Accepted Manuscript Iron Material Flow Analysis for Production, Consumption, and Trade in China from 2010 to 2015
Qiangfeng Li, Tao Dai, Gaoshang Wang, Jinhua Cheng, Weiqiong Zhong, Bojie Wen, Liang Liang PII:
To appear in:
Journal of Cleaner Production
26 June 2017
26 November 2017
01 December 2017
Please cite this article as: Qiangfeng Li, Tao Dai, Gaoshang Wang, Jinhua Cheng, Weiqiong Zhong, Bojie Wen, Liang Liang, Iron Material Flow Analysis for Production, Consumption, and Trade in China from 2010 to 2015, Journal of Cleaner Production (2017), doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro. 2017.12.006
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ACCEPTED MANUSCRIPT Highlights
We analysed the material flow of iron in China from 2010 to 2015 Actual iron consumption was approximately 80% of the apparent iron consumption 2/3 of iron-containing commodities were for domestic use and 1/3 was exported Raw material loss mainly occurred during the beneficiation of domestic iron ore This is an important data base for research promoting sustainable iron resource use
Iron Material Flow Analysis for Production,
Consumption, and Trade in China from 2010 to 2015
Qiangfeng LI a,b,c, Tao DAI b,c*, Gaoshang WANG b,c, Jinhua CHENG a,
Weiqiong ZHONG b,c, Bojie WEN b,c, Liang LIANG d
School of Economics and Management, China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), Wuhan 430074, China b
MLR Key Laboratory of Metallogeny and Mineral Assessment, Institute of Mineral Resources, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, Beijing, 100037, China
Research Center for Strategy of Global Mineral Resources, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, Beijing, 100037, China
China University of Geosciences(Beijing), Beijing 100083, China
*Correspondence to: Institute of Mineral Resources, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, No.
26 Baiwanzhuang Street, Beijing, 100037, China. Tel.: +86 01068999069,
E-mail: [email protected]
17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Abstract: Statistical analyses of import and export trade data for iron-containing commodities were combined with data for domestic iron ore mining, iron and steel smelting, and secondary iron and steel resources to construct an MFA (material flow analysis) for iron production, consumption, and trade in China. The analysis showed that (1) the highest actual consumption of iron in China was 625 Mt in 2013, and the actual consumption of iron was approximately 80% of the apparent consumption; (2) from 2010 to 2015, approximately 90% of imported iron material was iron ore, and more than 97% of exported iron material was rolled steel and IEP (iron-containing end products); (3) 2/3 of the iron-containing commodities produced in China were for domestic consumption, and 1/3 was exported; and (4) loss of raw materials during processing primarily occurred in the beneficiation of domestic iron ore, with annual losses of approximately 50% of the total. This study provides a data base for further research into resource policy, industrial development, and metal waste and environmental management.
Keywords: material flow analysis; iron; production; actual consumption; trade
1 Introduction Iron is an essential material for economic development. It is widely used in construction
and the manufacturing of vehicles, utensils, etc. With the rapid development of China’s
economy, the import and use of iron resources has continued to increase. From 2000 to 2015,
China’s iron ore (standard ore) imports increased from 70 Mt to 953 Mt, iron ore (standard
ore) consumption increased from 175 Mt to 1190 Mt, and external dependence increased
from 40% to 80% (Fig. 1). This high and rapid consumption of iron resources has introduced
a series of challenges to China’s sustainable development of iron resources and
environmental protection. Namely: (1) China’s iron resources are in short supply but demand
is high, and China depends heavily on external sources, and (2) the production and
processing of iron discharges large amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. A key
requirement for the sustainable development of iron resources and the reduction of
environmental damage is determining the actual consumption of iron resources in China, as
well as the material flow for production and trade, and provide a data base for further
49 50 51
Fig. 1. Iron ore imports, consumption, and external dependence in China (2000–2015) (Data from the World Steel Association)
In this study, the actual consumption of iron resources in China and material flow data
for production and trade are measured using a material flow analysis (MFA). MFA is a
quantitative method for describing changes in the stock and flow of a material or materials in
time and space (Kalmykova et al., 2016; Laner et al., 2016). It is one of the most important
and basic methods for resource management and environmental system analysis (Haes et al.,
1997; Voet et al., 1995). Many scholars have used MFA to study the material flow of metal
resources, including copper (Wang et al., 2015; Zhang et al., 2015), aluminum (Chen et al.,
2010; Ding et al., 2016; Liu and Müller, 2013), lead (Jeong and Kim, 2017), zinc (Guo et al.,
2010), lithium (Hao et al., 2017), mercury (Habuer et al., 2016), and iron. Iron material flow
research can be divided into two categories; the first focuses on iron flow at the enterprise 2
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level. The dynamic analysis of iron material flow was analyzed by Hu et al., (2010) for
Chinese residential buildings, and by Nakamura et al., (2011) for the automotive industry.
