The demand for, and market success of, ferroalloys is
closely tied to trends within the steel industry, especially
the need for higher-quality, higher-strength products.
The U.S. steel industry, the leading consumer of
ferroalloys, is continually improving techniques for producing
higher-quality steel. The demand for high-quality steel
isnt expected to abate in the near future, but in some
cases the improved techniques might result in a decrease of the
quantity of ferroalloys needed, according to the U.S.
Geological Survey (USGS). Since ferroalloys are used primarily
in the manufacture of steel, the actual end uses are numerous,
such as in the construction of buildings, cars and household
goods and in the aerospace industry.
The United States, and North America in general, are net
importers of ferroalloys, according to Robert Davis, vice
president of Oak Brook, Ill.-based Hickman, Williams & Co.
North American production has fallen to about 1.5 percent of
worldwide production today from around 5.3 percent in 2000.
North America is a minor factor in the production of
ferroalloys. In fact, the U.S. is a minor producer of
ferroalloys, he said. North American producers
account for only 1.47 percent of all ferroalloys and specialty
alloy production. Over 80 percent of the ferroalloys consumed
in the United States are imported.
The major ferroalloys consumed in the United States are
ferrochrome, ferromolybdenum, ferromanganese and
Ferrochrome has a wide range of uses in metals, chemicals
and refractories. It is one of the nations most important
strategic and critical materials, according to the USGS.
Chromium use in iron, steel and nonferrous alloys enhances
hardening and resistance to corrosion and oxidation. The use of
chromium to produce stainless steel and nonferrous alloys are
two of its more important applications; other applications are
in steel alloys and the plating of metals.
Most chromite ore is converted into ferrochrome that is
consumed by the metallurgical industry, and most of that is
consumed to make stainless and heat-resisting steel. Last year
was characterized by uncertainty resulting from the escalating
eurozone debt crisis, according to the USGS. World ingot and
slab equivalent stainless and heat-resisting steel production
reached about 32 million tons in 2011, an historically high
Ferromolybdenum is a refractory metallic element used
principally as an alloying agent in steel, cast iron and
superalloys to enhance hardening, strength, toughness and wear
and corrosion resistance. To achieve desired metallurgical
properties, molybdenumprimarily in the form of molybdic
oxide or ferromolybdenumis frequently used in combination
with or added to chromium, columbium, manganese, nickel,
tungsten or other alloy metals.
The versatility of molybdenum in enhancing a variety of
alloy properties has ensured it a significant role in
contemporary industrial technology, which increasingly requires
materials that are serviceable under high stress, expanded
temperature ranges and highly corrosive environments, according
to the USGS.
In 2011, molybdenum valued at about $2.2 billion (based on
the average oxide price) was produced by 10 U.S. mines.
Molybdenum ore was produced as a primary product at four mines
(one each in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico), while six
copper mines (three in Arizona and one each in Montana, Nevada
and Utah) recovered molybdenum as a by-product. Three roasting
plants converted molybdenite concentrate to molybdic oxide,
from which intermediate products like ferromolybdenum, metal
powder and various chemicals were produced. Iron and steel and
superalloy producers accounted for about 81 percent of the
Ferromanganese is essential to iron and steel production by
virtue of its sulfur-fixing, deoxidizing and alloying
properties. Steelmaking, including its iron making component,
accounts for most domestic manganese demand, currently in a
range of 85 to 90 percent of the total. Manganese ferroalloys,
consisting of various grades of ferromanganese and
silicomanganese, provide most of this key ingredient to
steelmaking. Products for construction, machinery and
transportation are leading end uses of manganese, and the metal
also is a key component of certain widely used aluminum alloys
and, in oxide form, dry-cell batteries.
Manganese ore containing 35 percent or more manganese
hasnt been produced domestically since 1970. Last year,
manganese ore was consumed mainly by eight companies with
plants principally in the East and Midwest. Most ore
consumption was related to steel production, directly in pig
iron manufacture and indirectly through upgrading ore to
ferroalloys. Manganese ferroalloys were produced at two
smelters. Construction end uses accounted for about 29 percent
of manganese demand, while machinery and transportation
products each consumed about 10 percent. Most of the rest went
to a variety of other iron and steel applications. The value of
domestic consumption, estimated from foreign trade data, was
about $1.3 billion.
Silicon metal, which like ferrosilicon is generally produced
in submerged electric-arc furnaces, is not used as a ferroalloy
but rather for alloying with aluminum and for the production of