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Iron ore facts

Iron ore is a combination of minerals from which metallic iron can be extracted on an economic basis.

Key facts

  • In 2021, Canada was the seventh-largest producer of iron ore in the world.
  • Canada’s iron ore is mined in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut.
  • The top three iron ore-producing countries (Australia, Brazil and China) accounted for 63% of global production.
  • The primary use of iron ore is to make steel, which is 100% recyclable.

Learn more about iron ore

Uses

The primary use of iron ore (98%) is to make steel. The remaining 2% is used in a various other applications, such as powdered iron for certain types of steel, auto parts and catalysts; radioactive iron for medicine; and iron blue in paints, inks, cosmetics and plastics.

Iron ore, global uses, 2021

pie chart

Other: powdered iron, iron 59, iron blue, black iron oxide

Text version

This pie chart shows the major global uses of iron ore. Steel represents 98%, while other mixed uses (i.e. powdered iron, radioactive iron [iron 59], iron blue, and black iron oxide) represent the remaining 2%.

Production

Canadian mine production of iron ore in concentrate and pellets was 57.5 million tonnes in 2021, a 2% decrease compared to 2020.

Canada's estimated crude steel production for 2021 was 13 million tonnes, which is 18% higher than for 2020.

Canadian mine production of iron ore, 2012–2021 (p)

bar graph
Text version

This bar graph shows Canada's annual mine production of iron ore from 2012 to 2021. Production in 2012 was 38.9 million tonnes, the lowest in the 10-year period. Annual production increased steadily up to 58.6 million tonnes in 2020. Production declined slightly to 57.5 million tonnes in 2021.

Most of Canada's iron ore comes from the Labrador Trough region bordering Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. A substantial amount is also produced in Nunavut.

Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, by province and territory, 2021 (p)

map
Text version

This map shows Canadian production of iron ore by province and territory for 2021. Quebec accounted for 52.4% of the total production with 30.1 million tonnes and Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut accounted for 47.6% with 27.4 million tonnes.

Consult a map of producing Canadian mines

International context

Global production of iron ore is estimated to have been 2,537 million tonnes in 2021, slightly higher than the 2,472 million tonnes produced in 2020. Australia is the leading global producer of iron ore, accounting for 35% of the total production. The top three iron ore-producing countries accounted for 65% of global production.

In 2021, Canada ranked as the ninth-leading producer of iron ore and sixth for reserves, accounting for 2% of global production and 3% of reserves.

World mine production of iron ore, by country, 2021 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 900 34.6%
2 Brazil 380 14.6%
3 China 360 13.8%
4 India 240 9.2%
5 Russia 100 3.8%
6 Ukraine 81 3.1%
7 Kazakhstan 64 2.5%
8 South Africa 61 2.4%
9 Canada 57 2.3%
10 Iran 50 1.9%
- Other countries 244 9.6%
Total   2,537 100.0%

World mine production of iron ore, 2012–2021 (p)

bar graph
Text version

This bar graph displays the annual global mine production of iron ore from 2012 to 2021. Production in 2012 was 2,070 million tonnes and increased to 2,369 million tonnes by 2014. Production subsequently decreased to 2,365 million tonnes in 2015, before gradually increasing annually to 2,470 million tonnes in 2018. Iron ore production declined in 2019 to 2,450 million tonnes but rebounded to reach 2,472 million tonnes in 2020 and a decade high of 2,537 tonnes in 2021.

World reserves

World reserves of crude iron ore, by country, 2021 (p)
Ranking Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Australia 51,000 28.5%
2 Brazil 34,000 19.0%
3 Russia 25,000 13.9%
4 China 20,000 11.2%
5 Ukraine 6,500 3.6%
6 Canada 6,000 3.3%
7 India 5,500 3.1%
8 United States 3,000 1.7%
9 Iran 2,700 1.5%
10 Peru 2,600 1.5%
- Other countries 22,930 12.8%
Total   179,230 100.0%

Trade

Exports

Canada exported 53.8 million tonnes of iron ore valued at $10.1 billion in 2021 compared to 55.1 million tonnes valued at $7.6 billion in 2020. Lower export volumes but higher export value reflect higher prices in 2021. Iron ore pellets accounted for 28% of the volume, whereas concentrates accounted for the remaining 72%.

