extracted from the same ores; separation of the individual metal products occurs in the smelting process whereby reduction of the ores takes place.

Aluminum is the second most abundant metallic element in the earth's crust after silicon. The use of aluminum exceeds that of any other metal except iron, and it is important in nearly all segments of the world economy. The United States is the leading producer of primary aluminum. Aluminum's prime use is in packaging, aerospace, and increasingly in construction. In addition, aluminum competes with other metals and plastics for an increased share of the automobile market. Aluminum experienced a boom in world demand in the early 1980s, then dropped suddenly on the world market until 1986. The industry rebounded after 1986, buoyed by increased applications of aluminum products, and grew by more than 32 percent from 1986 to 1992. Aluminum production in the United States declined 28.1 percent in 2001 to 2.63 million tons.

Atypical of this industry, the United States was the largest producer of aluminum worldwide at the turn of the twenty-first century. However, aluminum production in the United States declined from 2.7 million tons in 2003 to less than 2.3 million tons in 2006 though the value rose dramatically from nearly $4.1 billion to more than $6.1 billion during that time. China led in production that year with more than 9.3 million metric tons, more than doubling its 2002 total. Russia followed with 3.7 million metric tons, then Canada with nearly 3.1 million metric tons. That year, industry leader Alcoa Inc., based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reported 2007 sales of nearly $30.4 billion with about 107,000 employees at its 10 mines throughout the country. Alcoa had acquired rival Reynolds Metals Co. in a $4.4 billion deal in 2000, which boosted its sales and percentage of world aluminum production.

Apparent consumption of aluminum in the United States totaled 5.84 million metric tons in 2006, down from the previous year's total of 6.52 million metric tons. To meet demand, the United States imported 5.3 million metric tons of total aluminum consumed in 2006 from countries such as Canada (2.74 million metric tons), Russia (880,000 metric tons), Brazil (228,000 metric tons), China (190,000 metric tons), and Venezuela (165,000 metric tons). The per capita consumption of aluminum stood at 70 pounds during that time in the United States.

In 2009, the United States had no active antimony mines. One Montana company produced antimony metal and oxide using foreign feedstock, however. Thus, foreign deposits far outweigh domestic deposits, and U.S. users of antimony depend on suppliers in Bolivia, China, Mexico, and South Africa. Antimony has a variety of manufacturing applications, but is mainly used in batteries.

Beryllium is important in industrial and defense applications and is known for its high strength, light weight, and high thermal conductivity. It is used in components for aircraft, satellites, electronics, oil drilling equipment, and consumer goods. The U.S. beryllium industry is the largest in the Western world. In 2009, only one U.S. company (located in Utah) mined betrandite ore. The company converted the mined ore, along with imported beryl and beryl from the National Defense Stockpile, into beryllium hydroxide. U.S. consumption of beryllium in 2009 was 120 metric tons, valued at approximately $30 million.

Bismuth has been replacing lead (which is highly toxic) in many applications. For example, a bismuth and brass alloy was developed to replace leaded brass in some plumbing applications. U.S. firms stopped producing primary bismuth in 1997 although a number of firms produce secondary bismuth product mainly from scrap. About 100 metric tons were reclaimed in 2009. U.S. consumption of bismuth in 2009 was valued at about $17 million.

Mercury has not been produced in the United States since 1992. However, the United States is a major exporter of mercury that is reclaimed from mercury-bearing products. Mercury is recovered from batteries, compact and traditional fluorescent lamps, dental amalgam, medical devices, and thermostats. Some is also reclaimed from mercury-contaminated soils. Although secondary mercury production data are not reported, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that in 2009, about 100 metric tons of mercury were consumed domestically.

Platinum-Group Metals.
Six closely related metals comprise the platinum-group metals: platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium, and osmium. These are among the scarcest of all metal elements and are used in mostly commercial applications. Platinum and palladium (a platinum substitute) dominate this product grouping. These metals are used as emission catalysts for automobiles and in electronics and glass applications. Platinum is highly valued for its corrosion resistance and catalytic activity.

South Africa was the world's largest producer of platinum-group metals, furnishing 59 percent of the metal in 2006. Russia was also a critical producer in the world market for this metal group with 28 percent of production in 2006. Production of the platinum ores in the United States--platinum and palladium--tapered off in the mid-2000s but nearly returned to 2002 levels during 2006. Platinum mine production rose from 4,040 kilograms in 2004 to 4,290 kilograms in 2006, while palladium rose from 13,700 kilograms to 14,400 kilograms in 2006. In terms of revenue, U.S. mine production of platinum and palladium topped $308 million in 2006, up significantly from the 2004 total of $212 million in 2005.

