Magnesium is the eighth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and the third most plentiful element dissolved in seawater. Magnesium and magnesium compounds are recovered from seawater, well and lake brines, and bitterns, as well as from minerals such as magnesite, dolomite, and olivine.
The United States has been the world's largest producer of metallic magnesium since World War II, and, in most years since then, it has been a net exporter of magnesium. Magnesium's principal use is as an alloying addition to aluminum, and these aluminum-magnesium alloys are used in products such as beverage cans, automobiles, aircraft, and machinery. Magnesium alloys also are used as structural components of automobiles and machinery. In recent years, magnesium has become an important material used for desulfurization of iron and steel.
Aluminum beverage cans have become a significant component in the supply-demand relationship for magnesium. In the mid- 1970's, aluminum alloys began to be used in substantial quantities for beverage cans, and they have garnered nearly 100% of the beverage can market. This had a marked impact on magnesium consumption because aluminum cans contain about 2.5% magnesium. The advent of the aluminum can also had a significant impact on secondary magnesium. As aluminum cans were recycled by the consumer, some of the magnesium content also was recycled; consequently, recycled magnesium has become an essential portion of U.S. supply.
Magnesium compounds, primarily magnesium oxide, are used mainly as a refractory material in furnace linings for producing iron and steel, nonferrous metals, glass, and cement. Magnesium oxide and other compounds also are used in agricultural, chemical, and construction industries. Because on average about 75% of the magnesium compounds in the United States is used as refractories, overall production and demand for magnesium compounds are influenced heavily by trends in the consuming industries, particularly the iron and steel industry. The change from open-hearth to electric arc and basic oxygen steelmaking furnaces created a demand for higher quality refractories, and the actual tonnage of refractories consumed per ton of steel produced declined. At the same time, production of steel throughout the world declined, also reducing the need for refractory furnace lining replacement. These two factors contributed to a decline in the production of magnesium compounds in the United States. Also in the mid-1980's, less costly imports supplied a more significant portion of U.S. demand for magnesium compounds, replacing a portion of U.S. production.
- Table 1.--U.S. historical salient magnesium statistics
- Table 2.--Magnesium recovered from scrap processed in the United States,by kind of scrap and form of recovery
- Table 3.--U.S. consumption of primary magnesium, by use
- Table 4.--U.S. exports and imports for consumption of magnesium
- Table 5.--Yearend primary magnesium prices
- Table 6.--Magnesium: World primary production, by country
- Table 7.--Magnesium: World secondary production, by country
- Table 8.--U.S. historical salient magnesium compounds statistics
- Table 9.--U.S. magnesium compounds shipped and used
- Table 10.--U.S. exports and imports for consumption of magnesium compounds
- Table 11.--Yearend prices of magnesium compounds
- Table 12.--Magnesite: World production, by country