Raw and Manufactured Materials for Ceramics: 2001 Overview

Sales and production of most materials increased in 1999 and are poised for further success in the near future. This article presents an overview of the markets for some of the most widely used materials in the ceramic industry.

Mergers and acquisitions continued changing the face of the industry in 1999 and 2000, with clays taking the brunt of the impact. Within the space of a year, Unimin expanded its market share with the acquisition of United Clays Inc. from Watts Blake Bearne & Co. PLC, and Albion Kaolin Co. from Süd-Chemie AG; WBB stretched its legs with the purchase of 94.08% of the shares of Kaolin Hlubany, located in the Czech Republic, from Villeroy and Boch; and Zemex agreed to buy the ball clay and kaolin operations of Kentucky-Tennessee Clay Co., thus making it an imposing figure in the tableware and sanitaryware markets.

Additionally, French industrial minerals giant Imerys, which acquired ECC International in 1998, continued taking the world by storm with its purchase of New Zealand China Clays Ltd (NZCC), while also extending its reach into other materials markets with the acquisitions of Treibacher Schleifmittel AG (abrasives and refractories minerals), Quimica Industrial Barra do Pirai SA (calcium carbonate) and Keith Ceramic Materials Ltd (KCM) (fused mullite).

The direct effects of these moves on the ceramic industry remain to be seen. While lessened competition may lead to higher prices in the long term, most suppliers remain dedicated to technological advances and higher levels of service. For now, at least, the materials industry appears to be doing well—reflecting the overall strength of the ceramic industry. Sales and production of most materials increased in 1999 and are poised for further success in the near future. Following is an overview of the markets for some of the most widely used materials in the ceramic industry.


Manufactured abrasives dominate high-grade abrasive markets as opposed to natural abrasives because they have superior physical properties, more uniform quality and can be tailored to meet user needs. Some of the most widely used manufactured abrasives include aluminum-zirconium oxide, boron carbide, fused aluminum oxide, silicon carbide and synthetic industrial diamond.

Combined U.S. and Canadian production of aluminum oxide and silicon carbide declined in 1999 from that of 1998. Imports of crude, ground and refined silicon carbide and of ground and refined aluminum oxide also decreased. Estimated production of regular-grade fused aluminum oxide in 1999 was 92,600 tons, which was a decrease of 7% compared with that of 1998. Figures for the output of high-purity fused aluminum oxide could not be obtained. The total value of fused aluminum oxide abrasive grain consumed in the U.S. was estimated to be at least $120 million in 1999.

While 1999 production and consumption figures for boron carbide were unknown, the U.S. imported 342 tons of boron carbide valued at $7.6 million from seven countries, primarily Germany, the Ukraine and China, and exported 16.7 tons valued at $652,000 to 16 countries.

Estimated U.S. consumption of industrial diamond reached a record high of more than 330 million carats during 1999. This growth in consumption primarily reflects expanded output in domestic industries where diamond is used, including computer chip production, close-tolerance machining of ceramic parts for the aerospace industry, heat sinks in electronic circuits, lenses for laser radiation equipment, and polishing silicon wafers and disk drives in the computer industry. As one of the world’s leading producers of synthetic industrial diamond, the U.S. accounted for an estimated output of 208 million carats in 1999. Total industrial diamond output worldwide during the year was estimated to be well above 570 million carats valued between $600 and $900 million.

Alumina and Bauxite

In 1999, 22 countries reported bauxite mine production. World production increased by 4% compared with that of 1998 for a total of slightly more than 127 million tons. The largest producers of bauxite, in decreasing order of tonnage mined, continued to be Australia, Guinea, Brazil and Jamaica, accounting for about 70% of total world production.

Total U.S. consumption of bauxite decreased by approximately 10% in 1999 compared with that of 1998, but most of the decrease in consumption was for alumina production. In 1999, 95% of the bauxite consumed in the U.S. was refined to alumina (an estimated 2.2 tons of dried bauxite was required to produce 1 ton of alumina), while the remaining 5% was consumed in nonmetallurgical applications, including refractories, abrasives and cement applications. For many years, domestic mines have supplied less than 1% of the U.S. requirement for bauxite, and most of the required bauxite is imported. The principal sources of nonmetallurgical-grade bauxite are limited to only a handful of countries—abrasive grade is produced in Australia, China, Guinea and Guyana; and refractory grade is produced in Brazil, China and Guyana

World output of alumina increased slightly in 1999 compared with that of 1998. The four principal producing countries, in order of quantity produced, were Australia, the U.S., China and Jamaica. These countries accounted for more than 55% of the world’s production, and Australia alone accounted for almost one-third.

