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Metals Production Recovers
Global production of key metals surged 14.3 percent in 2010 (the latest year with data) to a record 1.48 billion tons, in a robust recovery from the sharp decline spurred by the 2009 global recession.1 (See Figure 1.) The increase marks a return to the steep rise in metals production of the past decade, driven in part by the rapid economic expansion of newly prosperous developing countries such as China, India, and Brazil.
The metals covered in Figure 1 are common ones of great economic importance: aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, gold, lead, mercury, nickel, and steel.2 But dozens of other metals also show strong growth as more countries industrialize and as increasingly complex products use metals not heard about in daily conversation, from hafnium used in nuclear reactors to rhenium, a key metal in jet engines.
The surge in metals production continues the trend of the past half-century or more. Global extraction growth rates for copper, zinc, nickel, tin, and platinum averaged about 3.4 percent annually over the past few decades, which implies a doubling of extracted material volumes every 20 years.3 Indeed, humanity’s intensive use of materials was in a league of its own in the twentieth century: by one estimate, 97.5 percent of all copper produced worldwide in the last 1,000 years has been produced since 1900.4
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