Steel, aluminum, and copper may not be as glamorous as their precious metals counterparts, but they’re perhaps even more precious as commodities within the global economy.

Gold, silver, and platinum do have industrial applications, but their primary value is derived from their ability to act as stores of value, in addition to their use in jewelry. Steel, aluminum, and copper are the most important industrial components of the metals complex, used to build everything from railcars to bridges.

You may be surprised to hear that steel is the most widely used metal in the world — more than 1.2 billion tons of it were produced in 2009. Steel is closely followed by aluminum, which is closely followed by copper in terms of total global output. So steel, aluminum, and copper — in that order — rank at the top of the metals complex, based on total output.

Without these metals, which are literally the building blocks of modern societies, life as you know it wouldn’t exist. Buildings couldn’t be built without steel, cars wouldn’t be as lightweight and efficient without aluminum, and you probably wouldn’t be able to get any electricity in your home without copper, which is the electrical conductor of choice.

Due in part to rapid industrialization in China (which happens to be the largest steel producer), India, and other leading developing countries, demand for these three building block metals is strong and will remain robust for the medium to long term. The future looks bright for these metals.