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Lead facts

Lead

Lead is a soft, malleable, ductile and dense metallic element. It is extracted chiefly from the mineral galena and found in ore that also contains zinc, silver and copper. The chemical properties of lead allow this element to be used in power storage and delivery applications.

Key facts

  • In 2019, 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.
  • All of the lead contained in batteries can be recovered and recycled for use in new batteries – Europe and North America recycle close to 100% of their battery lead.

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, 2018
Text version

This circular chart shows the major global uses of lead as of 2018. The largest use was for batteries (86%); followed by rolled and extruded products (7%); lead compounds including lead oxides and salts (5%); shot and ammunition (1%); and other miscellaneous products including alloys and solder (1%).

Production

In 2019, Canadian mines produced an estimated 22,608 tonnes of lead in concentrate. Canada operates two primary and five recycled lead smelters. Recycled lead accounted for 60% of Canada's total refined lead production in 2019 partially because of substantial recycling of lead-acid batteries.

Canadian mine production of lead, 2010–2019 (p)

Canadian mine production of lead, 2010–2019 (p)
Text version

This bar graph shows Canada's annual mine production of lead from 2010 to 2019. Canada mined 64,844 tonnes in 2010. Production then rose slightly to 67,505 tonnes in 2011 before rapidly decreasing to a low of 3,617 in 2014. Production has slowly recovered since 2014, reaching 21,782 tonnes by 2019.

Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2010–2019 (p)

Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2010–2019 (p)
Text version

This bar graph shows Canada's refined production of lead from 2010 to 2019. Each bar is segmented to reflect refined lead production from primary sources and from recycled material. In 2010, Canada refined 272,881 tonnes of lead. Refined production stayed relatively stable before a decreasing trend beginning in 2018. In 2019, Canada refined 244,000 tonnes, 96,000 tonnes of which were from primary sources while 147,000 tonnes were from recycled material.

International context

China was the world leader in lead production from mines in 2019 with 2.1 million tonnes of lead or 46.7% of the global total. Other top producers, including Australia, Peru and the United States, contributed less than 10% each to global lead production from mines in 2019.

World mine production of lead, by country, 2019 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 2,100 46.7%
2 Australia 430 9.6%
3 Peru 290 6.4%
4 United States 280 6.2%
5 Mexico 240 5.3%
6 Russia 220 4.9%
7 Other countries 940 20.9%
Total   4,500 100.0%

World mine production of lead, 2010–2019 (p)

World mine production of lead, 2010–2019 (p)
Text version

This bar graph shows the world's annual mine production of lead from 2010 to 2019. Production was 4.2 million tonnes in 2010 and 4.6 million tonnes in 2019.

In 2019, Canada ranked eighth in world production of refined lead with 244,000 tonnes. Global production was almost 12 million tonnes. China was the biggest producer with 5.1 million tonnes of refined lead, which accounted for over 42% of global production.

World refined production of lead, by country, 2019 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 5,100 42.7%
2 United States 1,170 9.8%
3 South Korea 800 6.7%
4 India 640 5.4%
5 Mexico 447 3.7%
6 Germany 332 2.8%
7 United Kingdom 300 2.5%
8 Canada 244 2.0%
9 Japan 237 2.0%
10 Other countries 2,673 23.4%
Total   11,320 100.0%

World refined production of lead, 2010–2019 (p)

World refined production of lead, 2010–2019 (p)
Text version

This bar graph shows the world's annual refined production of lead from 2010 to 2019. Production was 10.0 million tonnes in 2010 and 11.9 million tonnes in 2019. Although there was some variability between 2010 and 2019, production showed a general upward trend.

World reserves

Total world lead reserves were an estimated 90.4 million tonnes in 2019, as calculated by the U.S. Geological Survey.

World reserves of lead, by country, 2019 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 36.0 39.8%
2 China 18.0 19.9%
3 Russia 6.4 7.1%
4 Peru 6.3 7.0%
5 Mexico 5.6 6.2%
- Other countries 18.1 20.0%
Total   90.4 100.0%

Trade

Exports

  • Total exports of lead and lead products from Canada were valued at $847.3 million in 2019.
  • Canada exported 253,164 tonnes of unwrought lead metal in 2019, a decrease of 17,905 tonnes from 271,069 tonnes in 2018. The majority of these exports went to the United States , while minor amounts shipped to India, Belgium and Japan.

Imports

  • Total imports of lead and lead products were valued at $971 million in 2019.
  • Canadian lead smelters imported 124,971 tonnes of lead in concentrates in 2019, a decrease of 17,673 tonnes from 142,644 tonnes in 2018. Concentrates were imported mainly from the United States, Peru, Mexico, the Netherlands and China.

Prices

Lead prices fell in 2019 from US$1,997 per tonne in January to US$1,901 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$1,618 per tonne in November 2015.

Lead, monthly average prices, 2010–2019

Lead, monthly average prices, 2010–2019
Text version

This line graph shows the average price in US dollars per tonne of lead from 2010 to 2019. The average annual price of lead was $2,148.45 per tonne in 2010, followed by an increase to an average of $2,400.81 in 2011. In 2019, the average annual price was $1,996.51, and monthly prices were: $1,997.14 (January); $2063.79 (February); $2,046.46 (March); $1,938.99 (April); $1,815.19 (May); $1,899.70 (June); $1,975.64 (July); $2,044.55 (August); $2,071.85 (September); $2,184.09 (October); $2,021.15 (November); and $1,900.54 (December).

Recycling

Much of the lead used in new products was recovered and recycled from other products. Lead from lead-acid batteries is one of the most recycled metals in the world. All of the lead contained in these types of batteries can be recovered and recycled for use in new batteries – Europe and North America have battery recycling rates approaching 100%.

Canada has five secondary lead processing plants: one in British Columbia, one in Ontario and three in Quebec. Secondary lead can also be processed at Canada's two primary smelters in British Columbia and New Brunswick. Glencore’s Brunswick Smelter in Belledune, New Brunswick closed permanently in November 2019.

In 2019, 147,358 tonnes of secondary lead metal (from recycled lead) was produced in Canada, up from 129,508 tonnes in 2018.

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

Totals may be different because of rounding.

All dollars are Canadian unless otherwise indicated.

Uses

  • Lead, global uses, 2019
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group

Production

  • Canadian mine production of lead, 2010–2019 (p)
    • Statistics Canada, Natural Resources Canada.
  • Canadian refined production (primary and recycled) of lead, 2010–2019 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group

International context

  • World mine production of lead, by country, 2019 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey
  • World mine production of lead, 2010–2019 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey
  • World refined production of lead, by country, 2019 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World refined production of lead, 2010–2019 (p)
    • International Lead and Zinc Study Group
  • World reserves of lead, by country, 2019 (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, 2010–2019
    • World Bank Commodities

Recycling

  • Recovery of lead in batteries
    • International Lead Association
  • Canadian secondary refined production
    • Natural Resources Canada
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