The iron recycling process of the U.S. steel industry was analyzed in detail using MFA by
Fenton (2003). These studies reveal the various aspects of iron flow within the industry and
their characteristics, providing a basis for a lifecycle analysis of the physical flow of iron.
The other research category focuses on changes in iron stocks and flows at the national
or regional level of the full iron lifecycle. Studies have included the United Kingdom (Davis
et al., 2007; Geyer et al., 2007), Sweden (Gauffin et al., 2017), Europe (Panasiyk et al.,
2016), Australia, Brazil, China, and India (Yellishetty and Mudd, 2014). These studies
intuitively show the flow conditions of each phase throughout the iron and steel production
process, from smelting to processing, manufacturing, discarding after use, and recycling.
Moreover, the results of these studies had important implications for further studies on
resource policy, industrial development, and the waste and environmental management of
Some preliminary studies have been conducted into the iron material flow of iron and
steel production in China (Bu, 2005; Lu, 2002; Lu et al., 2000; Lu and Dai , 2005; Yu et al.,
2000), but these were not performed at the national level, and mostly only applied to
industry. Guo and Zhang (2016); Wang et al. (2014); Yan (2013); Yan and Wang (2014) and
Pauliuk et al. (2012) studied the iron material flow of the production, consumption, and trade
of iron raw materials, crude steel, and rolled steel in China, but neglected the material flow of
iron-containing end products (IEP) in consumption and import and export trade. This is
predominantly because the iron content of many types of IEP is difficult to calculate. This
results in higher analytical errors, reducing the accuracy of the material flow analysis and the
reliability of the conclusions.
Thus, this study includes all iron and steel products, including iron and steel end
products, in an iron material flow analysis for the first time. Based on the calculation of
import and export trade data for iron-containing commodities, and data on China’s domestic
iron ore mining, iron and steel smelting, secondary recovery of steel, etc., the MFA was used
to examine the flow of Chinese iron resources for production, consumption, and trade from
2010 to 2015. In section 2, the MFA and system boundaries are introduced, and iron material
flows are calculated. In section 3, the iron material flow results are analyzed, and section 4
presents the discussion and conclusion.
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2 System boundaries and calculations
2.1 System boundaries
In this study, the annual iron material flows from 2010 to 2015 were analyzed by using
mainland China as the spatial boundary and a temporal limit of a year.. The range of iron
materials includes all types of iron-containing commodities such as iron ore, pig iron, crude
steel, rolled steel, and IEP (iron-containing end products, such as vehicles, machinery, ships,
etc.). The framework adopted in this study (Fig. 2) is different from the traditional STAF
(stocks and flows) framework (Zhang et al., 2009). Instead of calculating the stock separately
at each stage of the iron life cycle, the stocks were considered at all stages as a whole. By
measuring the iron material flow in and out of the spatial boundary, the iron stocks for the
entire spatial boundary were calculated; this is called the actual iron consumption. The actual
consumption in this study is the sum of the total iron material consumed in China in one year.
Fig. 2. STAF framework of the iron material flow analysis for China (Modified from Zhang et al.,
110 111 112 113
2.2 Calculation method and data sources MFA is based on the conservation of mass; thus, the iron material output and input in each link and the entire national interface should be equal (Chen et al., 2010). Finput + F import = Foutput + Fexport + Floss…………（1）
In Eq. (1), Finput, F import, Foutput, Fexport, and Floss refer to the domestic material input, import,
output, export, and loss of the total iron material flow in a link or the entire national interface.
The various iron material flows are presented as masses of pure iron in this study.
2.2.1 Actual iron consumption
In the entire national interface, the input data include the domestic iron ore for the
current year, the iron content in the imported iron-containing commodities, scrap steel from
social recycling for the current year, and the stocked iron-containing commodities at the end
of the previous year. The output data include the actual iron consumption for the current year,
the iron content in the exported iron-containing commodities, the loss due to raw material 4
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processing, and the iron content in the stocked iron-containing commodities at the end of the
current year. As the study involves a long time scale, the amount of change between the
previous year iron-product stocks and current year iron-product stocks is very small. It is
assumed that the stocks for all years are the same. Thus, China’s actual iron consumption, M,
is: 𝑀 = 𝑀1 + 𝑀2 + 𝑀3 ‒ 𝑀4 ‒ 𝑀5………(2)
where M1 represents the domestic iron ore, M2 represents the annual scrap steel of social
recycling, M3 represents the iron content in imported iron-containing commodities, M4
represents the iron content in exported iron-containing commodities, and M5 represents the
loss due to raw material processing.
