Iron ore facts

Iron ore is a combination of minerals from which metallic iron can be extracted on an economic basis.

Key facts

  • In 2017, Canada was the ninth largest producer of iron ore in the world
  • The top five iron ore–producing countries accounted for 79.8% of global production
  • In 2017, world reserves of iron ore amounted to 170.4 billion tonnes
  • The primary use of iron ore is to make steel, which is 100% recyclable

Learn more about iron ore

Uses

The primary use of iron ore (98%) is to make steel. The remaining 2% is used in various other applications, such as:

  • powdered iron—for certain types of steels, magnets, auto parts and catalysts
  • radioactive iron (iron 59)—for medicine and as a tracer element in biochemical and metallurgical research
  • iron blue—in paints, printing ink, plastics, cosmetics (e.g., eye shadow), artist colours, laundry blue, paper dyeing, fertilizer, baked enamel finishes on vehicles and appliances, and industrial finishes
  • black iron oxide—as a pigment in polishing compounds, metallurgy, medicine, magnetic inks, and ferrites for the electronics industry

Iron ore, global uses, 2017

Other: powdered iron, iron 59, iron blue, black iron oxide

Text version

This pie chart shows the major global uses of iron ore. Steel represents 98%, while other mixed uses (i.e., powdered iron, radioactive iron [iron 59], iron blue, and black iron oxide) represent the remaining 2%.

Production

Canadian mines increased their production to 49.0 million tonnes of iron ore in concentrate and pellets in 2017, stemming from new expansion projects of established producers.

Canada's estimated crude steel production for 2017 was 13.6 million tonnes, a small increase from 12.7 million tonnes in 2016.

Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, 2008–2017 (p)

Text version

This bar graph shows Canada's annual mine production of iron ore from 2008 to 2017. Production in 2008 was 32.1 million tonnes followed by ups and downs over a 10-year period. It peaked in 2017 at a preliminary estimate of 49.0 million tonnes. The lowest level was in 2009, when 31.7 million tonnes were produced.

Most of Canada's iron ore comes from the Labrador Trough region, along the border between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, and from Nunavut.

Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, by province and territory, 2017 (p)

Text version

This map of Canada shows Canadian production of iron ore by province and territory for 2017. Quebec accounted for 50.9% of the total production (49.9 million tonnes) with 24.9 million tonnes, Newfoundland and Labrador accounted for 43.7% with 21.4 million tonnes, and Nunavut accounted for 5.4% with 2.6 million tonnes.

International context

Find out how Canada's iron ore ranks on an international scale:

The top five iron ore–producing countries accounted for 79.8% of global production.

World mine production of iron ore, by country, 2017 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 879 39.8%
2 Brazil 436 19.8%
3 China 191 8.6%
4 India 154 7.0%
5 Russia 101 4.6%
6 Ukraine 73 3.3%
7 South Africa 69 3.2%
8 Iran 57 2.6%
9 Canada 49 2.2%
10 United States 44 2.0%
11 Sweden 27 1.2%
12 Kazakhstan 13 0.6%
13 Other countries 113 5.1%
Total 2,206 100.0%

World mine production of iron ore, 2008–2017 (p)

Text version

This bar graph shows the world's annual mine production of iron ore from 2008 to 2017. Production in 2008 amounted to 1,600 million tonnes, followed by minor ups and downs with a peak reached in 2014 and 2017 of 2,200 million tonnes.

World reserves

World reserves of crude iron ore, by country, 2017 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 50,000 29.3%
2 Russia 25,000 14.7%
3 Brazil 23,000 13.4%
4 China 21,000 12.3%
5 India 8,100 4.8%
6 Ukraine 6,500 3.8%
7 Canada 6,000 3.5%
8 Sweden 3,500 2.1%
9 United States 2,900 1.7%
10 Iran 2,700 1.6%
11 Kazakhstan 2,500 1.5%
12 South Africa 1,200 0.7%
13 Other countries 18,000 10.6%
Total 170,400 100.0%

Trade

Exports

In 2017, the Canadian steel industry exported 7 million tonnes of semi-finished and finished steel products.

Canada also exported 43.1 million tonnes of iron ore (valued at $4.6 billion) in 2017, up from 41 million tonnes in 2016. Iron ore pellets accounted for 38.5% ($2.3 billion) of the volume, and concentrates accounted for the remaining 61.5% ($2.3 billion).

Imports

Canada imported 8.0 million tonnes of iron ore (valued at $0.7 billion) in 2017, up from 7.1 million tonnes in 2016. Most of these imports (96.0%) were in the form of pellets from the United States. The balance (4.0%) was in the form of concentrates from Argentina (73.9%), Australia (13.9%), Sweden (5.9%) and the United States (5.1%). Concentrates are unfinished products used in the production of blast furnace pellets and pellets used for metallization.

In 2017, Canada was also a net importer of semi-finished and finished steel products, with the Canadian steel industry importing 9 million tonnes.

Prices

Iron ore prices have fluctuated over the past decade. Prices declined from a high of US$187 per tonne in February 2011 to a low of US$41 in December 2015. During 2016, iron ore prices were stable until March, when they began to rise, and ended the year at US$79 per tonne.

Iron ore prices, monthly average, 2008–2017

Text version

This line graph shows monthly average iron ore prices in US dollars per tonne from 2008 to 2017. Based on IndexMundi's reporting of China's import of iron ore fines of 62% iron content (average spot price in US dollars per metric tonne in a given year of unloading port / freight on board at the Tianjin port), the price was $78.20 in 2007 and then rose sharply to $197.12 in early 2008, only to decrease at the end of 2008 and reach a low of $59.78 in 2009. The price then increased between 2009 and 2011 to a high of $187.18. Afterwards, it decreased until it began to gain short-lived momentum in early 2013, resuming its decrease shortly thereafter until the end of 2015, when it reached a low of $40.88. The price of iron ore recovered moderately in 2016 and 2017, reaching $89.44 in February 2017 before falling to $72.25 by the end of the year.

Recycling

Steel is 100% recyclable, which means it can be reprocessed into material of the same quality again and again. Recycling produces significant savings in energy and raw materials. Each recycled tonne of scrap steel saves more than 1,400 kilograms of iron ore, 740 kilograms of coking coal and 120 kilograms of limestone.

Electric arc furnaces allow steel to be made from 100% scrap metal feedstock. This greatly reduces the energy required to make steel, compared with primary steelmaking from ore.

The increasing shift toward the use of electric arc furnaces in the manufacture of steel will support the global market for steel scrap, which is projected to reach 755 million tonnes by 2024.

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

Totals may be different because of rounding.

All dollars are Canadian unless otherwise indicated.

Uses

  • Iron ore, global uses, 2017
    • Natural Resources Canada; Iron—Minerals Education Coalition

Production

  • Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, 2008–2017 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada
  • Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, by province and territory, 2017 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada

International context

  • World mine production of iron ore, by country, 2017 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada; U.S. Geological Survey
    • An adjustment in the U.S. Geological Survey's methodology to estimate usable ore production instead of crude ore production resulted in adjusted totals from China beginning in 2015 and in lower overall world mine production.
  • World mine production of iron ore, 2008–2017 (p)
    • Wood Mackenzie
  • World reserves of crude iron ore, by country, 2017 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey
  • All information provided
    • International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce

Prices

  • Iron ore prices, monthly average, 2008–2017
    • IndexMundi

Recycling

  • All information provided
    • Global Industry Analysts (GIA) Inc.