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What Is Magnesium and Where Do I Use It?

  • Magnesium (Mg) is the eighth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust (2.1% in weight) and the third most abundant element in solution in seawater. 

  • Magnesium is a metal which does not occur in its elemental form in nature, but is found in different forms in minerals (dolomite, magnesite, carnallite, olivine, brucite,…) as well as in seawater and brines. 


  • On a volume basis, magnesium is the lightest structural metal: one quarter the weight of steel, two thirds the weight of aluminium, and same light weighting potential as carbon fibres. Magnesium can be cast, rolled, extruded, machined, forged and recycled as most other metals.

  • The major end-uses of magnesium are in the transportation sector, with most usage in automotive applications. 


  • Magnesium in aluminium alloys is also used in packaging, construction and non-structural applications such as a desulphurisation agent (European Commission, 2014b; IMA, 2019; SCRREEN workshops, 2019 & 2022, EC Data 2025-30). Magnesium, as alloying element, is essential for the aluminium industry.


Where is Magnesium Produced?

  • The global producers of magnesium are China 91%, USA 3%, Israel 2% and Others (Brazil, Turkey, Russia,…) 4%.


  • Almost 95% of all magnesium imported into the EU is from China.


  • The main drawback for a wider use e.g. in the Automotive industry, is the lack of a solid supply base in combination with competitive Mg production outside China.

Global Market


  • Over the last decades, there has been a massive restructuring of global magnesium production / supply: In the beginning of the 1990s, China had a marginal share in global magnesium production; the USA was the main producer of magnesium; global magnesium production was, country-wise, relatively diversified, e.g., Russia, Canada and Norway being significant producers of magnesium on the global scale; the dominant production route of magnesium was the electrolytic one (cf. European Commission, 2020; USGS, 1996). 

  • Since then, global magnesium production grew at high rates (5% to 7.5% per year on average) driven by China's continuous magnesium production expansion (cf. Schmitz et al., 2019). In the present, the major actor on the supply side is China, which contributes by far the greatest part to global supply and applies the thermic-reduction route “so called pidgeon process” (see Table 1; European Commission, 2020).


  • Demand and supply are expected to grow in the long run; battery production may be one of the significant drivers of demand (European Commission, 2020; Schmitz et al., 2019; SCRREEN, 2022). Due to the wide availability of magnesium resources (e.g., dolomite and magnesite resources in the EU), raw material-availability will not be the limiting factor in future supply development (SCRREEN, 2022).


Specific Issues for Magnesium

  • Magnesium’s criticality is not based on geographical lack of raw material in Europe, rather on trade issues, since China’s production and export policy made primary production in Europe redundant.

  • The last of the older smelters in Europe closed in 2001, since European-based smelters were unable to compete with low cost Chinese production, and as a result European primary demand depends mainly on China imports.


  • The European Commission started a High-Level working group for Magnesium primary production with the target to ensure 15% of European needs by 2030, corresponding to 40.000 mt. (European Commission 2/2022)


  • The High-Level working group targets are expected to be transferred to the Critical Raw Material Act, by also adding regional processing and recycling targets.

  • Magnesium is fully recyclable and Europe has maintained a solid Mg recycling industry of significant size, providing stable employment across Europe.

  • Magnesium alloys are for both weight saving and application performance an ideal contribution for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in vehicles operating life, but also a material of choice for all new vehicle concepts, such as electrical, hydrogen and smart city automobiles.

  • Magnesium is one of the main alloying elements for Aluminium alloys providing e.g.: unique properties to aluminium cans, aerospace and transport applications and substitution is technically not feasible.


  • Magnesium primary production is an energy intensive process similar to aluminium or steel. With up-graded production processes and access to green energy, magnesium is suited for the different sectors carbon reduction goals.

  • Environmental and legislative influences are expected to promote the use of magnesium compared to steel and aluminium. As lightweight and fuel-efficient vehicles gain centre stage in the automotive landscape, magnesium is gaining traction as a preferred manufacturing material.

For more information, please visit the website of the International Magnesium Association (IMA).

Review 2023 by 


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