Iron is a highly important commodity, and its combination of low cost and high strength make it suitable for a wide range of uses. Steel is its best known alloy. Iron and steel are amongst the easiest materials to reprocess, as they can be separated magnetically from the waste stream. 42% of crude steel produced is recycled material.
The Chinese invented the blast furnace two thousand years ago, a technology used to meet a huge level of global demand: 95% of all the metal tonnage produced worldwide is iron. Ironmaking is an industry associated with high levels of energy use and pollution. China, Brazil, Australia, Russia and India, account for 70% of world iron ore production.