134 135 136
2.2.2 Iron material of domestic iron ore The calculation formula for iron material in domestic iron ore is: 𝑛
∑ 𝑀 ………(3) 𝑞
where q represents the different grades of iron ore and Mq represents the iron content in the
annual domestic q-grade iron ore. This data was provided by the China Iron and Steel
141 142 143
2.2.3 Iron material of annually scrap steels The calculation formula for iron material in annually scrap steel is: 𝑛
∑ 𝑀 ………(4) 𝑠
where s represents the different categories of scrap steel from social recycling, and Ms
represents the iron content in s-category scrap steel from social recycling. This data was
provided by the China Iron and Steel Industry Association.
148 149 150
2.2.4 Iron material of iron-containing commodities in trade The calculation formula for iron material in import iron-containing commodities is: 𝑛
∑𝑀 = ∑𝐶
𝑃 ∗ 𝑅𝑃………(5)
where p represents the different categories of iron-containing commodities in import and
export trade, Cp represents the mass of p-category imported iron-containing commodities, Rp
represents the iron-content coefficient of p-category iron-containing commodities, and Mp 5
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represents the iron content in p-category imported iron-containing commodities. The calculation formula for iron material in export iron-containing commodities is:
∑𝐸 = ∑𝑋 𝑝
𝑝 ∗ 𝑅𝑃………(6)
where p represents the different categories of iron-containing commodities in import and
export trade, Xp represents the mass of p-category exported iron-containing commodities, Rp
represents the iron-content coefficient of p-category imported and exported iron-containing
commodities, and Ep represents the iron content in p-category exported iron-containing
commodities. The data calculated for M3 and M4 were taken from China Customs and UN
comtrade (http://comtrade.un.org), and each datum contains the name, code, volume, and
dollar value of these products. To calculate the material flow of iron in imports and exports,
the data were processed by stratified sampling statistics. Table 1. Data classification and iron content coefficient
166 Categories Iron ore
Un-sintered iron ore
Sintered iron ore
Ordinary pig iron
Pig iron carbon content of 2% to 4.3%
Alloy pig iron
Alloy pig iron: contains different iron contents and
Steelmaking pig iron
different elements. Iron content varies the most;
Casting pig iron
between 0.2 to 0.6.
Ordinary crude steel
Ordinary crude steel: carbon content approximately
Alloy crude steel
Platts 62% iron ore
1%; Alloy steel: alloy content approximately 5– 10%; Stainless steel: Cr content at least 10.5%, carbon content of about 0.05 to 1.2%.
Long strip of steel
Narrow strip steel
Building prefabricated materials
sub-categories were based on parameters such as the
weight and material composition of 540 different
IEP sub-categories combined with the product
Mechanical basic parts
parameters of each related industry. The 19
Metal packaging materials
coefficients of IEP were given by weighting the
average of the 540 coefficients of IEP sub-
Air traffic equipment
Land traffic vehicles
Carbon content of steel 0.04%–2.3%. To ensure toughness and plasticity, carbon content is generally less than 1.7%
The iron-containing coefficients of different IEP
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Stratified sampling (Shields et al., 2015) is also called type sampling or classification
sampling. Generally, a strongly heterogeneous population is divided into several
homogeneous subpopulations. Samples from the different subpopulations are then combined
with other subpopulation samples to make one grand sample of the original population. The
customs data from 2010 to 2015 were classified into five classes and 33 subclasses (Table 1)
to describe the sequence followed by the steel industry. The pure iron of each subpopulation
was estimated, as well as the volume of the iron-containing commodities in each
The iron-containing coefficients of different IEP sub-categories were based on
parameters such as the weight and material composition of 540 different sub-categories of
IEP combined with the product parameters of each related industry. The 19 coefficients of
IEP were given by weighting the average of the 540 coefficients of IEP sub-categories (Table
1). Finally, the iron contents of various iron-containing commodities were calculated.
2.2.5 Iron material loss in raw material processing
The calculation formula for iron material loss in raw material processing is: 𝑀5 = 𝑀1 ∗ （1 ‒ ω1） + 𝐷1 ∗ （1 ‒ ω2） + 𝐷2 ∗ （1 ‒ ω3）………(7)
where M1 represents the iron content of domestic iron ore, ω1 represents the beneficiation
recovery rate of domestic iron ore, D1 represents the iron content in the iron ore concentrate,
ω2 represents the actual metal recovery rate of the iron ore concentrate in the iron-smelting
process, D2 represents pig iron, and ω3 represents the actual metal recovery rate of iron in
steel-smelting. Based on data provided by the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA), the
average beneficiation recovery rate for the domestic production of iron ore was set at 70%;
the actual metal recovery rate for iron ore concentrate smelted into pig iron was set at 91%;
and the actual metal recovery rate for the steel smelting of pig iron was set at 97%.
