Zinc
Feature Articles
What Use is a Zincing Ship?
August 2021
Zinc’s uses are many given its effectiveness as a protective agent, whether as part of an alloy or as a passivating protection. Zinc is not used as a metal industrially, due to comparatively poorer physical properties than steel. However, once alloyed, zinc can add significant corrosion resistance, high impact strength at an affordable price.

Particularly for high-volume products like nuts, bolts and simple low-strength-requirement steel products, the lower price point offered by zinc stands it in good stead despite the relative lower performance in both corrosion resistance and strength compared to stainless steel.

 

Primary Uses

Zinc use is largely focused around galvanising of steel and alloying, whether as a part of a complex alloy or simpler materials like brass and bronze. Galvanising consumes over 50% of worldwide zinc metal production, as a highly desirable protective element at an affordable price. All kinds of galvanised steels are used widely in several of the world’s largest markets, including infrastructure, construction, and automobiles.

Alloys of zinc comprise most of the remaining fraction of zinc’s final usage. Bronze and brass represent roughly 17% of the total use of zinc, with other metallic alloys representing another 17%. The majority of the remainder is use as zinc compounds across a variety of industries, whether that be paints, rubbers, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, plastics, soaps, or electrical equipment and batteries.

 

Galvanisation

In developed nations, demand for higher-quality steels such as Advanced High-Strength Steel (AHSS) is higher than in developing nations. Automobile construction varies significantly in location-based demand for galvanised steel. Developed nations such as the US, Japan and Korea have a heavy preference for galvanised steel in their automotive industry, where as developing nations will often prefer cheaper materials such as structural or carbon steels.

In developed nations, the fraction of galvanised vehicles is near total, with over 70% of the steel in these vehicles produced as galvanised steel. Some of the globe’s highest consumers of zinc, such as Japan, South Korea and the USA all produce significant quantities of galvanised steels for use in the automotive and construction sectors. In 2019, 42.8Mt of galvanised sheet metal was exported around the world, primarily from China, the US, South Korea and Japan.

 

 

Japan produced 8.2Mt of cold-rolled galvanised sheet in 2019. In 2020, South Korea produced 12.3Mt of galvanised sheet, a number that is, unlike Japan, growing over time rather than declining. Galvanised wire and other products were also produced, but the vast majority of galvanised product for these nations comes as sheet metal. For reference, Japanese total steel production is roughly 104.5Mt for 2019 and South Korea 66.3Mt.

In China and to a lesser extent the US, the fraction of galvanised steel is smaller, as a result of the sheer quantity of steel produced. These countries still represent the lion’s share of galvanised production by volume.

Competition in the galvanisation market is not particularly intense, with a large number of major players including Baowu Group, ThyssenKrupp, Steel Dynamics, POSCO, ArcelorMittal, Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal, Hyundai Steel, and many others.

 

Alloying, Brass and Bronze

Bronze and brass, as copper and tin alloys with zinc, are predominantly produced in Europe. The largest producers globally reside in Italy, Germany, South Korea, China, the US, Mexico and Brazil, with a good portion from India, France, South Africa and Taiwan.

Both bronze and brass are used in a variety of industrial and artisanal ways, both are used for fittings, trimmings, coins and other utility applications. Metal use in trades is non-negligible, particularly for brass where corrosion resistance and low friction properties are critical, such as electrical sockets or plumbing. The artisanal market also represents a significant use of zinc, likewise focused on the long corrosion resistance and lustre of the brass alloys.

While it may be intuitive to link bronze and brass, and indeed other alloys, to copper production it does not seem to pan out. This is due to the ease of transport of copper and the relative ease of acquisition all around the world meaning that production circumstances and local demand are much more critical factors.

Other key alloys include various grades of zinc-aluminium, primarily used in bearings and die-casting, and zinc-nickel-silver, formerly a typewriter metal. The primary use of non-brass alloyed zinc is in industry, where the zinc alloys provide a highly desirable set of properties for die casting moulds. The highest consumers of zinc alloys are those nations with highly developed industrial sectors - China, the US, Germany, Japan and South Korea in particular.

 

Other Uses

Zinc is used in a vast array of smaller markets such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, plastics, soaps, cosmetics among others. Zinc use in these markets is predominantly in developed nations, as few developing nations have the infrastructure required for these industries.

With the growth of new technology, zinc as zinc oxide has become increasingly useful. It is used widely in cosmetics throughout Europe and the US. Zinc oxide is also a significant input to glass and ceramic manufacture.

Increasing use of zinc as a battery material, particularly in efficient large-scale zinc-air rechargeable batteries, is expected to significantly increase demand for zinc going forward. China, Canada, Japan and South Korea are the primary investors in this developing technology so increasing use of zinc from those nations is expected.

 

Future Growth

Zinc is a versatile material, with a wide variety of uses that are focused around its excellent anti-corrosion properties and high usability as a facilitating chemical compound.

The largest markets for zinc are likely to remain galvanisation and alloying due to the higher fractions of zinc in the products and enormously widespread use. Growth sectors in batteries and electronics will continue to increase market share for mature economies capable of capitalising on the market expansion.

China remains the largest user of zinc, primarily for its use as a galvanising metal and alloy production, closely followed by Japan, South Korea, the US, Canada and Germany.