U.S. production of alumina (calcined equivalent), derived almost exclusively from imported metallurgical-grade bauxite, decreased by 12% in 1999 compared with that of 1998. An estimated 94% of the alumina shipped by U.S. refineries went to domestic primary smelters for aluminum metal production. Consumption of alumina by the abrasives, chemicals, refractories and specialties industries accounted for the remainder of U.S. alumina shipments.

Identified world bauxite reserves are sufficient to meet cumulative world demand well into the 21st century. Considering the probability of discovering additional bauxite deposits, plus the added possibility of employing lower grade bauxite occurrences and various alternative sources of alumina, it is anticipated that world resources of aluminum will remain adequate to satisfy demand for the foreseeable future.

Figure 1. World production of boron minerals, 1999.
1. Includes Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Peru, Germany and Iran.
Source: USGS


Boron produced in the U.S. during 1999 totaled 618,000 tons of boron oxide valued at $630 million, while U.S. consumption of boron oxide amounted to 416,000 tons. (Boron products are priced and sold on a boron oxide basis, which varies by ore and compound and on the absence or presence of sodium and calcium.) Boron exports totaled about one-half of the domestic production. Boron imports consisted primarily of borax, boric acid, colemanite and ulexite. The U.S. and Turkey remain the world’s largest producers of boron.

Glass accounts for about one-half of the total annual world consumption of borates. Borate applications for glass consumption include borosilicate glass, glass fiber insulation and textile glass fiber. Boron oxide is an important constituent of a wide range of glasses and enamels for steels and other metal substrates, ceramic glazes, glass wool for thermal and acoustic insulation, optical glass, textile fibers for the reinforcement of plastics, and a diverse range of technical borosilicate glasses for cookware, laboratory, lighting, medical and liquid crystal display screens. Boron oxide allows the formulated glass to have high chemical durability, low thermal expansion and low electrical conductivity.

Ceramic wall and floor tiles use boric oxide derived from borax pentahydrate, boric acid and mineral borates. In top-of-the-line porcelanic floor tiles used outdoors, borates included with the clay enhanced vitrification and produced stronger tiles. Significantly, using borates allowed the firing temperature to be lowered by 20 to 30°C, thus reducing the energy usage and cost.

Additionally, boron-bearing antioxidants used in refractory bricks have been shown to increase the resistance of the brick to oxidation and slag corrosion. The best results were achieved with combinations of aluminum boride with boron carbide and calcium boride when compared to zirconium boride additives.

The demand for boron in the U.S. is expected to remain strong, with high demand in the glass industry and new areas of use in other markets increasing consumption. World demand for boron is also expected to grow, primarily in the glass industry.

Figure 2. U.S. ball clay consumption by end use, 1999.
Source: USGS


The amount of clay sold or used by U.S. producers in 1999 was 42.2 million tons valued at $1.57 billion, a slight increase in tonnage from that of 1998. Production of ball clay, bentonite, common clay and shale, and fuller’s earth increased, and production of fire clay and kaolin decreased. Of the clay and shale produced in 1999, common clay and shale accounted for 59% of the tonnage, and kaolin accounted for 60% of the value. Imports of clays increased to 90,400 tons valued at $23 million, while exports decreased to 4.80 million metric tons valued at $823 million.

In the U.S., the 10 leading producing companies in terms of tonnage, in alphabetical order, were American Colloid Co., bentonite; Engelhard Corp., fuller’s earth and kaolin; General Shale Products Corp., common clay and shale; Glen Gery Corp., common clay and shale; Holnam, Inc., common clay and shale; J.M. Huber Corp., kaolin; Imerys (composed of Dry Branch Kaolin Co. and ECC International Ltd. [ECCI]), kaolin; Radex Heraklith Industriesbeteilgungs AG (RHI, including the former A.P. Green Industries, Inc. and Harbison Walker Refractories Co.), fire clay and kaolin; Solite Division, Big River Industries, Inc., common clay and shale; and Thiele Kaolin Co., kaolin. (For more information about the kaolin market, see the separate section on kaolin further down.)

