Zinc: Not very glamorous but a workhorse of a base metal for industry and health

Zinc raw material

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By Ellsworth Dickson

Unless one is working in the zinc sector, most people don’t think about zinc; yet we are surrounded by this important base metal in our daily lives – good thing too. Zinc is not glamorous like diamonds or gold and it’s not particularly beautiful; however, it’s not only a useful base metal for industry but is also necessary for good health and normal child development.

Zinc is the 23rd most abundant element and sphalerite, or zinc sulfide, and continues to be one of the most important ore minerals in the world. In terms of tonnage produced, zinc stands fourth among all metals in world production – only exceeded by iron, aluminum, and copper.

Zinc has many uses in our modern world – metal products, rubber and medicines to name a few.

Some 75% of zinc produced is used as a coating to protect iron and steel from corrosion (galvanized metal). Other uses include making bronze and brass, as zinc-based die casting alloy as well as rolled zinc. The remaining 25% of zinc production is consumed as zinc compounds by the rubber, chemical, paint, and agricultural industries.

Zinc is also a necessary element for proper growth and development of humans, animals, and plants – more below.

According to The Business Research Company, the global zinc market size will grow from $26.64 billion in 2022 to $29.54 billion in 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.9%.

Producers in the zinc sector include Jinchuan Group, Teck Resources Ltd. [TECK.A-TSX; TECK.B-TSX; TECK-NYSE], Nyrstar [NYR-Belgium: Euronext Brussels], Hudbay Minerals Inc. [HBM-TSX, NYSE], Lundin Mining Corp. [LUN-TSX; LUMI-Sweden], Titan Mining Corp. [TI-TSX] and Zijin Mining Group Company Ltd.

Some companies with exploration and/or development stage zinc projects include Fireweed Metals Corp. [FWZ-TSX], Trilogy Metals Inc. [TMQ, NYSE American], NorZinc, Arizona Metals Corp.  [AMC-TSX], Develop Global Ltd. [DVP-ASX], Rokmaster Resources Corp. [RKR-TSXV; RKMSF-OTCQB], Tinka Resources Ltd. [TK-TSXV; TKRFF-OTCQB], and Lara Exploration Ltd. [LRA-TSXV].

Zinc often occurs with other metals such as gold, silver, copper lead and nickel. The current price of zinc is US$1.27/lb. Of note, there were no London Metal Exchange (LME) stocks of Special High Grade (SHG) zinc held in U.S. warehouses at the end of January 2023, down from 25 tonnes at the end of December 2022 and from 33,150 tonnes at the end of January 2022. Global LME stocks were 16,475 tonnes at the end of January 2023, 46% less than 30,475 tonnes at the end of December 2022 and 89% less than 154,850 tonnes at the end of January 2022 (U.S. Geological Survey).

As noted above, the zinc supply declined last year which was fueled by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This situation further exacerbated Europe’s energy crisis and gave rise to some major zinc smelters halting operations.

For over 10 years now, as one of the world’s largest producers of zinc, Teck has been involved in helping solve the global health issue of zinc deficiency in humans. This occurs when there is a lack of zinc in soils that makes its way into edible plants as well as not enough poultry, meat, seafood, nuts and other zinc-rich foods in some peoples’ diets.

Through therapeutic zinc, zinc supplementation, food fortification, crop nutrition, awareness and advocacy, Teck has reached more than 160 million people worldwide by being a member of the Zinc Alliance for Child Health (ZACH), which is a partnership between Teck, Nutrition International and the Government of Canada.

It is a concerning fact that some 1.2 billion people worldwide are not getting enough zinc in their diet and 200,000 childhood deaths could be prevented with access to zinc in their diet.  Zinc is an essential micronutrient crucial for growth and brain development and also helps fight dangerous infections, particularly in children. However, many people in developing countries have plant-based diets that do not provide enough zinc for healthy development.

To date, more than 60 million children have received life-saving zinc treatments as a result of ZACH. In addition, some 95,000 community health workers have been trained to strengthen health care systems in these above-noted countries.

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