Mineral Resource of the Month: Magnesium

by U.S. Geological Survey
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Deborah A. Kramer, a mineral commodity specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey, compiled the following information about magnesium, an element that is used in pure metallic form and in compounds in a wide variety of applications.

The leading use for magnesium-containing aluminum alloys is aluminum beverage cans. Credit: ŠiStockphoto.com/Pgiam

Magnesium is the eighth-most abundant element in Earth’s crust, and the second-most abundant metal ion in seawater. Although magnesium is found in more than 60 minerals, only brucite, dolomite, magnesite and carnallite are commercially important for their magnesium content. Magnesium and its compounds also are recovered from seawater, brines found in lakes and wells, and bitterns (salts).

Magnesium is used as a metal or as a constituent of a number of compounds, the most common of which is magnesium oxide. Magnesium oxide’s principal application is as a refractory material most commonly used to line the inside of steelmaking furnaces, but it also has myriad uses in agriculture, construction, and chemical, environmental and industrial applications. The United States has one magnesite producer in Nevada and recovers magnesium compounds from seawater in California, Delaware and Florida; from well brines in Michigan; and from brines from the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Magnesium metal has been produced continuously in the United States since it was first recovered in 1916. Its largest use is as an alloying addition to increase the hardness and corrosion resistance of aluminum, and the leading application for magnesium-containing aluminum alloys is the aluminum beverage can.

Magnesium and its alloys have structural uses in the forms of die castings, gravity (sand and permanent mold) castings, and wrought products. Automakers have introduced die-cast magnesium components such as clutch housings, instrument panel supports, headlamp assemblies and grill assemblies to reduce vehicle weight. Die-cast magnesium is also used in power tools, video cameras, cellular phones, computer components and sporting goods.

In the iron and steel industry, magnesium is used as an external hot-metal desulfurization agent and in the production of nodular iron. Sacrificial anodes of magnesium are frequently used to protect iron and steel in underground pipes and water tanks, water heaters, and marine applications from corrosion.

For more information on magnesium and other mineral resources, visit: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals.

Magnesium production and consumption:

World magnesium metal production in 2011 was estimated to be 780,000 metric tons, excluding U.S. production. China represented more than 85 percent of the total.

Magnesite production was estimated to be 20 million metric tons (excluding the United States), with China as leading producer (70 percent).

In 2011, U.S. apparent consumption of magnesium compounds was estimated to be slightly less than 1 million metric tons of magnesium oxide equivalent. Imports from China supply a substantial portion of U.S. consumption.

U.S. apparent consumption of magnesium metal in 2011 was estimated to be 110,000 metric tons, including about 21,000 metric tons of magnesium from old scrap and 48,000 metric tons of imports of metal and scrap mainly from Israel and Canada.

Fun facts:

Magnesium is an important element in plant, animal and human nutrition. In plants, it is the central atom in the chlorophyll molecule, and in animals, deficiencies can lead to health issues. Without sufficient magnesium, cattle, for example, can develop a fatal disease called grass tetany. In humans, where it is the fourth-most abundant mineral in the body, it plays a role in heart health.

Magnesium hydroxide as a suspension in water has been marketed under the Phillips Milk of Magnesia trade name since 1880; it is used as an antacid and laxative.

Magnesium metal burns bright white and is used in fireworks to add white sparks and improve their brilliance.

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