3 Results and analyses
3.1 Changes in the actual iron consumption in China
The results of iron consumption in China from 2010 to 2015 suggest that the total
consumption increased and then slowly declined (Fig. 4). The highest actual consumption of
iron in China was 625 Mt in 2013. This trend may be related to the onset of China's iron
consumption peak. According to Wang (2010) and Wang et al. (2002), China's iron resource 7
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consumption will not increase substantially in the future. China’s iron material flow map for
2015 was drawn based on the model and measured data (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Iron material flow for China in 2015
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The actual iron consumption data measured in this study include the import and export
volumes of crude steel, rolled steel, and thousands of IEP. The calculated data for the
apparent consumption of crude steel are accessible and easy to calculate, but the results
deviate significantly from the actual data because there are no statistics of import and export
data for thousands of IEP. Compared with the apparent consumption of crude steel in China,
the advantage of estimating the actual iron consumption is related to wider coverage and
more rigorous analysis, whereas the disadvantage lies in more complex data processing and
Fig. 4. A comparison between actual iron consumption and apparent crude steel consumption
The results in Fig. 4 suggest that the actual consumption of iron in China is
approximately 80% of the apparent consumption. The main reasons for this are as follows.
First, China has a large annual net export volume of steel products. Based on the calculations
in this study, the total iron content in the net export of steel products in each year from 2010
to 2015 was 72 Mt, 79 Mt, 80 Mt, 85 Mt, 98 Mt, and 98 Mt, respectively (Fig. 4). Steel
products processed from crude steel were exported from China to various countries, but the
apparent consumption of crude steel was not subtracted from the steel product. Therefore, the
apparent consumption of crude steel is higher than the actual consumption.
Second, new scrap is annually produced when crude steel is processed into rolled steel
and steel products. New scrap refers to the waste scrap or defective products generated when
the crude steel is processed into rolled steel and steel products (Broadbent, 2016). New scrap
is not counted as scrap steel from social recycling but goes back to the upper industrial chain
to reenter the steel link. According to the model established in this study, new scrap is
excluded from the actual consumption of iron but is not excluded from the apparent
consumption of crude steel. Therefore, the existence of new scrap is another reason why the 10
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iron content in the actual iron consumption in China is less than that in the apparent
consumption of crude steel.
3.2 Changes in iron material flow in the import and export trade
The data analysis for iron material flow in the import and export trades from 2010 to
2015 show that the majority of imported iron material was raw material. Approximately 90%
of the total imports were iron ore, whereas imports of pig iron, crude steel, and rolled steel
and steel products were approximately 10%. More than 97% of exported iron material was
steel products and rolled steel, whereas exports of iron ore, pig iron, and crude steel were less
than 3% of the total exports (Fig. 5).
ACCEPTED MANUSCRIPT Fig. 5. Total iron material in the import and export trade in China from 2010 to 2015
Fig. 6. Iron material flow in the import and export trade in China from 2010 to 2015
From 2010 to 2015, China’s iron ore export volume was very small, with an annual
export volume of up to 81,700 tons, accounting for less than 1% of the total export volume.
The annual volume of iron ore imports was large, and increased yearly from 383 Mt in 2010
to 591 Mt in 2015. The iron ore import percentage of the total import volume increased from
86% in 2010 to 93% in 2015 (Figs. 5 and 6).
China’s pig iron exports did not vary from 2010 to 2015. They were approximately 3
Mt, accounting for about 1% of the total export volume. Pig iron imports decreased from 6
Mt in 2010 to 3 Mt in 2015, accounting for no more than 2% of total imports. The pig iron
import and export volumes were essentially equal, and their percentages were not large (Figs.
5 and 6).
From 2010 to 2015, China’s crude steel exports were minimal, and the annual export
volume in the past five years was less than 200,000 tons, with mining accounting for less
than 2%. The import volume of crude steel decreased yearly from 13 Mt in 2010 to 5 Mt in
2015. China’s crude steel imports were greater than the exports, suggesting a need to import
crude steel, but as imports continued to decrease, so did China’s dependence on imports.
Based on the import and export ratio, crude steel did not dominate China’s steel import and
export trade (Figs. 5 and 6).