Production of domestic ball clay increased to 1.20 million tons valued at $48.0 million in 1999, up from 1.13 million tons valued at $51.1 million in 1998. Tennessee supplied 60% of the nation’s output, followed by Texas, Kentucky and Mississippi. Production increased in Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas and was unchanged in Mississippi. Water-slurried ball clay was produced in Kentucky and Tennessee. Airfloat ball clay was produced in Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Shredded and/or unprocessed clay was mined and then sold or used from mines in all four ball clay-producing states.

The principal domestic ball clay markets, in decreasing order, were floor and wall tile, sanitaryware and pottery (dinnerware and artware). Consumption increased to 1.20 million tons in 1999 from 1.13 million tons in 1998, with the largest increase in sanitaryware. Sales and use of ball clay have increased in recent years as growth in commercial and residential building construction and home renovations have increased the demand for sanitaryware, tile and other whiteware products.

One hundred seventy-six firms produced common clay and shale from approximately 380 pits in 40 states and Puerto Rico. Most of these companies were also manufacturers of structural clay products, such as clay pipe, drain tile, sewer pipe, lightweight aggregates and cement. More than 90% of the production was used by producers to manufacture structural clay products, aggregate and cement, or for civil engineering applications. Domestic sales or use of common clay and shale increased to 24.8 million tons valued at $155 million in 1999, up from 24.5 million tons valued at $145 million in 1998. The strong housing and commercial building market has helped maintain sales of common clay and shale for brick and lightweight aggregate manufacture.

Fire clay sold or used by domestic producers decreased slightly to 402,000 tons valued at $6.77 million in 1999, compared to the 410,000 tons valued at $7.52 million sold in 1998. Fire clay producers were mostly refractories manufacturers that used the clays in firebrick and other refractories.

The outlook for most of the domestic clay industry is promising, with modest growth expected for the next few years. However, this growth largely depends on the strength of the U.S. economy, particularly in the housing, industrial manufacturing, and other industries. At press time, economists were divided on whether the U.S. would see any significant change in these sectors in the near future. However, many were optimistic that growth would continue, if at a slightly slower pace.

Feldspar and Nepheline Syenite

U.S. production of marketable feldspar in 1999 was an estimated 875,000 tons with a value of $42.7 million. Feldspar was mined in seven states, which were, in descending order of output, North Carolina, Virginia, California, Georgia, Oklahoma, Idaho and South Dakota. North Carolina accounted for about 44% of the total. Mining was by nine companies with 12 mine/plant operations—four operations in North Carolina, three in California, and one in each of the remaining five states listed above. Of U.S. feldspar sold or used, 68% went into the manufacture of glass, including glass containers and glass fiber. Pottery and other uses, such as fillers, accounted for the remainder.

Typical feldspathic content in glass is 8% for container glass and up to 18% for insulation glass fiber. After clay, feldspathic material is the largest ingredient in the raw material batch for ceramic bodies. Typical feldspathic contents are less than 25% in earthenware, 25 to 35% in sanitaryware, 10 to 55% in floor and wall tiles, and 30 to 55% in electrical porcelain

After a steady three-year climb, world production of feldspar was slightly lower in 1999 compared to 1998. This could indicate a slightly lower demand. Europe consumes over 17 million tons per year of glass containers, subdivided into beverage, 70 to 75%, and food, 20 to 25%. However, the European Union (EU) recycles over 50% of its container glass consumption per year. Europe’s commitment to environmental protection and higher recycling rates was projected to continue, and higher tonnages of recovered and recycled waste glass could be leading to a decrease in raw material consumption, including feldspar. However, glass manufacturers are still confronted with incompatibility, inconsistency and contamination in cullet, leaving raw material producers with a share in glass container manufacture.

Only two countries produced nepheline syenite—a feldspathic rock made up mostly of soda and potash feldspars and nepheline—for glass and ceramic use in 1999. In Canada, Unimin Canada, Ltd., operated two plants at its Blue Mountain deposit. Output was about 617,000 tons in 1998 (the latest data available), with an estimated 60% of the output shipped to U.S. markets, 20% to Canadian markets and 20% to other countries.

