Non-ferrous metals are metals and alloys that do not contain iron in significant amounts. Generally these metals are more expensive than ferrous metals and are more desirable for certain properties such as low weight (i.e., aluminium), high conductivity (i.e., copper) or resistance to corrosion. Important non-ferrous metals are aluminium, copper, zinc, tin, titanium, nickel, precious and rare metals. Given their intensive use, non-ferrous scrap metals are usually recycled. Recycling is vital for the metallurgy industry since the production of new metals often requires them.
Aluminium is the most abundant metal on Earth and accounts for up to eight percent by weight of the Earth’s surface. The chief ore of aluminium is bauxite. Its main features are high resistance to corrosion and low density. It is a vital metal for the aerospace and transport industries. The global aluminium production in 2010 was 42 million tonnes, exceeding any other metals except for iron. Many uses of aluminium can be found in the following industries: transport and construction (accounting for 50% of the world’s aluminium consumption), packaging (17%) and electrical transmission (12%). China is the world’s largest aluminium producer accounting for 17 million tonnes (55% of the world’s production), followed by Russia with 3.9 million tonnes (Europe accounted for 20% of the world’s production), America at 16%, Oceania at 5% and Africa, 4%.
Copper is a very ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable and has a reddish color when first mined. It is one of the most ancient metals, used in the Roman era and originally mined in Cyprus. Copper was the first mineral that man extracted from the earth and along with tin gave rise to the Bronze Age. As the ages and technology progressed the uses for copper increased. With the increased demand, exploration for the metal was extended throughout the world, laying down the foundations for the industry as we know it today. Asia is the world’s larget producer accounting for 46% of the world’s production, followed by the Americas at 28%, Europe at 19%, Africa at 5% and Oceania, 2%. Copper is used mainly as an electrical conductor and construction material: its usage in the electrical/electronic industry accounts for 31% while construction accounts for 25%.
Nickel is a perfect corrosion-resistant metal due to its slow rate of oxidation and about six percent of the world’s production is used for corrosion-resistant pure nickel plating. Major production sites are Sudbury Region in Canada, New Caledonia in the Pacific and Norilsk in Russia. In 2011, Russia was the largest producer with a share of one fifth of the world’s production. Following closely were Canada, Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The largest deposit of nickel in Europe is located in Greece.
Nickel is mainly used in the stainless steel industry (which accounts for 66% of world usage). Twenty-four percent is blended with other alloys; eight percent is used in electroplating and three percent in the chemical industry.