Nonferrous Metallurgy

nonferrous metallurgy

[¦nän′fer·əs ′med·əl‚ər·jē]
A branch of metallurgy that deals with metals other than iron and iron-base alloys.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nonferrous Metallurgy


a branch of heavy industry concerned with the extraction and concentration of ores and the production and processing of nonferrous metals and their alloys (seeMETALLURGY). The by-products of nonferrous metallurgy include chemical compounds, mineral fertilizers, and construction materials. A typical nonferrous metallurgical production unit comprises mining enterprises, ore-dressing plants, and metallurgical and metalworking plants.

In the mid-19th century, Russia was the world’s leading producer of gold and platinum and the third or fourth largest producer of mercury. In 1913 the output of nonferrous metals was as follows: 17,000 tons of copper, 2,900 tons of zinc, and 1,500 tons of lead. The production of nonferrous castings and rolled stock was insignificant. The production of tungsten concentrates was begun in 1916–17. The vast majority of the nonferrous-metal ore deposits were in the hands of foreign concessionaires, who exploited them rapaciously; a large part of the nonferrous metallurgical enterprises were also owned by foreign capital. During World War I (1914–18) and the Civil War of 1918–20, all the non-ferrous metallurgical enterprises were destroyed. It was not until 1922 that the Kalata Copper-smelting Combine (now the Kirovgrad Combine) was restored and began producing copper once again. By 1928, the copper and the lead-zinc mines and plants, as well as the gold mines, were in operation again after partial reconstruction. During the years of the prewar five-year plans (1929–40), new enterprises for the commercial production of aluminum, nickel, magnesium, tungsten, and molybdenum concentrates, hard alloys, and electrode products were constructed. During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), the nonferrous metallurgical industry, despite the relocation of many enterprises to the Urals and Siberia, met the demands of the war effort for nonferrous metals and alloys. Of particular importance during this period was the production of aluminum, alloyed and secondary metals, and hard alloys.

In the postwar period, the titanium and semiconductor industries were created. The copper, nickel-cobalt, and lead-zinc branches of industry were developed, as were the aluminum, tin, tungsten-molybdenum, gold-platinum, diamond, magnesium, and mercury-antimony branches. The metallurgy and processing of rare metals and secondary metallurgy also developed. Along with the expansion of old industrial centers of nonferrous metallurgy in the Urals and the Caucasus, new industrial complexes were created in Siberia, in the Far East, in the northwestern part of the USSR, and in Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kirghizia, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, Azerbaijan, the Ukraine, and Georgia. The number of products produced by the rare-metal industry expanded. Through the multipurpose utilization of mined raw materials, the production of especially pure rare metals and elements has been mastered, including the production of cadmium, indium, selenium, tellurium, bismuth, rhenium, germanium, and gallium. In the 1970’s, 74 elements of Mendeleev’s periodic table were being extracted to be used in the production of finished and semifinished products.

Unlike other useful minerals, the content of nonferrous and rare metals in ores is extremely low. To obtain 1 ton of nonferrous metal, hundreds to tens of thousands of tons of ore are extracted and processed. More than 65 percent of the ores are extracted by the very economical open-pit mining method, which ensures the maximum extraction of metals from the earth’s interior. In addition to the base metals found in an ore, such as aluminum, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, tin, tungsten, and molybdenum, various accessory metals are also found, such as gold, silver, the platinum metals, cobalt, arsenic, rhenium, indium, rubidium, gallium, selenium, tellurium, cadmium, scandium, thallium, germanium, sulfur, and barium, which sometimes are more valuable than the base metals. The efficient and comprehensive use of natural resources is assured by the extraction of all the valuable components from the ore during the concentration process and subsequent metallurgical processing of the concentrates. Most of the rare and precious metals and almost one-quarter of the sulfuric acid produced in the USSR are obtained as a result of the efficient processing of the ore in nonferrous metallurgy. The plants of the lead-zinc industry alone produce, along with lead and zinc, 18 valuable components, from which more than 40 different byproducts are produced.

More than 90 percent of all the ores are concentrated in ore-dressing plants by the flotation method (seeFLOTATION) using efficient flotation reagents. Increasingly more ores are being concentrated in heavy suspensions and by other gravity processing methods, as well as by radiometric methods. The multipurpose utilization of raw materials is accomplished in the metallurgical plants through new technological processes, such as autogenous smelting of sulfide concentrates, electrothermics, the electrolysis of metals, and hydrometallurgy, based on sorption and extraction. The output of nonferrous metals is steadily increasing through the streamlining of production processes, the reorganization and reequipment of enterprises, and the commissioning of new projects. Large industrial complexes have been created with a high level of concentration and specialization of production, such as the Ust’-Kamenogorsk Lead-Zinc, the Noril’sk, the Almalyk, the Dzhezkazgan, and the Balkhash mining and metallurgical combines. Between 1966 and 1975, labor productivity nearly doubled.

Nonferrous metallurgy is being developed in most of the socialist countries according to the Comprehensive Program for Socialist Economic Integration and in compliance with plans coordinated by member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) under the direction of the COMECON Permanent Commission on Nonferrous Metallurgy. To enable specialization of production, the natural resources of each country are taken into account.

Copper production in the Polish People’s Republic is growing rapidly, as is the production of aluminum in the Hungarian Peopie’s

Table 1. Production of nonferrous metals in certain countries1 (tons)
11975 data. Nickel in products of metallurgical conversion; other metals—primary products.
USA ...............1,609,000752,000450,0003,519,00019,9006,400
Canada ...............529,000172,000427,000880,000178,000
Chile ...............535,000
Mexico ...............70,000175,000149,00040,000400
Federal Republic of Germany ...............422,000260,000295,000678,0001,300
Belgium ...............346,000106,000218,0005,400
Great Britain ...............152,000241,00053,000308,00037,30011,600
France ...............40,000151,000181,000383,00010,900
Italy ...............13,00044,000180,000190,000
The Netherlands ...............24,000116,000258,000
Norway ...............20,0001,00061,000595,00037,100
Malaysia ...............83,200
Japan ...............819,000194,000698,0001,013,00078,0001,200
Zambia ...............629,00019,00047,000
Zaïre ...............226,00066,000700
Australia ...............195,000190,000201,000214,00034,0005,300
New Caledonia ...............71,100

Republic, copper in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, copper and molybdenum in the Mongolian People’s Republic, copper, lead, zinc, and aluminum in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and copper, lead, and zinc in the Korean People’s Democratic Republic.

A typical feature of nonferrous metallurgy in the capitalist countries is that most of the ore is extracted in the developing countries while most of the metal production is in the industrially developed capitalist countries.

The highest growth in nonferrous metallurgy has been observed in Japan and Australia, although the USA is still the leading producer of nonferrous metals. The production of nonferrous metals in the capitalist and developing countries is given in Table 1.

Nonferrous metallurgy in the industrially developed capitalist countries and in the developing countries is dominated by monopolies. For example, about 70 percent of the entire output of primary aluminum is controlled by four monopolies, three in the USA and one in Canada. Most of the copper mines and plants are owned by three US monopolies, while the nickel industry is dominated by the International Nickel Company, a Canadian company.


Beliaev, A. I. Metallurgiia legkikh metallov, 6th ed. Moscow, 1970.
Savitskii, E. M., and V. S. Kliachko. Metally kosmicheskoi ery. Moscow, 1972.
Zelikman, A. N., and G. A. Meerson. Metallurgiia redkikh metallov. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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