China’s rolled steel exports increased from 60 Mt in 2010 to 171 Mt in 2015, an
increase of almost 200%, and the relative increases were 40 % to 60%. The rolled steel
imports decreased from 30 Mt to 24 Mt, and the relative decreases were 7% and 4%,
respectively (Figs. 5 and 6).
China’s steel products exports grew from 84 Mt in 2010 to 113 Mt in 2015, but 12
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decreased from 57% to 39%, suggesting that China exported a large number of steel
products, which formed the dominant part of China’s iron export trade. In 2014, the share of
exports of rolled steel exceeded the share of exports of iron-containing end products. Imports
of steel products did not change substantially, and remained at approximately 14 Mt, ranging
from 2% to 4% (Figs. 5 and 6).
Fig. 7. A comparison of domestic consumption and exports of iron-containing commodities
From the data in sections 2.2.2 and 2.2.3, the domestic consumption and export volume
of steel products produced in China was calculated. China’s exports of steel products
increased by 138 Mt from 148 Mt in 2010 to 286 Mt in 2015, an increase of 93%, whereas
the actual domestic consumption increased by 92 Mt, an increase of 20%. Two thirds of the
iron-containing commodities produced in China were for domestic consumption, and 1/3 was
exported to other countries (Fig. 7).
3.3 Change in iron loss due to raw material processing
Tailings are produced during the beneficiation of iron ore, and iron slag, steel slag,
furnace dust, sludge, and other iron-containing byproducts are produced during iron ore
processing and steel smelting (Yan, 2013). Therefore, the loss of raw materials during
processing comprises both the loss during beneficiation of domestic iron ore and losses due
to iron and steel smelting.
Losses during iron raw material processing in China from 2010 to 2015 13
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Changes in the loss of iron during iron raw material processing from 2010 to 2015 are
shown in Fig. 8. From 2010 to 2015, China’s iron raw material processing losses increased
from 151 Mt in 2010 to 204 Mt in 2015. Losses were highest during beneficiation of the
domestic iron ore, at approximately 50% of the total losses.
291 292 293
4 Discussions and conclusions Through the above analysis, the concludsions show that:
(1) China's iron resource production, consumption, and trade are increasing. From 2010
to 2015, the annual iron ore production in China grew from 300 Mt to 420 Mt. The actual
consumption of iron grew from 470 Mt to 620 Mt, and the annual import and export volumes
of iron material grew from approximately 440 Mt to 630 Mt, and from 140 Mt to 280 Mt,
respectively. A rapid increase in the production and consumption of iron resources will
inevitably cause damage to the environment, especially because the steel processing industry
is a major carbon emissions sector. To ensure sustainable development and environmental
protection, China should establish a conservation of steel awareness, reduce steel use,
encourage the use of renewable materials to replace steel, and vigorously promote the
recycling of scrap steel.
(2) Analysis of the iron and steel import and export structure showed that China mainly
imports iron ore and other raw materials, and exports steel products and steel. One-third of
iron-containing commodities produced in China are exported to other countries. These
exported steel products are bound to impact on the environment during their production and
processing. However, China’s environmental objectives and trade objectives are
contradictory. Expanding exports in the interests of economic advancement will also have an
adverse effect on domestic energy, resources, and the environment, as well as exacerbate
international pressure on China to reduce emissions. Thus, in order to protect the
environment, trade interests must be sacrificed to promote sustainable development of trade
and the economy.
(3) The loss of raw material during iron resource processing is substantial in China,
with total annual losses of 150 Mt to 210 Mt. Losses owing to the beneficiation of domestic
iron ore are the highest; and annual losses account for more than 50% of total losses.
Therefore, the technology should be improve to minimize the loss of iron during mineral
processing, development, and utilization of iron resources. This can involve reducing the use
of low-grade iron ore produced in China and using scrap to replace iron ore as the dominant
steel material. This would not only increase iron resource use, but also significantly reduce
greenhouse gas emissions.
Owing to limited data sources,
the material flow during the production, consumption, 14
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and trade of iron resources in China from 2010 to 2015 were studied only, and the changes in
the annual stocks of iron-containing commodities were not analyzed. It is assumed that the
stock at the beginning of the year was the same as at the end of the year. In future research,
China’s iron material flow over broader time scales, as well as changes in the stocks of iron-
containing commodities will be considered. In addition, a model based on the service life of
steel products would be constructed to quantitatively estimate the recycling potential of
secondary iron and steel resources.
Acknowledgements This study was financially supported by the geological surveying projects of China
Geological Survey (12120115057601 and 12120115057801). Sincere thanks are due to
Professor Anjian Wang, Fangqin Li, Ying Li from the Strategic Research Centre of Global
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