The demand for platinum jewelry, which had consumed approximately one-half of the world market for this precious metal at the onset of the twenty-first century, was expected to fall due to high prices with palladium and white gold taking its place. Also, the car industry--already historically a key consumer of platinum--turned increasingly to it as a catalyst for the development of fuel cell technology as a alternate fuel. In 2007, U.S. imports for consumption of platinum soared to an estimated 140,000 kilograms from 114,000 kilograms in 2006 and only 86,400 kilograms in 2004. South Africa served as the primary source with 44 percent of U.S. imports followed by the United Kingdom with 15 percent and Germany with 11 percent. Meanwhile, U.S. exports fell from the 2005 total of 45,500 kilograms in 2006 to an estimated 27,000 kilograms in 2007.

Rare-Earth Ores: Lanthanides, Yttrium, and Scandium.
This group of metals includes 17 elements. In 2009, no U.S. production occurred in this category although previously mined materials were converted into lanthanum concentrate and didymium. The United States was a major importer, exporter, and consumer of rare-earth ores in the late 2000s and early 2010s, although consumption and prices were down overall due to a sluggish economy. Over 90 percent of imports arrive from China. The uses of these metals range from catalysts in petroleum, chemical, and pollution control to metallurgical uses as iron and steel additives, and as alloys to ceramics and glass additives. Increases in consumption were expected in the late 2000s in automotive pollution control catalysts, permanent magnets, and rechargeable batteries.

Thorium is a naturally radioactive element derived from the mineral monazite and is extremely expensive to mine--environmental regulations and waste disposal mandate costly extraction and transport procedures. Domestic production of monazite ceased in 1994 as a result of decreased demand for thorium-bearing minerals. Only a small portion of the mined thorium is for consumption, while most is disposed of as waste. Some of the U.S. supply of thorium is produced as a byproduct of refining monazite. Its uses include refractory applications, lamp mantles and lighting, and welding electrodes. Canada shipped 100 percent of the U.S. supply of monazite, and the United Kingdom supplied 72 percent of the U.S. imported supply of thorium compounds in 2009.

One of the earliest metals known to humankind, tin is used in a variety of applications. Most known for tin cans, tin is also a component of solder used to weld electronic circuitry. Tin is highly valued for national security purposes by the U.S. military, and is the most collected of all metals in the National Defense Stockpile. Tin production occurs in many countries throughout the world, but U.S. production supplies only a very small percentage of the world market, and mining ceased in 1993. Domestic consumption of tin exceeds production, and the deficit justifies the high level of defense stockpile. In 2009, 25 companies used about 84 percent of domestically consumed tin. Tin is used primarily for can and containers (26 percent), electrical uses (24 percent), construction (11 percent), and transportation (11 percent).

A transition element, titanium is silver-white and most known as a metal alloy used to lighten aircraft and spacecraft. In the late 2000s, the consumption of titanium used in titanium metal and steel production declined significantly, harmed by a global recession that stymied demands for commercial aircraft, military hardware, and industrial equipment. Other production was geared toward the chemical processing industry, mostly as a white pigment in paints, paper, and plastics. It is also used in ceramics, chemicals, welding rod coatings, heavy aggregate, and steel furnace flux. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., Inc. (Du Pont) is the largest integrated producer of titanium products. According to the U.S. Bureau of Mines, four U.S. companies produced titanium pigments (TiO2) at eight facilities with a total year-end capacity of 1.15 million metric tons in 2009, valued at $2.7 billion.

Zircon is used in refractories, foundry sands, and ceramic opacities. Its ore contains both zirconium and hafnium, two of the mainstay nuclear metals used in reactor cores. Two U.S. firms, in Florida and Virginia, produced zircon from surface-mining operations. Two firms, in Oregon and Utah, produced zirconium and hafnium from zircon. The leading end user of zirconium is the nuclear energy and chemical process industries. Demand for zirconium declined during 2009 due to the sluggish economy. However, in the longer range, demand for zirconium is expected to grow as an increase in nuclear energy was anticipated for the 2010s.

Environmental Considerations.
The momentum toward greater environmental consciousness continued to exert downward pressure on metals demand, especially toxic metals such as mercury. Increasing regulatory controls on mining activities resulted in escalated costs for producers. Incentives abounded for scientists to develop synthetic substitutes for many of the toxic primary metals. Additionally, use of these products was discouraged.

Mercury mining interests, long under scrutiny because of the toxicity of the metal, remained under strict operational guidelines from most governments. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, mercury has only been produced in the United States as a byproduct since 1992 and not as a primary mineral good, from such items as obsolete batteries and electrical appliances, and from used fluorescent tubes. The mercury industry not only began to embrace recycling, but also introduced new technology in 1994 to replace mercury battery cells with a new type of membrane cell. U.S. mine production of mercury declined dramatically, by one-third from 1980 to the mid-1990s. Production of the metal virtually collapsed from a level of 1,057 metric tons in 1980 to just 58 metric tons in 1991. Production rose slightly to 64 metric tons in 1994, but political pressure to eliminate the metal from the environment altogether continued through the early 2010s.