In Norway, North Cape Minerals AS produced about 310,000 tons of nepheline syenite in 1997 (the latest data available) from an underground mine on the Arctic island of Stjernoya. An estimated 70% of the output went to glass manufacturing, 28% to ceramics and 2% to filler.

Natural Graphite

World production of graphite in 1999 was estimated to be 685,000 tons, compared with 683,000 tons in 1998. China maintained its position as the world’s leading graphite producer at 280,000 tons, with India in second place with 145,000 tons, followed by Brazil, Mexico and the Czech Republic. These five countries accounted for 80% of the world production.

For the past several years, Sri Lanka has accounted for nearly all the high-purity lump graphite produced. Sri Lankan deposits were estimated to average 95% graphite in situ. The combination of a decrease in world demand in the early 1990s and competition from cheap Chinese material have forced many non-Chinese producers to reduce production or even leave the market altogether. China accounted for 40% of world production in 1999.

No graphite was mined in the U.S. in 1999. U.S. consumption of natural graphite, obtained mainly from imports, increased to 34,600 tons in 1999 from 27,400 tons in 1998. The crystalline grade increased by 19% to 17,300 tons in 1999 from 14,500 tons in 1998, while the amorphous grade increased by an impressive 34% to 17,300 tons in 1999, compared to 13,000 tons in 1998. This translated into a 20% increase in value in 1999 for natural graphite. The four major industries— refractories, brake linings, lubricants and foundries—for which natural graphite is used continued to lead the way in graphite usage, accounting for one-half of the graphite consumed by U.S. industry in l999. The refractories industry was again the major consumer of crystalline flake graphite followed by the manufacture of brake linings and metal powders. Refractory applications of graphite included castable ramming, gunning mixtures and carbon-bonded brick. Carbon-magnesite brick has applications in high-temperature corrosive environments such as steel furnaces, ladles and iron blast furnaces. Carbon-alumina linings are principally used in continuous steel casting operations. Magnesite- and alumina-carbon brick require a particle size of 100 mesh and a purity of 95 to 99% graphite.

The main areas of natural graphite consumption in the near future will be in high-temperature applications for the iron and steel industry as the industry modernizes its production facilities. Brake linings and other friction materials will steadily consume more natural graphite as new automobile production continues to increase and more replacement parts are required for the growing number of existing vehicles.

In the event of any price increases, China may increase its production to take advantage of potential high profits, leading to a sharp price decline in certain grades and possibly to a production stoppage in other countries. If, however, the Chinese iron and steel industry expands its consumption of natural graphite, then Chinese exports may eventually decline, encouraging new producers to enter the market.

Industry trends that appear to be common to advances in graphite technology and markets include higher purity and consistency in specifications for some specialized and high-tech applications. Production of higher purity graphite, using thermal processing and acid leaching techniques, for such applications as advanced carbon-graphite composites, continues to be the trend.


The last ten years have seen the global kaolin industry affected by several factors, including increased competition from alternative minerals, especially ground calcium carbonate (GCC) and precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC). The development of Brazil’s kaolin industry has resulted in exports of over 900,000 tons of high-quality material in 1998. In addition, the Asian ceramic market has expanded significantly, although demand has been temporarily affected by the economic downturn.

The first two factors have resulted in further consolidation in the ownership of kaolin production, culminating in the purchase of ECC by Imerys in 1999. This purchase, and gaining control of Rio Capim Caulim, has made Imerys by far the largest producer of kaolin worldwide, with a controlled production capacity of nearly 7 million metric tons per year. Other ownership changes include GMH of Switzerland’s purchase of Kaolin d’Arvor and Société des Kaolin Beauvoir; SCR Sibelco of Belgium’s purchase of the remaining shares of the WBB Group; and Lasselberger of Austria’s purchase of a controlling share in the Czech Republic’s Keramika Horni Briza. In November 2000, Zemex Corp., headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., agreed to purchase the ball clay and kaolin operations (K-T Clay) of Hecla Mining Co. The acquisition was scheduled to close in January 2001, and would make Zemex a major contender as a supplier of these materials to the sanitaryware and tile industry.

In addition to consolidation within the kaolin industry, some of the largest companies such as Imerys and Huber have diversified into the calcium carbonate market to broaden the base of products they can offer to consumers.

