Lead facts

Lead is a soft, malleable, ductile, dense metallic element, extracted chiefly from the mineral galena and found in ore that also contains zinc, silver and copper. The chemical properties of lead mean that its principal use today is for power storage and delivery applications.

Key facts

  • In 2016, Canada ranked eighth in world production of refined lead.
  • The primary use of lead is in lead-acid batteries for automobiles and other vehicles.
  • Over 95% of the lead contained in batteries is recovered and recycled for use in new batteries.

Learn more about lead

Uses

The primary use of lead is in lead-acid batteries for motor vehicles (80% of total use), but it is also used in a variety of different applications, such as stationary batteries (for backup power), pigments and ammunition.

Lead, global uses, 2016

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This pie chart shows the major global uses of lead as of 2016. The largest use was for batteries (80%), followed by rolled and extruded products (6%), pigments and other compounds (5%), ammunition (3%), alloys (2%), cable sheathing (1%) and other miscellaneous products (3%).

Production

In 2016, Canadian mines produced an estimated 12 thousand tonnes of lead in concentrate, 3 times more than in 2015.

Canada operates 2 primary lead and 4 recycled lead smelters. Because of the significant recycling of lead-acid batteries, recycled lead comprised 48% of Canada’s total refined lead production in 2016.

Canadian mine production of lead, 2007–2016 (p)

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This bar chart shows Canada’s annual mine production of lead from 2007 to 2016. Canada mined 75,135 tonnes in 2007 and 12,658 tonnes in 2016.

Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2007–2016 (p)

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This bar chart shows Canada’s refined production of lead from 2007 to 2016. Each bar is segmented to reflect refined lead production from primary sources and from recycled material. In 2007, Canada refined 236,688 tonnes of lead. In 2016, Canada refined 274,226 tonnes, of which 142,076 tonnes were from primary sources and 132,150 tonnes were from recycled material.

International context

In 2016, Canada ranked eighth in world production of refined lead, which reached 11 million tonnes globally. China was the largest producer with 4.7 million tonnes of refined lead, which accounted for over 40% of the global production.

Find out more about global mined and refined lead production:

World mine production of lead, by country, 2016 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 2,340 49.7%
2 Australia 456 9.7%
3 United States 340 7.2%
4 Peru 314 6.7%
5 Mexico 232 4.9%
6 Russia 193 4.1%
7 Other countries 829 17.6%
- Total 4,704 100.0%

World mine production of lead, 2007–2016 (p)

Text version

This bar chart shows the world’s annual mine production of lead from 2007 to 2016. Production was 3.7 million tonnes in 2007 and 4.7 million tonnes in 2016.

World refined production of lead, by country, 2016 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 4,665 42.1%
2 United States 1,099 9.9%
3 South Korea 820 7.4%
4 India 510 4.6%
5 Germany 347 3.1%
6 Mexico 338 3.0%
7 United Kingdom 310 2.8%
8 Canada 272 2.5%
9 Japan 240 2.2%
10 Other countries 2,492 22.5%
- Total 11,093 100.0%

World refined production of lead, 2007–2016 (p)

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This bar chart shows the world’s annual refined production of lead from 2007 to 2016. Production was 8.4 million tonnes in 2007 and 11.1 million tonnes in 2016.

World reserves

In 2016, total world lead reserves, as calculated by the U.S. Geological Survey, were an estimated 88 million tonnes.

World reserves of lead, by country, 2016 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 35.0 39.8%
2 China 17.0 19.3%
3 Russia 6.4 7.3%
4 Peru 6.3 7.2%
5 Mexico 5.6 6.4%
- Other countries 17.7 20.1%
- Total 88.0 100.0%

Trade

Exports

  • Total exports of lead and lead products from Canada were valued at $799.5 million in 2016.
  • Canada exported 273,000 tonnes of unwrought lead metal in 2016, an increase of 14,000 tonnes compared to 259,000 tonnes in 2015. The majority of these exports went to the United States, with minor amounts shipped to China and Japan.

Imports

  • Total imports of lead and lead products were valued at $459.5 million in 2016.
  • Canadian lead smelters imported 120,000 tonnes of lead in concentrates in 2016, an increase of 2,000 tonnes compared to 118,000 tonnes in 2015. Concentrates were imported mainly from the United States, Peru, Mexico and Australia.

Prices

Prices in 2016 rose from a low of US$1,598 per tonne in January to US$2,475 per tonne in November. The price of lead over the past decade peaked in October 2007 at US$3,880 per tonne and reached its lowest point of US$875 per tonne in December 2008.

Lead, monthly average prices, 2007–2016

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This line chart shows the average price in U.S. dollars per tonne of lead from 2007 to 2016. The average annual price of lead was $2,551.17 per tonne in 2007, followed by a decline to a low average of $1,733.67 in 2009. In 2016, the average annual price was $1,870.83 and monthly prices were: January, $1,647; February, $1,772; March, $1,808; April, $1,721; May, $1,714; June, $1,714; July, $1,835; August, $1,839; September, $1,942; October, $2,040; November, $2,179; and December, $2,231.

Recycling

Lead from lead-acid batteries is one of the most recycled metals in the world. Over 95% of the lead contained in batteries is recovered and recycled for use in new batteries.

Canada has 4 secondary lead processing plants, 1 in British Columbia, 1 in Ontario and 2 in Quebec. In addition, secondary lead is processed at Canada’s 2 primary smelters located in British Columbia and New Brunswick.

In 2016, 132,000 tonnes of secondary lead metal (produced from recycled lead) was produced in Canada, down slightly from 142,000 tonnes in 2015.

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

Totals may be different because of rounding.

All dollars are Canadian unless otherwise indicated.

Uses

  • Lead, global uses, 2016
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group

Production

  • Canadian mine production of lead, 2007–2016 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada
  • Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2007–2016 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada

International context

  • World mine production of lead, by country, 2016 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World mine production of lead, 2007–2016 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World refined production of lead, by country, 2016 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World refined production of lead, 2007–2016 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World reserves of lead, by country, 2016 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey

Prices

  • Lead, monthly average prices, 2007–2016
    • London Metal Exchange