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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 2018, Canada ranked eighth in the world in the 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, 2018

Lead, global uses, 2017
Text version

This circular chart shows the major global uses of lead as of 2018. 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 2018, Canadian mines produced an estimated 13,897 tonnes of lead in concentrate. Canada operates three primary lead and four recycled lead smelters. Because of the significant recycling of lead-acid batteries, recycled lead accounted for 45% of Canada's total refined lead production in 2018.

Canadian mine production of lead, 2009–2018 (p)

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

This bar graph shows Canada's annual mine production of lead from 2009 to 2018. Canada mined 68,839 tonnes in 2009 and 13,897 tonnes in 2018.

Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2009–2018 (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 2009 to 2018. Each bar is segmented to reflect refined lead production from primary sources and from recycled material. In 2009, Canada refined 258,854 tonnes of lead. In 2018, Canada refined 255,245 tonnes, of which 115,247 tonnes were from primary sources and 140,008 tonnes were from recycled material.

International context

In 2018, Canada ranked eighth in world production of refined lead, which reached 11 million tonnes globally. China was the largest producer, with 4.9 million tonnes of refined lead, which accounted for over 42% of the global production.

Find out more about global mined and refined lead production:

World mine production of lead, by country, 2018 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 2,095 44.9%
2 Australia 469 10.0%
3 Peru 289 6.2%
4 United States 280 6.0%
5 Mexico 240 5.1%
6 Russia 210 4.5%
7 Other countries 1,088 23.3%
Total   4,671 100.0%

World mine production of lead, 2009–2018 (p)

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

This bar graph shows the world's annual mine production of lead from 2009 to 2018. Production was 3.8 million tonnes in 2009 and 4.7 million tonnes in 2018.

World refined production of lead, by country, 2018 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 4,910 42.2%
2 United States 1,135 9.8%
3 South Korea 801 6.9%
4 India 623 5.4%
5 Mexico 343 3.0%
6 Germany 315 2.7%
7 United Kingdom 313 2.7%
8 Canada 255 2.2%
9 Japan 238 2.0%
10 Other countries 2,387 23.3%
Total   11,320 100.0%

World refined production of lead, 2009–2018 (p)

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

This bar graph shows the world's annual refined production of lead from 2009 to 2018. Production was 9.4 million tonnes in 2009  and 11.6 million tonnes in 2018.

World reserves

In 2018, total world lead reserves, as calculated by the U.S. Geological Survey, were an estimated 83 million tonnes.

World reserves of lead, by country, 2018 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 24.0 28.8%
2 China 18.0 21.6%
3 Russia 6.4 7.7%
4 Turkey 6.1 7.3%
5 Peru 6.0 7.2%
- Other countries 22.8 27.4%
Total   83.3 100.0%

Trade

Exports

  • Total exports of lead and lead products from Canada were valued at $874.8 million in 2018.
  • Canada exported 271,069 tonnes of unwrought lead metal in 2018, a decrease of 11,577 tonnes from 282,646 tonnes in 2017. The majority of these exports went to the United States, with minor amounts shipped to India, Belgium, and Indonesia.

Imports

  • Total imports of lead and lead products were valued at $449 million in 2018.
  • Canadian lead smelters imported 142,644 tonnes of lead in concentrates in 2018, an increase of 31,354 tonnes from 111,290 tonnes in 2017. Concentrates were imported mainly from the United States, Peru, Mexico, Ireland and China.

Prices

Prices in 2018 fell from US$2,584 per tonne in January to US$1,972 per tonne in December. The price of lead over the past decade peaked in April 2011 at US$2,701 per tonne and reached its lowest point of US$1,101 per tonne in February 2009.

Lead, monthly average prices, 2009–2018

Lead, monthly average prices, 2008–2017
Text version

This line graph shows the average price in US dollars per tonne of lead from 2009 to 2018. The average annual price of lead was $1,719.27 per tonne in 2009, followed by an increase to an average of $2148.45 in 2010. In 2018, the average annual price was $2240.44 and monthly prices were: $2,584 (January); $2,581 (February); $2,390 (March); $2,325 (April); $2,361 (May); $2,436 (June); $2,207 (July); $2,054 (August); $2,023 (September); $1,988 (October); $1,937 (November); and $1,972 (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 five secondary lead processing plants: one in British Columbia, one in Ontario and three in Quebec. In addition, secondary lead is processed at Canada's three primary smelters, one in British Columbia and two New Brunswick.

In 2018, 129,508 tonnes of secondary lead metal (from recycled lead) was produced in Canada, down slightly from 151,921 tonnes in 2017.

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

Totals may be different because of rounding.

All dollars are Canadian unless otherwise indicated.

Uses

  • Lead, global uses, 2018
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group

Production

  • Canadian mine production of lead, 2009–2018 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada
  • Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2009–2018 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group

International context

  • World mine production of lead, by country, 2018 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World mine production of lead, 2009–2018 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World refined production of lead, by country, 2018 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World refined production of lead, 2009–2018 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World reserves of lead, by country, 2018 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey

Trade

  • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada
    • Mineral trade includes ores, concentrates, and semi- and final-fabricated mineral products

Prices

  • Lead, monthly average prices, 2009–2018
    • World Bank Commodities
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