Iron ore could be forgiven for suffering from an inferiority complex. It has a bit of a dull reputation compared to its fellow commodities. It’s not as glamorous as gold or silver. Even Copper is cooler. For most people the words iron ore trigger vague memories of school homework and the general notion that it’s handy to build stuff. Well we really should be more grateful to this humble looking rock. It’s contribution to our technological, economic, and cultural development spanning several thousand years is immeasurable and it is impossible to imagine life today without it.
As iron ore makes up about 5% of the earth’s crust, supply is plentiful and it is easily accessible at surface level. There are innumerable uses for iron ore largely due to its abundance and its many and varied characteristics but here is a snapshot of its leading applications.
- Construction – Steel production consumes most of the world’s iron ore and the majority of steel goes towards the construction of buildings and infrastructure. Whether your morning commute is rattling along train tracks or driving your car through tunnels and over bridges, steel will be your ticket to ride. Builders and architects around the world have an insatiable appetite for steel. Its appeal lies in its strength, durability, and resistance to corrosion and termites plus its recyclable, making it a practical and sustainable solution.
- The Automotive Sector – Automotive manufacturing is the second largest consumer of the world’s steel. Nearly every mode of transport you can think of owes its construction to iron ore, with a variety of steels used for the bodies of vehicles and the components that lie within. Iron ore continually drives innovation as steel materials are increasingly sophisticated to meet demands for strength and safety and to achieve performance and emissions targets.
- Transport – Planes, trains and automobiles – Whether you’re driving your car, catching a train, or jumping on the bus it is iron ore that keeps you on the move. It has been the back bone of every public transport system around the world since the industrial revolution which would have been impossible without the development of iron.
- Domestic and Industrial Appliances and Utensils – If you look around your home or work place you will easily see where iron ore has made its mark. Iron can be bonded with other substances to form alloys to achieve specific properties for a designated purpose. From family cutlery to a surgeon’s scalpel, or a factory robot to a garden spade, it seems everything you touch has its origins in iron.
- Manufacturing – The reactiveness and magnetic properties of iron ore further add to its incredibly versatility. Many useful chemical compounds can be derived from iron ore which play a wide range of roles in industry and manufacturing. These compounds can add pigment to paints, dyes and cosmetics as well as provide magnetic properties to items like bank cards. They are also used in the manufacture of insecticides, fungicides and medicines for the pharmaceutical sector.
Iron ore is truly the super hero of commodities. Just as iron gives life to us by carrying oxygen around our bodies, so too iron ore is the life blood of our society. It has underpinned almost everything we have achieved in the industrialised world.