Iron ore deposits are geological formations with a high percentage of usable iron oxides which can be processed to make metallic iron. They make up about 5% of the Earth’s crust and also play an important role in the structure of the Earth’s core, according to researchers; it can be difficult to estimate the contents of the core, since it cannot be personally observed. Pure iron is difficult to find on Earth and is typically uncovered in the form of meteorites. People have been using this metal for thousands of years to make a variety of products including tools, structures, and ornaments.
Several minerals can yield useful amounts of iron oxides, including hematite, magnetite, and taconite. Six countries including India, Australia, Brazil, Russia, China, and the United States have the world’s largest iron ore deposits and their production makes up a significant percentage of the iron oxides mined and shipped worldwide. Other nations have smaller, less usable deposits that may yield enough for domestic industry and some exports, but don’t dominate the market like deposits from these rulers of the industry, who can mine iron extremely efficiently and sell it at a low price.
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Extracting iron from iron ore deposits can be a lengthy process. Geologists have to investigate a site to confirm it holds enough usable material while engineers develop a plan for mining safely and effectively. As workers start to remove material, it is crushed and processed to separate the iron oxides from impurities. When possible, a mine may process and package impurities to sell as secondary products, but the process also generates large volumes of waste.
As iron ore deposits are processed, the oxides can be refined and handled at smelting facilities to generate pig iron, blocks of metallic iron which can be used in alloys with various metals to make commercial products. Depending on how iron is processed and blended, it can have a number of different traits. Some products are very strong and flexible, for example, while others are more brittle and prone to fracture or splitting. Metals engineers study iron to learn more about how it can be processed to create a variety of useful materials.
Industrially, iron ore deposits are critical to the function of a number of industries. Maintaining a steady supply of iron is important for many companies and nations, which maintain careful relations to ensure that they will have enough iron to meet their needs. This can include contracts with major mining firms, good foreign relations with iron-rich countries, and strong supply chain management to ensure shipments aren’t delayed.