Of the three major metals contained in the ore that Doe Run mines – lead, copper and zinc – in 2016, zinc stole the show reaching pricing levels not seen since early 2010. Because zinc is widely used in galvanized steel for construction and the automotive industries, this mineral is playing an important role in everyday life, contributing to its high market demand. The year of zinc started with prices in the mid-60 cents per pound range for most of January. But by mid-July, the price reached $1.00 per pound and continued to climb throughout the year reaching its peak at $1.32 per pound in late November.
U.S. zinc use has grown due to a strong performance in the automotive sector. The extended period of strong demand with diminished resources has created a dramatic decline in zinc concentrate reserves to meet global needs. Global inventories of zinc concentrates have fallen from more than 1.1 million metric tonnes in 2014 to 0.2 million metric tonnes at the end of 2016.
“Global demand significantly outpaced supply in three of four quarters of 2016. The limited supply was the result of mine closures, as well as a smelter closing in China, as the country continues to address environmental impacts and government corruption,” said John Likarish, manager of marketing at Doe Run. “As with most commodities, demand from China drove the market with analysts reporting that zinc imports to China were up 8 percent year on year.”
Major zinc mine closures in 2016 in Australia and Ireland followed the downsizing of mine operations at Peru, Australia and Kazakhstan in late 2015. In total, zinc contained in concentrates declined by 850,000 metric tonnes in 2016.
“For the next few years, we can expect to see less zinc metal availability and further increases in zinc prices and regional premiums,” Likarish added.
“Doe Run contributed approximately 34,000 dry metric tonnes of zinc concentrate to the global market in 2016.”
Zinc: Essential for Life
As one of the most versatile minerals, zinc plays an important role in infrastructure, like bridges, buildings and transportation, but also is essential to life as an important micro-nutrient for productive crops and essential dietary mineral requirements in both humans and animals.
More than 65 percent of zinc sold is used to galvanize steel used in the construction, automotive and machinery industries to prevent corrosion, providing longer life to steel and the structures that depend on it.
As lawmakers look at updating aging infrastructure across the U.S., domestic zinc producers could play an important role. Americans overwhelmingly support using domestically sourced minerals for infrastructure projects, according to a poll from Morning Consult. Roughly 83 percent of zinc from galvanized steel is recycled, returning this valuable metal to its varied uses.
Zinc is an important mineral for both plant and human health. A lack of zinc in soil prevents plants from reaching their full root and foliage potential, decreasing the amount of food it can produce. These deficiencies in the soil also correlate to insufficient zinc in humans and negative health impacts. For example, zinc has been promoted to boost the immune system, helping people fight colds and ear infections, and can be used to help treat malaria, skin conditions, asthma, diabetes, ADHD and other conditions.
Adequate levels of zinc reduce childhood illnesses, enhance physical growth and decrease mortality in developing nations. That’s why the International Zinc Association and its members partnered with UNICEF to combat global zinc deficiencies through the nonprofit Zinc Saves Kids initiative. Each year, 1.5 million children die from diarrhea. Adequate zinc can reduce the severity and occurrence of this acute disease in developing countries.
Programs to improve childhood health through adequate zinc consumption show tremendous progress in countries, including Peru, Mexico and DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Health centers in Peru report a 25 percent reduction in diarrhea episodes and a 40 percent reduction in the duration and severity of diarrhea cases as a result of providing zinc supplements to children.
People worldwide have inadequate zinc in their diet
People at risk of dying each year from zinc deficiency
Children at risk of dying every year due to zinc deficiency
Children who die each year from diarrhea, a condition that can be easily addressed with zinc supplements