Copper was the first metal to come into a widespread use. Though gold and silver were also known much earlier, being often found in their metallic state.
But they are rare elements. They were never available in quantities large enough for a general use except perhaps for ornamental purposes. Though available in quantities larger than gold or silver, copper is also not very abundant in lithosphere. However, the metal can be easily extracted from its ores.
The reduction temperature is low so that its smelting can be done in a simple furnace. Once the technology for copper-extraction was perfected by man its demand rose rapidly and the Age of Metals in human history commenced early by 4000 B.C.
It was about 1100 B.C. that furnaces capable of attaining temperatures high enough to reduce Iron ores were developed. The widespread availability of Iron minerals made it possible for the metal to be used on an unprecedented scale. A little amount of carbon had to be mixed to produce harder steel. Initially trees were used to produce this charcoal (carbon).
As steel production expanded much of the forests had to be felled, to be turned into coal required for the steel industry of the time. It was in England that the technique to convert mineral coal into a satisfactory form of carbon to be mixed with iron to produce steel was developed. This development was of tremendous importance to the mankind. It paved the way to development of steam engine and finally to the Industrial Revolution.
The level of steel production and consumption are useful indicators of technological advancement of a country. In advanced Western countries per capita steel production rose to 140 kg per year by the beginning of 20th century and doubled within a span of ten years only. In 1965 world steel production stood at about 55 kg per person per year. The rise in steel production was matched by an equally rapid rise in its consumption.
By 1965 A.D. per capita steel consumption had reached about 625 kg per person per year in developed countries. The global average per capita steel consumption was about 100 kg per person per year in 1955 A.D. while in 1965 A.D. it reached 145 kg per person per year. Global averages are lower because of the fact that little steel is used in developing countries of the world. It shows per capita steel consumption in five major countries of the world.
Global production of non-metallic minerals.
Per capita consumption of non-metallic minerals.
Today the total quantity of materials of all kinds obtained from earth amounts to an enormous 150 billion tons. This means that in order to support one person in our technologically advanced society having a population of 5 billion people, we have to dig up about 30 tons of materials of all types from earth’s crust. Obviously man has become an important geologic force.
The amount of rocks and earth he moves each year is already gigantic. However, there is a wide gap between the living standards of developed and under-developed countries of the world. Major part of world’s mineral resources has been and is still being used by the rich and developed nations.
Roughly 80% of the world’s population lives in under-developed countries which are struggling to acquire better living conditions, standards and life styles. As these poor countries develop per capita demand of materials shall go up rapidly placing tremendous strain on the mineral resources of the world.