Between 1970 and 1998 world production of kaolin more than doubled to 28 million metric tons. The main reason has been the growing demand from the paper and ceramics industries, especially in the developing countries of Asia and Latin America, since the 1980s. The increase in Brazilian output has been particularly strong, with growth rates of 6.8% a year between 1987 and 1997. The development of the Brazilian kaolin industry has been export-led: Brazilian exports to the U.S. have risen dramatically from nothing in 1997 to 76,000 tons in 1998. In Europe, Brazilian exports to Belgium rose by 27% between 1995 and 1998, while Japanese imports increased by 110% in the same period. By 2001, Brazilian production capacity could be in excess of 1.8 million tons per year. Companies have become increasingly competitive following the devaluation of the Brazilian Real. This, combined with low shipping costs, has enabled them to penetrate markets formerly controlled by U.S. and U.K. producers.

Perhaps as evidence of this increased competition, U.S. production of kaolin decreased to 9.16 million tons valued at $948 million in 1999 from 9.64 million tons valued at $1.06 billion in 1998. Georgia was the largest kaolin producer, followed by South Carolina, Alabama, California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Approximately 50% of the kaolin produced in the U.S. was water washed; 20%, calcined; 15%, delaminated; 11%, airfloat; and 4%, unprocessed. A total of 1.83 million tons valued at $272 million of calcined kaolin was produced. Of this amount, 799,000 tons valued at $250 million was pigment-grade (low-temperature) and 1.03 million tons valued at $22.4 million was refractory-grade (high-temperature) calcined kaolin.

Worldwide, consumption of kaolin in ceramics was around 4.3 million tons in 1999. Ceramics production in Asia grew substantially in the 1990s, and the region is in the process of recovering from the downturn caused by the economic crisis of 1997/8. If Asian output returns to previous levels, the ceramics sector may well become the fastest-growing market for kaolin.

Overall, world consumption of kaolin is forecast to grow by around 2% a year over the next five years, a rate of growth largely dependent on demand from the main end-use industries—paper, ceramics, cement, refractories and fiberglass. Growth in demand for kaolin from the ceramics industry is likely to be higher than that from the paper industry. Manufacturers in Asian countries such as China are the largest ceramic producers in the world, so when the region’s economies return to the growth rates common in the early 1990s, consumption of kaolin in ceramics is likely to increase by 3% a year or more.

Kaolin prices have largely stagnated since the mid-1990s because of overproduction coupled with competition from calcium carbonate. This situation is likely to continue, although the concentration of ownership in the industry may give the largest producers more influence over the supply of material, and therefore prices. Consumer demand for ever-tighter specifications for certain grades will eventually raise the price of these grades as producers are forced to pass on increases in processing costs.


Kyanite, andalusite and sillimanite are anhydrous aluminosilicate minerals that have the same chemical formula, Al2SiO5, but differ in crystal structure and physical properties. When calcined at high temperatures (around 1350 to 1380°C for kyanite and slightly higher for andalusite and sillimanite), these minerals are converted to mullite, 3Al2O3,·2SiO2, and silica, SiO2, which are refractory materials.

In 1999, kyanite was mined by Kyanite Mining Corp. at two open-pit mines in Buckingham County, Va. The company also operated beneficiation plants and calcining facilities for the conversion of kyanite to mullite. U.S. output was estimated at 90,000 tons; a corresponding value was estimated to be $12.7 million (before any material was converted to mullite), using a value of $141 per metric ton. High-temperature sintered synthetic mullite, made from calcined bauxitic kaolin clay, was produced by C-E Minerals, Inc. near Americus, Ga., and production output was estimated at 39,000 tons. Piedmont Minerals Co., Inc., Hillsborough, N.C., mined a pyrophyllite/andalusite/sericite deposit. The company sells products containing blends of the three minerals to refractories and ceramics producers. U.S. output of sillimanite was unknown.

The U.S. exported kyanite, mullite and synthetic mullite to countries in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim. In 1999, as in recent years, imports of andalusite have been largely from South Africa. There were no known U.S. imports of kyanite or sillimanite in 1999.

Other countries producing kyanite in 1999 included India, Australia and Brazil. Andalusite was produced in France, South Africa and Spain; and sillimanite was produced in Australia, India and South Africa.