The Universal Waste Law of 1995 was amended on July 9, 1999, and became effective on January 6, 2000. The amendment specified proper disposal procedures for fluorescent light bulbs to prevent the mercury-coated tubes from ending up in landfills, and to recycle more product in the process. As environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have pushed for consumers to use compact fluorescent light bulbs that last longer than regular light bulbs, a growing concern has emerged regarding the danger posed by the release of their mercury content upon being broken. As of 2007, no effective and practical means of recycling the product was established.

Current Conditions

The actual mining of many of these ores has been in decline since the 1980s. Indeed, U.S. consumption became almost entirely import-dependent in some of these metals categories. The number of overall metal mines in the United States has also drastically declined since the 1980s. In 1982, there were 1,755 metal mines in the United States; in 2008, there were 293. In addition, the global economy called a deep decline demand and, consequently, price in many metal ores during the late 2000s and into 2010. Many categories of metals were down in production, and many processing facilities were either idled or temporarily closed as the industry waited for demand to swing upward once again.

Aluminum production is a major industry among the miscellaneous metals. The value of primary production of aluminum in 2009 was $2.96 billion. However, production and consumption was down in 2009 due to a recessive economy. In 2009, six companies operated primary smelters. Demolition of one smelter was completed during 2009 and four other smelters were closed during the year. Of the 13 functioning smelters, seven were either idled or closed temporarily during the year. Because approximately one-third of aluminum goes into automobiles, the aluminum industry was hit hard when the U.S. auto industry was severely weakened in the late 2000s. Estimated primary consumption of aluminum in 2009 was 1.71 million metric tons, down from 2.66 million metric tons in 2008.

Platinum-Group Metals.
In 2009, the Stillwater Mining Company operated the only two platinum-group metal mines, located in south-central Montana. Smaller amounts were recovered as byproducts of copper mining in Texas and Utah. Total U.S. production in 2009 was 3,800 kilograms of platinum and 12,500 kilograms of palladium. However, most of the U.S. supply was imported, with 112,000 kilograms of platinum and 50,000 kilograms of palladium imported in 2009. The global economic recession, particular the downgrade in the U.S. auto industry, caused a decline in both production and price within the platinum-group metals. The price differential is expected to result in a continuing trend in the auto industry away from platinum to using palladium in catalytic converters. Finally, declining prices in the late 2000s and early 2010s caused an increase in interest in platinum jewelry.

Industry Leaders

It is difficult to identify precise market shares for individual companies, since nearly all the leading companies engage in activities classified within other industries. These include SIC 1041, Gold Ores; SIC 1455, Kaolin and Ball Clay; SIC 1459, Clay, Ceramic, and Refractory Minerals, Not Elsewhere Classified; SIC 3312, Steel Works, Blast Furnaces (Including Coke Ovens), and Rolling Mills; and SIC 3339, Primary Smelting and Refining of Nonferrous Metals, Except Copper and Aluminum. Among the leading companies with interests in the miscellaneous metal ores was the U.S. Steel Group of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with over $11 billion in 2009 sales, including production of the miscellaneous metals. Another leading firm included Stillwater Mining Company of Columbus, Montana, with 2009 sales of $394 million.


The mining of primary metals is considered to be the most dangerous type of mining. The average occupational injury incident rate per 100 full-time employees for total primary metal manufacturing was 8.6 incidents. The average wage for U.S. miners in 2009 was $63,728, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Alaska was the highest paying state, offering an average annual salary of $91,060, followed by Louisiana, which paid its miners an average of $78,559, and Hawaii, with a $78,118 average. The lowest paying states were Kansas, South Carolina, and Oklahoma with average annual wages of $41,914, $41,989, and $42,418, respectively.

America and the World

While virtually all these metals have vital industrial applications in the world economy, the largest reserves, in most cases, are found outside the United States. The small share and relative descent in U.S. production in this industry has been attributed to several economic pressures. First, in most cases, the most productive mines for many of these metals are not located in the United States. Also, the downward pressure on prices and a great degree of uncertainty among producers has led to a decline in production. Aluminum, platinum, and titanium, for example, experienced severe losses in the face of worldwide competition and a major imbalance in supply and demand. Finally, the demand for many of these metals is directly connected to the world's industrial activity. In 2009, the United States only produced two percent of the world's supply of platinum, seven percent of palladium, and three percent of titanium.

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