Molybdenum prices reached record highs this past February on strong demand and deficits in key supply sources. While prices for the industrial metal have pulled back since then, the outlook for molybdenum remains robust.
As S&P Global Commodity Insights explains, part of the reason molybdenum is having supply-side problems is that the world’s major primary molybdenum mines have been idled since 2015. The metal is also often produced as a by-product of copper, but no significant sources of molybdenum from copper operations have come online since early 2016.
In total, worldwide molybdenum production decreased by 48,000 metric tons (MT) from 2020 to 2022, when it came in at 250,000 MT. Amid this decline in output, which countries are the top molybdenum producers? Here’s a look at which nations put out the most of the metal in 2022, as per the latest data from the US Geological Survey (USGS).
Mine production: 100,000 MT
China produces the vast majority of the world’s molybdenum supply by a large margin. The country’s molybdenum output rose by 4,700 MT in 2022 to total 100,000 MT for the year.
The molybdenum market as a whole is closely tied to China, and not just because the country produces so much of the metal. China also has a massive industrial sector that requires huge amounts of molybdenum to make steel.
The Chinese government has been tightening up its mining standards in recent years in an effort to meet more stringent environmental regulations. As a result, molybdenum facilities have been inspected, forcing firms to either upgrade them to meet these standards or shut down. This in turn has hurt China’s molybdenum production, which had sat around 130,000 MT since 2016 until it began dropping in 2020.
Mine production: 44,000 MT
Second in the lineup is Chile, whose molybdenum production fell in 2022, dropping to 44,000 MT; the country produced 49,400 MT in 2021. According to the USGS, molybdenum producers in Chile are facing ‘persistently lower grades.’
State-owned Codelco produces the bulk of Chile’s molybdenum, and KGHM Polska Miedz (OTC Pink:KGHPF,WSE:KGH) has its flagship Sierra Gorda copper-molybdenum mine in the country. Hot Chili (ASX:HCH,OTC Pink:HHLKF) is working on bringing its Costa Fuego copper project into production in Chile and intends to produce molybdenum as a by-product.
3. United States
Mine production: 42,000 MT
The US increased its molybdenum production by 1,000 MT in 2022 compared to the previous year.
As mentioned, the metal is often produced as a by-product, and that’s evident when looking at US output. In 2022, molybdenum was produced at nine mines in the country, but was a primary product at just two of them: Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) subsidiary Climax Molybdenum’s Climax and Henderson mines in Colorado.
US consumption of molybdenum rose 96 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year, according to the USGS. At the same time, imports of the metal grew by 8 percent, while exports fell by 12 percent.
Mine production: 32,000 MT
Coming in fourth on this list of molybdenum producers is Peru. The country has seen rising production in the past few years, moving from 28,000 MT in 2018 to 34,100 MT in 2021; however, output fell by 2,100 MT in 2022.
The Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines reported that mining investment in the country reached US$4.6 billion last year. One major molybdenum mine in Peru is Freeport-McMoRan’s Cerro Verde mine, which is primarily a copper producer.
Mine production: 16,000 MT
Molybdenum production in Mexico has seen peaks and troughs over the last decade, Statista data indicates. The country’s molybdenum-mining sector has experienced continual growth since 2015, but production dropped in 2022 by 2,000 MT from the previous year.
One major molybdenum-producing mine in the country is La Caridad, which belongs to privately owned Grupo Mexico (BMV:GMEXICOB). The mine produces molybdenum as a by-product of copper.
Mine production: 7,800 MT
Armenia’s molybdenum production has climbed significantly over the past few years, nearly on par with production in 2021, but down from the 8,700 MT produced in 2020. CRONIMET Mining subsidiary Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine runs Kajaran, the country’s largest copper-molybdenum mine.
Mine production: 3,500 MT
Iran is another major molybdenum producer, and the nation has seen its output levels rise dramatically since putting out 1,400 MT in 2020, followed by 3,100 MT in 2021 and 3,500 MT in 2022.
Little information is available on molybdenum in Iran, and that may be because in 2012 the Iranian government banned exports of molybdenum concentrate in an effort to “support national production.” It banned exports of about 50 aluminum, petrochemical and other products at the same time.
Mine production: 2,300 MT
Mongolia’s molybdenum production had been on the rise in the past few years, jumping from 1,800 MT in 2018 to 2,970 MT in 2021, although that figure fell to 2,300 MT in 2022.
Similar to Iran, little information on molybdenum in Mongolia is available. One company with molybdenum projects in Mongolia is Erdene Resource Development (TSX:ERD,OTC Pink:ERDCF), which holds the Zuun Mod and Khuyvn Khar molybdenum-copper projects in the country.
Mine production: 1,700 MT
Taking the ninth spot on this molybdenum producers list is Russia. In 2022, the USGS estimates that the country put out 1,700 MT of the metal, on par with the previous year. A company called SMR that is part of EN+ Group bills itself as Russia’s only fully integrated molybdenum producer, and the largest ferromolybdenum producer in the country in terms of volume.
It’s worth noting that Russia retains much of its molybdenum for domestic projects. Russian nuclear reactors are specifically designed to use a type of molybdenum only produced within the country.
Mine production: 1,600 MT
Last on this list of top molybdenum-producing countries, Uzbekistan is another nation that has seen its molybdenum output rise in recent years. In 2022, Uzbekistan’s production of the metal totaled 1,600 MT, up significantly from 200 MT in 2020.
In 2022, the leading materials specialist in Uzbekistan, Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical, signed a US$107.3 million contract with Finnish industrial machinery company Metso Outotec for the equipment and processing technology necessary to build Amalyk’s new MOF3 copper-gold-molybdenum concentrator plant.
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.