Mineral Resource of the Month: Manganese

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

Lisa A. Corathers, a mineral commodity specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey, compiled the following information about manganese, a multifunctional mineral used predominantly to manufacture iron and steel.

Manganese ore in stockpile in Pilbara, Western Australia. Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Christian Uhrig

Manganese is a silver-colored metal resembling iron and often found in conjunction with iron. The earliest-known human use of manganese compounds was in the Stone Age, when early humans used manganese dioxide as pigments in cave paintings. In ancient Rome and Egypt, people started using it to color or remove the color from glass — a practice that continued to modern times. Today, manganese is predominantly used in metallurgical applications as an alloying addition, particularly in steel and cast iron production. Steel and cast iron together provide the largest market for manganese (historically 85 to 90 percent), but it is also alloyed with nonferrous metals such as aluminum and copper. Its importance to steel cannot be overstated, as almost all types of steel contain manganese and could not exist without it.

Nonmetallurgical applications of manganese include: battery cathodes, soft ferrites used in electronics, micronutrients found in fertilizers and animal feed, water and wastewater treatment chemicals, and other chemicals such as those used as colorants.

The United States possesses no economic reserves of manganese ore that contain the necessary 35 percent or more manganese, making manganese one of several mineral commodities for which the United States is wholly import-dependent. Concerns about the manganese supply led the U.S. federal government to establish a considerable manganese stockpile following World War II. In 1965, the government began selling stockpiled manganese materials determined to be in excess. By year-end 2010, the government held an estimated 276,000 metric tons of high-carbon ferromanganese.

Since 2007, rising spot market prices for manganese ore have triggered interest in developing domestic manganese resources, despite their low grade. Two Canadian companies are actively exploring for manganese in Arizona in deposits that contain on average less than 10 percent manganese. Both companies are eyeing the production of electrolytic manganese metal (EMM) from these deposits. EMM is used in the manufacture of aluminum alloys, soft ferrites and specialty steels, and was last produced in the United States in 2001. Only China and South Africa currently produce EMM. In 2009, China held 96 percent of the world’s EMM capacity.

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

Manganese production and consumption:

World production of manganese ore was 42.3 million metric tons gross weight in 2010.

In 2010, the top manganese ore producers on a manganese-content basis were Australia, South Africa, China and Gabon. Australia produced 22 percent of the total.

Manganese is mainly consumed in the form of two ferroalloys: ferromanganese and silicomanganese. In 2010, 97 percent of ferromanganese and 96 percent of silicomanganese consumed in the United States was used to produce steel.

In 2010, U.S. apparent consumption of manganese on a manganese-content basis increased by 68 percent to 758,000 metric tons.

Fun facts:

The word manganese likely comes from the Latin word “magnes,” which means magnet. When manganese is alloyed with metals like aluminum, copper and antimony, the end products are highly ferromagnetic.

Ancient Egyptians and Romans used pyrolusite, a manganese dioxide, to control the color of glass. Small additions decolorized glass by removing the greenish yellow discoloration caused by iron impurities, and further additions colored the glass pink, purple or black. Manganese dioxide is still used today as a colorant.

Manganese is an essential nutrient for humans and animals, and occurs naturally in many foods. Nuts, whole-grain cereals and dried fruits are good sources of manganese.

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