Lead is a heavy metal with a bluish grey colour and good elastic properties. Metallic lead is obtained primarily from lead sulphide (PbS), which occurs in galena. At the start of the 20th century, lead was the most important non-ferrous material, but today it has been overtaken in this position by aluminium, copper, zinc and nickel. Lead remains the fifth most important industrial metal, however. As an element lead is very abundant and so it occupies position 35 in the corresponding table.
Lead is used mainly in batteries, where it is an important element in the manufacture of accumulators. Because it blocks X-rays and radioactive radiation very well, lead is also required in medical technology (radiology) and in the atomic industry. Lead is also used in the construction industry and in the manufacture of munitions, fuel tanks and pipelines. Because of its properties as a catalyst, lead is also used to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. Besides all these advantages, lead also has one major disadvantage, however: It is very harmful to human health.
For many years lead was obtained primarily from lead ore. The largest deposits of lead ore can be found in China, the USA, Australia, Russia and Canada. The European countries do not have such large lead ore deposits, but within Europe Sweden and Poland have the largest. Lead is hardly obtained from lead ore anymore, however, but instead from recycled lead scrap. Today, more than 50 per cent of global requirements can be met from this. In 2005, the demand for lead was higher than lead output according to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG). The increased demand was able to be met by destocking, however, as a result of which lead consumption was higher than lead output by around 100,000 tonnes in 2005.
The most important trading venue for lead is the London Metal Exchange.