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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Aggregate Industry in America

An example of what aggregates look like
As far as mining goes the value of the Aggregate Industry can far exceed the total value of all other mining operations. If it is reported there are over 7,000 active mines in the entire world there are more than 10,000 pits and quarries in the United States alone producing a wide variety of products ranging from simple sand and gravel, to crushed stone and a whole plethora of other industrial minerals. This type of mining is nowhere near as glamorous as mining for gold, but in reality a good producing sand and gravel pit near a viable market is more profitable than a gold mine.

Although it is not realized by many people the aggregate industry forms the foundation of our modern way of life. There is a hardly Day that goes by when somehow or other aggregates don't touch our lives. We find them in our schools, hospitals, factories, roads, bridges, airports and the foundations of our houses. The one thing you can be certain about aggregates is we drive, sit upon, stand on or walk on and drive on aggregates, but that is only part of the fascinating and important story behind aggregates.

This is a story so simple and yet so complex that you really don't know where to begin, but a good place is with economics. This is a story that begins with getting goods to market because our infrastructure depends on the use of aggregates that make up more than 90% of all the asphalt used to build roads or 80% of the concrete used for the same purpose. Lacking a sound infrastructure such as highways, mass transit, airports, water and sewer systems or the rail roads we would neither have an economy, nor could it grow.

Although most people don't realize it every man woman and child in the United States uses about 8.5 tons of aggregate per year. This is a tremendous number when you consider the population of the United States is over 350 million people causing the aggregate industry to measure their production in billions of tons per year, year after year.
An aerial view of a crushed stone quarry

There are two main components to the aggregate industry that are sand and gravel or crushed stone production. Within reason these two parts of the industry are interchangeable strictly depending upon the nearness to market which they are. Aggregates are one his terms in the industry as having a high in place value. The farther from the quarry you have to move aggregates the more expensive they become because of freight charges.
A producing sand and gravel operation

Although there are some large operators in the aggregate industry most of the production really depends on small family operated facilities. It has been estimated that there are over 10,000 active quarries in the United States alone with a preponderance of them producing crushed stone. There is minor aggregate production that has developed using iron slag as its base material, but this has a limited market.

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