Lead Production and Market Forces

As with all metals, there are two production methods. Primary production from mined Lead ore is of course the original source of all Lead, but secondary production, where it is recovered from recycled products or from residues arising from the production process, is of enormous importance.

About 40% of Lead production produced worldwide is derived from ore. The proportion of Lead produced from secondary sources (i.e. scrap metal), which represents about 60% of total worldwide production is higher in the more industrialized countries. North America produces 70% of its Lead from secondary sources and Western Europe 60%. In contrast Chinese production is almost entirely from ore. The impressive recycling figures are made possible by the fact that today most Lead is used in readily recyclable applications.

It is Lead acid batteries that are mostly recycled. Lead in these can be re-melted any number of times and its impurities can be easily removed. The final product (termed Secondary Lead) is indistinguishable from Primary Lead that is produced from the ore.

According to International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG) Lead from secondary material totalled nearly 55% in 2011.

Other data by ILZSG underline that:

  • Global Lead mine production increased by 9.8% compared to 2010. This was mainly due to a significant 27.4% increase in Chinese output that more than balanced reductions in Australia, Peru and the United States. Overall China accounted for 51% of world Lead mine production in 2011.
  • A rise in world refined Lead metal output of 7.1% was primarily a consequence of higher production in China, Germany, India, the Republic of Korea and the United States.
  • The proportion of Lead produced from secondary (recycled) material totalled 54.5% compared to 56% in 2010.
  • World usage of refined Lead metal benefited from further growth of 9.9% in Chinese apparent demand and a rise of 9.6% in the United States where usage reached its highest level since 2006. Demand in Europe was 0.7% lower than in 2010.
  • Chinese imports of Lead contained in Lead concentrates fell by 10.3% to 794kt. This was the first reduction in nine years.
  • Cash Settlement and Forward Three Month Prices on the LME averaged US$2402 and US$2394 respectively during 2011, 11.8% and 10.2% higher than during 2010. The highest Cash Settlement Price of US$2939 was recorded on 11 April and the lowest of US$1792 on 20 October

Lead uses in USThe supply of primary Lead is inelastic because it comes primarily from polymetallic operations where most of the revenue is generated from other metals, particularly Zinc and Silver. However, the Lead to Zinc ratio in deposits that are being mined is decreasing from 0.7:1 in 1960 to close to 0.2:1.

Estimates by Lead industry suggest that between 70,000 and 90,000 people are employed in Lead mining, smelting and refining, and over 2,000 more in Lead oxide manufacture. Battery manufacture is estimated to employ about 60,000-70,000 people. Many more work in industries that use small amounts of Lead in their products.

Prices of Lead are determined at the London Metal Exchange (LME). It was first traded in the LME in 1903. The LME Lead futures contract calls for the delivery of 25 tons of at least 99.97% purity Lead Ignots. The contract is priced in US dollars per tonne. Some of the factors influencing the prices, and demand and supply of the metal include changes in the inventory at the LME warehouses, the economic growth rate of major consuming countries, and global growth and demand in major consuming industries.

According to ILZSG, over the years, demand for Lead has always surpassed supply, and hence prices of the metal have been increasing steadily post-2005, the demand-supply situation became worse, with the former far outstripping the latter due to decrease in production and the LME stocks going down (because of a boom in the automobile and the telecom sectors of the developing countries); this lead to a drastic increase in the Lead prices, resulting in supply not really keeping pace with the demand.

World Lead Production in 2011

World Lead Production 2011

Source: lizsg.org

Booming Lead Industry

In present day world Lead is one of the most used commodities. Occurring naturally in the environment, it is processed in around 60 countries. The increasing usage of lead has risen from 4 million tons per year and this, nearly 2 million tons per year is produced in Asia. Recycling or can be called as secondary production is widely practiced in today’s world and it accounts to nearly 50 percent of usage worldwide.

Remelted Lead For Recycling

Remelted Lead

The key features of lead such its malleability, electrical conductivity, lubricity, flexibility makes it useful in the lead industry and last but not the least it is the most abundant metal in the world which makes its usage more in the industrial world in comparison to other metals. India stands at 6th place in world mine production of lead in concentrate with 77,500 metric tons of production of lead. The total global consumption of lead in 2003 was estimated to be 15.1 billion pounds.

