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Iron ore facts

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

Key facts

  • In 2020, Canada was the eighth-largest producer of iron ore in the world.
  • Canada’s iron ore is mined in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut.
  • The top three iron ore-producing countries (Australia, Brazil and China) accounted for 69% of global production.
  • 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 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, 2020

pie chart

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 mine production of iron ore in concentrate and pellets was 52.4 million tonnes in 2020, a 3% decrease compared to 2019.

Canada's estimated crude steel production for 2020 was 11 million tonnes, which is 15% lower than for 2019.

Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, 2011-2020 (p)

bar graph
Text version

This bar graph shows Canada's annual mine production of iron ore from 2011 to 2020. Production in 2011 was 36.5 million tonnes, the lowest in the 10-year period, followed a steady increase up to 54.2 million tonnes in 2019. Production subsequently declined in 2020 to 52.4 million tonnes.

Most of Canada's iron ore comes from the Labrador Trough region bordering Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. A substantial amount is also produced in Nunavut.

Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, by province and territory, 2020 (p)

map
Text version

This map shows Canadian production of iron ore by province and territory for 2020. Quebec accounted for 56% of the total production with 29.5 million tonnes, Newfoundland and Labrador accounted for 35% with 18.2 million tonnes, and Nunavut accounted for 9% with 4.7 million tonnes.

Consult a map of producing Canadian mines

International context

Global production of iron ore is estimated to have been 2.4 billion tonnes in 2020, only slightly lower than the 2.5 million tonnes produced in 2019. Australia is the leading global producer of iron ore, accounting for 38% of the total production. The top three iron ore-producing countries accounted for 69% of global production.

In 2020, Canada ranked as the eighth-leading producer of iron ore and sixth for reserves, accounting for 2% of global production and 3% of reserves.

World mine production of iron ore, by country, 2020 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 900 37.6%
2 Brazil 400 16.7%
3 China 340 14.2%
4 India 230 9.6%
5 Russia 95 4.0%
6 South Africa 71 3.0%
7 Ukraine 62 2.6%
8 Canada 52 2.2%
9 United States 37 1.5%
10 Sweden 35 1.5%
- Other countries 172 7.1%
Total   2,394 100.0%

World mine production of iron ore, 2011–2020 (p)

bar graph
Text version

This bar graph displays the annual global mine production of iron ore from 2011 to 2020. Production in 2011 was 1,970 million tonnes, followed by an increase to 2,220 million tonnes in 2014. Production subsequently dipped in 2015 to 2,117 million tonnes, but recovered and increased gradually to 2,542 million tonnes in 2019. Iron ore production declined in 2020 to 2,394 million.

World reserves

World reserves of crude iron ore, by country, 2020 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 50,000 28.5%
2 Brazil 34,000 19.4%
3 Russia 25,000 14.2%
4 China 20,000 11.4%
5 Ukraine 6,500 3.7%
6 Canada 6,000 3.4%
7 India 5,500 3.1%
8 United States 3,000 1.7%
9 Iran 2,700 1.5%
10 Kazakhstan 2,500 1.5%
- Other countries 20,300 11.6%
Total   175,500 100.0%

Trade

Exports

In 2020, the Canadian steel industry exported 6.9 million tonnes of semi-finished steel products.

Canada exported 55.3 million tonnes of iron ore valued at $3.0 billion in 2020, down from 52.2 million tonnes in 2019. Iron ore pellets accounted for 29% of the volume, but 77% of the value. Concentrates accounted for the remaining 71% of the volume and 23% of the value.

Imports

Canada imported 7.1 million tonnes of iron ore valued at $0.8 billion in 2020, which is much less than the 16.6 million tonnes in 2019. Pellets represented 99.3% of the imported volume and concentrates represented 0.7%. The imports of pellets came almost exclusively from the United States. Imports of concentrates came primarily from Australia (49%) and Sweden (47%). Concentrates are unfinished products used in the production of blast furnace pellets and pellets used for metallization.

In 2020, Canada was a net exporter of semi-finished steel products, with imports of 6.8 million tonnes and exports of 6.9 million tonnes.

Prices

Iron ore prices have fluctuated significantly over the past decade, reaching a high of US$187 per tonne in February 2011 and a low of US$41 per tonne in December 2015.

In 2019, prices rose to a high of US$120 per tonne in July 2019 and subsequently declined to US$93 per tonne in December. For the first five months of 2020, iron ore prices hovered around US$90 per tonne, but subsequently rose to US$155 per tonne by December. A combination of sustained demand and supply challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the rise.

Iron ore prices, monthly average, 2011–2020

line graph
Text version

This line graph shows average monthly iron ore prices in US dollars per tonne from 2011 to 2020. Based on 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 average price was US$167.79 in 2011.

Prices increased to a high of US$187.18 in 2011. The price then decreased before gaining short-lived upward momentum in early 2013, but resumed its downward trend shortly thereafter and until the end of 2015, when it reached a low of US$40.88. The price of iron ore moderately recovered in 2016 and 2017, reaching US$89.44 in February 2017 before falling to US$72.25 by the end of the year. In 2019, the price started at US$76.16 and then rose to US$120.24 by July. Prices subsided and hovered around US$90.00 until May 2020. Since June 2020, prices rose over US$100.00 to reach US$155.43 by December 2020.

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.

With electric arc furnaces, steel can be made from 100% scrap metal feedstock. This production method greatly reduces the energy required to make steel, compared with primary steelmaking from ore.

The increasing shift toward using 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, 2020
    • Natural Resources Canada; Iron—Minerals Education Coalition

Production

  • Canadian estimated crude steel production
    • World Steel Association
  • Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, 2011–2020 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada
  • Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, by province and territory, 2020 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada

International context

  • World mine production of iron ore, by country, 2020 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada; U.S. Geological Survey; Statistic Canada
    • 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, 2011–2020 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey
  • World reserves of crude iron ore, by country, 2020 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey

Trade

  • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada
    • Mineral trade includes ores, concentrates, and semi- and final-fabricated mineral products.
    • Steel includes stage 3 semi-fabricated products.

Prices

  • Iron ore prices, monthly average, 2011–2020
    • IndexMundi

Recycling

  • Global Industry Analysts (GIA) Inc.
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