Apparent consumption of fused aluminum oxide (alumina) dropped by 20.3% in 2015 to 141,000 t, while silicon carbide increased by 6.3% to 151,000 t. Abrasives consumption in the U.S. is strongly influenced by activity in manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, automotive, furniture, housing and steel, which all experienced increased production last year.
Roskill reports that the ceramic proppants sector is forecast to become the largest market for non-metallurgical bauxite by 2021, overtaking the refractories industry. Refractories’ bauxite consumption (directly and via brown fused alumina) accounted for more than 20% of the total non-metallurgical bauxite market in 2015.
The glass and ceramic industries remain the leading domestic users of boron products, accounting for an estimated 80% of total borates consumption in 2015 (other uses include abrasives, cleaning products, insecticides, insulation and semiconductor production). In Europe and developing countries, more stringent heat conservation-related building standards are being enacted, which is expected to positively impact borates consumption for fiberglass insulation.
Approximately 150 companies operated clay and shale mines in 40 U.S. states in 2015, producing 25.5 Mt valued at around $1.48 billion (see Table 2). This represents a slight decline (1.5%) from the 2014 level of 25.9 Mt.
Imports for consumption in 2015 remained essentially flat (574,000 t vs. 576,000 t in 2014), including: artificially activated clay and earth, down 11.5% to 23,000 t; kaolin, essentially flat at 513,000 t (vs. 518,000 t in 2014); and other clays, which increased by 12.1% to 37,000 t. Apparent consumption in the U.S. was flat compared to 2014, at 22.1 Mt; principal uses were estimated as follows:
Domestic marketable production of feldspar dipped by 3.8% in 2015 to reach 510,000 t. Feldspar exports grew by 12.5% to reach 18,000 t. However, imports for consumption skyrocketed 1,025% to 90,000 t (from 2014’s 8,000 t); imports of nepheline syenite decreased by 8.5% to 460,000 t. Apparent consumption of feldspar rose 11.5% to 580,000 t. End uses of domestic feldspar and nepheline syenite remained stable at 60% glass and 40% ceramic tile, pottery, and other uses.
The global lithium market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.8% from 2016-2020, according to a report available from Research and Markets. Lithium and its derivative components are used in end-use segments such as batteries, ceramics and glass, lubricants, metallurgy, air treatment, and polymers. Rising demand for lithium-ion batteries used in grid-connected storage is expected to boost growth, as is demand for electric vehicles, particularly in China.
The value of 2015 domestic magnesium compound production (excluding dead-burned magnesia) was $137 million; production increased slightly (2.4%) to 295,000 t. The U.S. imported 265,000 t of magnesium compounds for consumption, representing a slight increase of 2.7%. Exports climbed 30.4% to reach 30,000 t.
Roskill reports that the rare earth elements industry stabilized in 2016 after a prolonged period of falling prices brought about by oversupply and falling demand in some key applications. The outlook for rare earth demand in key end-use applications is mixed. Demand for rare earths in permanent magnet applications has increased by 4% per year since 2011, representing 23% of the total rare earth demand in 2016; this demand is expected to increase to around 28% in 2020 before falling back toward 2026. Catalysts, metallurgical and ceramic applications are all expected to remain major end uses of rare earths through 2026, particularly cerium and lanthanum.
Silica sand demand in North America is forecast to expand 5.1% per year through 2020 to 82.8 Mt, according to The Freedonia Group, representing a somewhat slower pace than that recorded during the 2010-2015 period (see Figure 1). Low oil and gas prices into the near term will depress the number of new wells drilled through 2020, limiting opportunities for frac sand suppliers. Nevertheless, increasing intensity of use per well will fuel robust growth in silica sand consumption, making it the fastest-growing market in North America into the long term.
According to Grand View Research, global demand for silicon carbide (SiC) is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.3% from 2014-2020. Black silicon carbide is the most dominant product.
Energy and steel were the largest end-use application sectors for SiC in 2013; it is also widely used in semiconductor and electronics applications. In addition, healthcare and medical applications are expected to witness growth at an estimated CAGR of 16.4% over the forecast period.
The global talc market is projected to reach $3.29 billion by 2021, increasing at a CAGR of 4.9% from 2016-2021, according to a report from Markets and Markets. The talc carbonate segment contributed the largest share to the talc market by type of deposit in 2015; talc carbonate is projected to be the fastest-growing deposit type due mainly to availability and talc purity level, as well as the high percentage of talc found in these deposits.
Three companies produced ilmenite and rutile concentrates from surface mining operations in Florida, Georgia, and Virginia in 2015, with zircon as a coproduct. Domestic production remained flat at 100,000 t; exports were also unchanged for the year, remaining at 1,000 t. Imports for consumption dropped by 10% in 2015 to 1 Mt, and apparent consumption declined by 7.6% to 1.1 Mt. Domestic titanium dioxide (TiO2) pigment producers again accounted for about 95% of titanium mineral concentrate consumption.
Environmental groups that had been challenging the leading U.S. wollastonite producer’s proposed exploratory drilling program within the Adirondack Forest Preserve in New York decided not to pursue any further legal action. The 81-hectare property contains an estimated 1.2-1.5 Mt of wollastonite reserves, sufficient to extend the company’s mining operations in the area by an additional 10 years.
A report from Global Industry Analysts indicates that the global market for zirconium is expected to exceed 1.5 Mt by 2022, driven by growing demand for ceramic wall and floor tile, as well as expanding applications for zirconium metal, zirconia, and zirconium-based chemicals. Additional factors benefiting market prospects include increasing urbanization and the resulting demand for zirconium-based construction materials such as sanitaryware and tableware, and emerging new uses in dental implants and orthopedic prosthetics.
Editor’s note: The foregoing information, except where noted, was compiled from the U.S. Geological Survey (www.usgs.gov). All units are in metric tons (t) or million metric tons (Mt), unless otherwise noted. In most cases, 2015 data were the latest available (and often estimated). For additional details regarding the uses of these materials in the ceramic, glass, brick, refractories and related industries, visit the Materials Handbook pages in this issue.