Lead facts

Lead

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. Today, the chemical properties of lead allow this element to be used mainly in power storage and delivery applications.

Key facts

  • In 2017, 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). It is also used in a variety of other applications, such as stationary batteries (for backup power), pigments and ammunition.

Lead, global uses, 2017

Lead, global uses, 2017
Text version

This circular chart shows the major global uses of lead as of 2017. 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 2017, Canadian mines produced an estimated 14,000 tonnes of lead in concentrate. Canada operates two primary lead and four recycled lead smelters. Because of the significant recycling of lead-acid batteries, recycled lead accounted for 55% of Canada's total refined lead production in 2017.

Canadian mine production of lead, 2008–2017 (p)

Canadian mine production of lead, 2008–2017 (p)
Text version

This bar graph shows Canada's annual mine production of lead from 2008 to 2017. Canada mined 99,810 tonnes in 2008 and 14,060 tonnes in 2017.

Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2008–2017 (p)

Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2008–2017 (p)
Text version

This bar graph shows Canada's refined production of lead from 2008 to 2017. Each bar is segmented to reflect refined lead production from primary sources and from recycled material. In 2008, Canada refined 259,095 tonnes of lead. In 2017, Canada refined 276,478 tonnes, of which 124,557 tonnes were from primary sources and 151,921 tonnes were from recycled material.

International context

In 2017, 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, 2017 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 2,318 48.8%
2 Australia 343 7.2%
3 United States 311 6.5%
4 Peru 307 6.5%
5 Mexico 240 5.1%
6 Russia 202 4.3%
7 Other countries 1,028 21.6%
Total 4,749 100.0%

World mine production of lead, 2008–2017 (p)

World mine production of lead, 2008–2017 (p)
Text version

This bar graph shows the world's annual mine production of lead from 2008 to 2017. Production was 3.8 million tonnes in 2008 and 4.7 million tonnes in 2017.

World refined production of lead, by country, 2017 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 4,716 41.7%
2 United States 1,011 8.9%
3 South Korea 820 7.2%
4 India 554 4.9%
5 Germany 354 3.1%
6 Mexico 340 3.0%
7 United Kingdom 318 2.8%
8 Canada 277 2.4%
9 Japan 237 2.1%
10 Other countries 2,693 23.8%
Total 11,320 100.0%

World refined production of lead, 2008–2017 (p)

World refined production of lead, 2008–2017 (p)
Text version

This bar graph shows the world's annual refined production of lead from 2008 to 2017. Production was 9.2 million tonnes in 2008 and 11.3 million tonnes in 2017.

World reserves

In 2017, total world lead reserves, as calculated by the U.S. Geological Survey, were an estimated 88 million tonnes.

World reserves of lead, by country, 2017 (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 6.0 6.8%
5 Mexico 5.6 6.4%
- Other countries 18.0 20.5%
Total 88.0 100.0%

Trade

Exports

  • Total exports of lead and lead products from Canada were valued at $893.6 million in 2017
  • Canada exported 261,480 tonnes of unwrought lead metal in 2017, a decrease of 11,500 tonnes from 273,000 tonnes in 2016. The majority of these exports went to the United States, with minor amounts shipped to China, Indonesia and Japan.

Imports

  • Total imports of lead and lead products were valued at $361.3 million in 2017
  • Canadian lead smelters imported 92,577 tonnes of lead in concentrates in 2017, a decrease of 27,400 tonnes from 120,000 tonnes in 2016. Concentrates were imported mainly from the United States, Peru, Mexico, Spain and Australia.

Prices

Prices in 2017 rose from US$2,237 per tonne in January to US$2,509 per tonne in December. The price of lead over the past decade peaked in February 2008 at US$3,080 per tonne and reached its lowest point of US$964 per tonne in December 2008.

Lead, monthly average prices, 2008–2017

Lead, monthly average prices, 2008–2017
Text version

This line graph shows the average price in US dollars per tonne of lead from 2008 to 2017. The average annual price of lead was $2,094.58 per tonne in 2008, followed by a decline to a low average of $1,733.67 in 2009. In 2017, the average annual price was $2317.42 and monthly prices were: $2,237 (January); $2,322 (February); $2,277 (March); $2,231 (April); $2,132 (May); $2,131 (June); $2,266 (July); $2,357 (August); $2,377 (September); $2,506 (October); $2,464 (November); and $2,509 (December).

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 four secondary lead processing plants: one in British Columbia, one in Ontario and two in Quebec. In addition, secondary lead is processed at Canada's two primary smelters, located in British Columbia and New Brunswick.

In 2017, 151,921 tonnes of secondary lead metal (produced from recycled lead) was produced in Canada, up slightly from 132,000 tonnes in 2016.

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

Totals may be different because of rounding.

All dollars are Canadian unless otherwise indicated.

Uses

  • Lead, global uses, 2017
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group

Production

  • Canadian mine production of lead, 2008–2017 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada
  • Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2008–2017 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada

International context

  • World mine production of lead, by country, 2017 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World mine production of lead, 2008–2017 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World refined production of lead, by country, 2017 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World refined production of lead, 2008–2017 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World reserves of lead, by country, 2017 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey

Prices

  • Lead, monthly average prices, 2008–2017
    • London Metal Exchange