Imports

Canada imported 8.0 million tonnes of iron ore valued at $1.0 billion in 2021, an increase from 2020, which was 7.1 million tonnes valued at $0.8 billion. Pellets represented 98% of the imported volume, whereas concentrates represented 2%. The import of pellets came almost exclusively from the United States. Imports of concentrates came primarily from Brazil (44%), Australia (24%) and Sweden (20%). Concentrates are unfinished products used in the production of blast furnace pellets and pellets used for metallization.

In 2021, Canada was a net importer of semi-finished steel products, with imports of 10.0 million tonnes and exports of 6.8 million tonnes.

Prices

Iron ore prices have fluctuated significantly over the past decade, reaching a high of US$214 per tonne in June 2021 and a low of US$41 per tonne in December 2015.

In 2021, prices continued a salient rise to a high of US$214 per tonne by June before rapidly declining to US$116 per tonne in December. The rapid decline in prices coincides with decreased demand of iron ore from steel manufacturers in China.

Iron ore prices, monthly average, 2012–2021

line graph
Text version

This line graph shows average monthly iron ore prices in US dollars per tonne from 2012 to 2021. Based on China's import of iron ore fines of 62% iron content (average spot price in US dollars per metric tonne in a given year of unloading port / freight on board at the Tianjin port), the average price was US$128.53 in 2012.

Prices decreased to US$99.47 in September 2012, before a short-lived upward momentum in late 2012 to early 2013. A downward trend resumed shortly thereafter until the end of 2015, when it reached a decade low of US$40.88. The price of iron ore moderately recovered in 2016 and 2017, reaching US$89.44 in February 2017 before falling to US$72.25 by the end of the year. In 2019, the price started at US$76.16 and rose to US$120.24 by July. Prices subsided and hovered around US$90.00 until May 2020. Prices then rose to a decade high of US$214.43 in June 2021 before rapidly declining to a low of US$96.24 per tonne in November 2021. Prices rebounded slightly to US$116.96 in December 2021.

Recycling

Steel is 100% recyclable, which means it can be reprocessed into material of the same quality again and again. Recycling produces significant savings in energy and raw materials. Each recycled tonne of scrap steel saves more than 1,400 kilograms of iron ore, 740 kilograms of coking coal and 120 kilograms of limestone.

With electric arc furnaces, steel can be made from 100% scrap metal feedstock. This production method greatly reduces the energy required to make steel, compared with primary steelmaking from ore.

The increasing shift toward using electric arc furnaces in the manufacture of steel will support the global market for steel scrap, which is projected to reach 755 million tonnes by 2024.

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

Totals may be different because of rounding.

All dollars are Canadian unless otherwise indicated.

Uses

  • Iron ore, global uses, 2021
    • Iron – Minerals Education Coalition

Production

  • Canadian estimated crude steel production
    • World Steel Association
  • Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, 2012–2021 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada
  • Canadian mine production (shipments) of iron ore, by province and territory, 2021 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada

International context

  • World mine production of iron ore, by country, 2021 (p)
    • Natural Resources Canada; U.S. Geological Survey; Statistic Canada
    • An adjustment in the U.S. Geological Survey's methodology to estimate usable ore production instead of crude ore production resulted in adjusted totals from China beginning in 2015 and in lower overall world mine production.
  • World mine production of iron ore, 2012–2021 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey
  • World reserves of crude iron ore, by country, 2021 (p)
    • U.S. Geological Survey

Trade

  • Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada
    • Mineral trade includes ores, concentrates, and semi- and final-fabricated mineral products.
    • Steel includes stage 3 semi-fabricated products.

Prices

  • Iron ore prices, monthly average, 2012–2021
    • World Bank

Recycling

  • Global Industry Analysts (GIA) Inc.

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