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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 2019, Canada was the eighth largest producer of iron ore in the world.
  • The top five iron ore-producing countries accounted for 81.3% of global production.
  • In 2019, world reserves of iron ore amounted to 168.6 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, 2019

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 58.5 million tonnes of iron ore in concentrate and pellets in 2019, stemming from new expansion projects of established producers and one new operating mine.

Canada's estimated crude steel production for 2019 was 12.9 million tonnes, less than the quantity reported for 2018 (revised 13.4 million tonnes).

Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, 2010–2019 (p)

Text version

This bar graph shows Canada's annual mine production of iron ore from 2010 to 2019. Production in 2010 was 36.2 million tonnes, the lowest in the 10-year period, followed a steady increase toward 2019. It reached a preliminary estimate of 58.5 million tonnes in 2019.

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, 2019 (p)

Text version

This map of Canada shows Canadian production of iron ore by province and territory for 2019. Quebec accounted for 57% of the total production (58.4 million tonnes) with 33.2 million tonnes, Newfoundland and Labrador accounted for 34% with 20.0 million tonnes, and Nunavut accounted for 9% with 5.2 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 81.3% of global production.

World mine production of iron ore, by country, 2019 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 930 36.5%
2 Brazil 480 18.9%
3 China 350 13.7%
4 India 210 8.2%
5 Russia 99 3.9%
6 South Africa 77 3.0%
7 Ukraine 62 2.4%
8 Canada 58 2.3%
9 United States 48 1.9%
- Other countries 232 9.1%
Total   2,546 100.0%

World mine production of iron ore, 2010–2019 (p)

Text version

This bar graph shows the world's annual mine production of iron ore from 2010 to 2019. Production in 2010 was 1,876 million tonnes, followed by minor ups and downs within an overall increase and peak of 2,220 million tonnes reached in 2014. A slight decrease to 2,117 million tonnes occurred in 2015 before increasing again to 2,546 million tonnes by 2019.

World reserves

World reserves of crude iron ore, by country, 2019 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 48,000 28.4%
2 Brazil 29,000 17.2%
3 Russia 25,000 14.8%
4 China 20,000 11.9%
5 Ukraine 6,500 3.9%
6 Canada 6,000 3.6%
7 India 5,500 3.3%
8 United States 3,000 1.8%
9 Iran 2,700 1.6%
- Other countries 22,900 13.6%
Total   168,600 100.0%

Trade

Exports

In 2019, the Canadian steel industry exported 5.75 million tonnes of semi-finished steel products.

Canada also exported 52.2 million tonnes of iron ore (valued at $6.6 billion) in 2019, up from the revised 47.8 million tonnes in 2018. Iron ore pellets accounted for 29.6% ($2.4 billion) of the volume. Concentrates accounted for the remaining 70.4% ($4.2 billion).

Imports

Canada imported 16.6 million tonnes of iron ore (valued at $1.0 billion) in 2019, much less than the revised 32.9 million tonnes in 2018. Pellets represented 50.7% and concentrates represented 49.3%. Almost 100% of the pellet imports came from the United States. Imports of concentrates also came primarily from the United States (99%), while Australia and Sweden represented less than 0.5% each, and 20 other countries held the balance. Concentrates are unfinished products used in the production of blast furnace pellets and pellets used for metallization.

In 2019, Canada was a net importer of semi-finished steel products with the Canadian steel industry, importing 6.9 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$80 per tonne. Prices reached a high of $89 in February 2017 and then declined throughout the rest of the year. The highest price in 2018 was US$77 in February, then declined to US$65 in July before reaching US$73 in November and finishing the year at US$69 in December. Prices rose to a high of US$120 in July 2019 and then gradually declined to stabilize at US$93 in December.

Iron ore prices, monthly average, 2010–2019

Text version

This line graph shows average monthly iron ore prices in US dollars per tonne from 2010 to 2019. Based on Index Mundi'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 average price was US$145.90 for 2010. Prices increased between 2009 and 2011 to a high of US$187.18. The price then decreased before gaining short-lived 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. 2019 opened with a price of US$76.16 and rose to US$120.24 in July before gradually falling back to US$84.98 in November. The price reached US$92.65 by December 2019.

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, 2019
    • Natural Resources Canada; Iron—Minerals Education Coalition

Production

  • Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, 2010–2019 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada
  • Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, by province and territory, 2019 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada

International context

  • World mine production of iron ore, by country, 2019 (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, 2010–2019 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey
  • World reserves of crude iron ore, by country, 2019 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey
  • All information provided
    • International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce

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, 2010–2019
    • IndexMundi

Recycling

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