Lead is a very soft and toxic metal with very high density. Lead has been used widely since historic times. The earliest report of its use dates back to 6400 BC in the modern day Turkey. Commercial production of lead was started in 17th century.

Lead is commonly available together with zinc in ore along with other metals such as silver and cadmium. It is bluish white when it is cut but turns to dull grey when exposed. It is highly malleable and resistant to corrosion but has a poor electrical conductivity.

Economic Importance:

Batteries: Lead is largely used for acid batteries.

Insulation: It is widely used as protection against radiation. Used in hospitals, dental surgeries, laboratories and nuclear installations.

Lead is also used for roof sheathing and cladding.

Mineral sources:

Galena is the most important lead mineral and contains about 86.6% lead. Cerussite, also known as white lead ore or lead-spar, contains about 77.5% lead.

Production: Most of the lead ores contain about 10% of lead however, lead extraction is economical if they contain at least about 3% of lead.

To extract the metal, the ore is rushed and concentrated by froth floatation to obtain concentration of about 70% or more. The sulphide ores are roasted to convert them to lead oxides. These lead oxides are then reduced in coke-fired blast furnace to obtain the metal. Lead is purified further using various processes.

Primary production accounts for about 50% and the rest comes from recycling of secondary sources such as scrap. Lead is fully recyclable without losing its properties particularly from batteries and sheathing.

World Scenario

World Lead reserves are estimated at 89 million tons as per the latest estimates of the US Geological Survey (USGS). Australia has the largest reserves of about 36 million tons followed by China with 14 million tons, Russia with 9 million tons, Mexico with 5.6 million tons and U.S with 5 million tons.

Mine production of Lead has gone up from about 3.7 million tons in 2007 to 5.3 million tons in 2013 posting an average annual growth rate of about 6.6% per annum. However, according to the estimates of International Lead and Lead Study Group, Lead refined production has increased only at about 3.0% per annum in the corresponding period to 10.6 million tons in 2013. China contributes for about 53.8% of total mine production in the world followed by Australia contributing for about 11.8%.

In terms of refined production of Lead, China is the single largest producer with about 44.3% share followed by U.S. with about 12.4% share, India and South Korea with about 4.3% share eah.

Consumption of Lead also posted an average annual growth of about 3% per annum during 2007 to 2013 and stood at about 10.6 million tons in 2013. China is the largest consumer accounting for about 44.5% of total consumption in the world. U.S., India and South Korea accounted for about 15%, 4.8% and 4% respectively of the world’ Lead consumption in 2012.

Industry-wise use of Lead indicated that it has been largely used for battery making to an extent of about 80% of total Lead utilization. Other usages of Lead include Rolls & extruded products (6%), Pigments & other compounds (5%) and Ammunition (3%).

Domestic Scenario

Lead mine production in India is growing steadily at an annual average growth rate of about 8% per annum during 2007 to 2012 while refined lead production has posted a higher growth of about 11.6% per annum in the same period. Consequently, India stood in the 7th position in terms of mine production and in the third position in terms of refined production in 2012. Hindusthan Lead Ltd is the only producer of primary Lead in the country. .

Recycling of Lead is very high as the metal in batteries, cable sheathing and sheathing against radiation is fully recyclable without losing its properties. The recycled Lead is about 80% of total refined Lead produced in the country in the recent years.

Consumption of Lead is stood at in the range of 4 to 5 lakh tons per annum on average during 2008 to 2012. Major industrial sectors using Lead in India are Batteries with 74% share followed by pigments & other compounds with 9%, Rolls & extrusions with 8% and Alloys with 3% share in the total use of Lead.

Major Markets

Spot markets: Mumbai, Delhi

Futures markets:

International: LME, Comex, SHFE
Domestic: MCX and NMCE.

External Trade

Lead is exported as well as imported both in the form of concentrates as well as various forms such as scrap, lead waste and scrap, lead unrefined, refined lead unwrought, lead and alloys including scrap, lead and alloys unwrought, pig lead, antimonial lead, worked lead and alloys.

Major export destinations: China for ore & concentrates while South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia for metal alloys.

Major import sources: Ireland, South Africa, Senegal and Morocco for ore & concentrates whereas UK, UAE, Australia, South Korea, and US for Lead and alloys.

Factors Influencing Prices:
  • Largely governed by the international markets and their price trends.
  • Global economic conditions and macro-economic indicators.
  • Geopolitical conditions of the major producing countries.
  • Growth and performance of major utilizing industries.
  • Government policies on trade both direct (restrictions) and indirect (taxes).

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