Lead ingots, Pure Lead

Lead Ingots


  • Automobile Industry  : One of the most common uses of lead is in the automobile industry in the manufacture of lead acid storage batteries which is a vital part in automobile and communication industry.
  • Bullets and Shots :  Another common use of lead is in bullets and shots. There are calls to remove lead from bullets and shot, especially for hunting, but it has been difficult to find a suitable material.
  • Electronics : Lead is used as solder for electronics, but for safety reasons attempts are being made to replace lead solder with bismuth. It is also used in high voltage power lines.
  • Construction Purposes : It is commonly used in construction for roofing materials. It can also be used to create statues and sculptures.
  • Used as Radiation shield : Lead is used as a radiation shield in many different applications. For example, aprons containing lead are used to shield certain parts of patients during x-rays. Molten lead is even used to cool certain types of nuclear reactors.
  • Marine Uses : Lead is used to add weight to the keel of sailboats and to diver’s belts. Lead is also the most common material used in fishing sinkers.

There can be no intelligent control of the lead danger in industry unless it is based on the principle of keeping the air clear from dust and fumes.

The supply of lead comes mainly from mine production but recycling of lead scrap amounts a large production share in metal. 90 percent of lead scrap comes from battery industry. A sudden growth in the automobile sector and boom in information technology has resulted in continuous increasing demand for batteries which mainly uses lead as its core product. Approx. 3 million tons of lead is recycled annually in which large amount of scrap comes from waste batteries.

Lead Scrap

Lead Scrap

The supply of lead is majorly based on mine production and recycling which accounts to large supply of lead. Lead is found all over the world but the largest mining countries are Australia, China and the United States, which between them account for more than 50 percent of primary production. Around 3 million tons of lead is produced from secondary sources each year, by recycling scarp lead products.

Globally, secondary lead production is rising in countries like Australia, European Union, US and Japan but our country lacks technology and policy to promote secondary lead production which effects in the domestic supply and imbalance in the export and import. Roughly half of lead comes from the recycled lead. Demand for lead acid batteries for automotive, industrial and consumer purposes accounts for about 70 percent of world’s demand for lead. While lead is constantly meeting this market challenge, it is also proving its sustainable development credentials. Few materials are so efficiently utilized. Lead is used by all industrialized nations. The USA is by far the biggest consumer, with some countries in Asia and Europe. The US is the largest producer of primary lead. Most of the lead comes from secondary sources and most secondary lead is used in batteries. India’s lead market was estimated 1.5 lakh tons by 2004 which was surged to 3.5 lakh tons by 2007 because of wide growth in industrial consumption mainly from battery sector.

LEAD Occurrence and Distribution

Lead is mentioned often in early biblical accounts. The Babylonians used the metal asLead Metal plates on which to record inscriptions. The Romans used it for tablets, water pipes, coins, and even cooking utensils; indeed, as a result of the last use, lead poisoning was recognized in the time of Augustus Caesar. The compound known as white lead was apparently prepared as a decorative pigment at least as early as 200 bc. Modern developments date to the exploitation in the late 1700s of deposits in the Missouri-Kansas-Oklahoma area in the United States.

On a weight basis, lead has nearly the same abundance in the Earth’s crust as tin. Cosmically, there are 0.47 lead atoms per 106 silicon atoms.

The cosmic abundance is comparable with those of cesium, praseodymium, hafnium, and tungsten, each of which is regarded as a reasonably scarce element. Although lead is not abundant, natural concentration processes have resulted in substantial deposits of commercial significance, particularly in the United States, but also in Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany, Africa, and South America. Significant deposits are found in the United States in the western states and the Mississippi Valley. Rarely found free in nature, lead is present in several minerals; but all are of minor significance except the sulfide, PbS (galena, or lead glance), which is the major source of lead production throughout the world. Lead is also found in anglesite (PbSO4) and cerussite (PbCO3). Lead may be extracted by roasting the ore and then smelting it in a blast furnace or by direct smelting without roasting.

Additional refining removes impurities present in the lead bullion produced by either process. Almost half of all refined lead is recovered from recycled scrap.