Chile strengthened its position as the leading producer of lithium carbonate in the world with increased capacity at one of its two lithium operations on the Salar de Atacama, although production there was virtually unchanged. The other South American lithium carbonate plant in Argentina on the Salar del Hombre Muerto closed after just one full year of production, reinforcing Chile’s role as the world’s low-cost, high-volume producer. The lithium chloride portion of the project in Argentina continued operation. One lithium carbonate plant continued to operate in Nevada (Chemetall Foote Corp. in Silver Peak, a subsidiary of the German company Chemetall GmbH); and Chinese and Russian lithium carbonate production decreased.

A large percentage of the material produced in South America was exported to the U.S. to replace the lost production resulting from the closure in 1998 of FMC Corp.’s spodumene mine and lithium carbonate plant in North Carolina. The U.S. remained the leading producer of value-added lithium compounds and also the leading lithium consumer, despite the lithium carbonate production shift to South America. Australia, Canada and Zimbabwe were important sources of lithium ore concentrates.

Because lithium is electrochemically reactive and has other unique properties, many commercial lithium products are available. With an estimated market value of $400 million worldwide, producers sell lithium as mineral concentrate, brine, compound or metal depending on the end use.

The aluminum, ceramics and glass, lubricating grease, and synthetic rubber industries consumed most of the lithium minerals and chemicals sold in 1999. Estimated domestic consumption has been stable since 1997. Ceramics and glass production and aluminum smelters were the largest consumers of lithium carbonate and lithium concentrates in the U.S., accounting for an estimated 20% and 18% of the lithium market, respectively.

Total U.S. exports of lithium compounds were virtually the same in 1999 as they were in 1998 after a nearly 29% decrease in 1998 from those of 1997, following a 13% decrease from 1996 to 1997. Because the closures of the spodumene mine and lithium carbonate plant in North Carolina, lithium carbonate production in the U.S. has decreased substantially. The reduced production made lower exports inevitable. Commitments to overseas customers were supplied from operations in South America. About 65% of all U.S. exports of lithium compounds were to Canada, Germany, India, Japan and the U.K. Imports of lithium compounds increased slightly in 1999, after a 66% increase from 1997 to 1998, a dramatic increase that resulted from FMC’s Argentina operation reaching full production and the North Carolina carbonate plant closure.

The significant change from 1998 to 1999 was the source of the lithium carbonate. Chile’s share of lithium imports increased to 91% of the total in 1999 from 53% in 1998, and lithium carbonate from Argentina decreased to 7% of total imports from 43% in 1998. Lithium ore concentrates from Australia, Canada and Zimbabwe were believed to have been consumed in the U.S., but no import statistics were available.

Magnesium Compounds

U.S. production of magnesium compounds in 1999 increased from that in 1998, but apparent consumption remained about the same. The increase in production was offset by a decline in the total quantity of imports. Production of refractory magnesia in 1999 was about the same as that in 1998, but imports decreased by about 8%. This indicates that the effects of the Asian economic crisis were still being felt by the U.S. steel industry, leading to lower production levels and, consequently, decreased use of refractories.

Of the total U.S. magnesium compounds production, about 62% came from seawater and well and lake brines. The remainder was recovered from magnesite, dolomite, olivine and brucite.

About 65% of the total consumption of magnesium compounds was for refractory applications. The remaining 35% was used in environmental, chemical and other applications.

The largest magnesite production facilities in the world are in China, North Korea and Russia. Together, these three countries account for 59% of the world magnesite production capacity. Japan and the United States account for 56% of the world’s magnesium compounds production capacity from seawater or brines. Fused magnesia is produced in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S. Norway is the world’s principal producer and supplier of olivine. Other producers include Australia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain and the U.S.

Imports continued to supply a significant share of U.S. consumption of caustic-calcined and dead-burned magnesias, increasing 42% to 7,900 tons in 1999. China was the dominant supplier of caustic-calcined and dead-burned magnesias, with 58% and 70%, respectively, of the totals.

The refractories industry, the largest consumer of magnesium compounds, continues to be characterized by contraction in demand. To cut production costs, refractories users need higher quality materials that have a longer usable life in the furnace. In addition, they require more specialized products for specific applications. The U.S. refractories industry was hurt by the downturn in the Asian economy in 1997 and 1998. Competition from imports of lower priced steel into the U.S. from this region caused a drop in U.S. steel production, which, in turn, caused a decline in refractories usage. Because the Asian economy has improved, steel producers from that area are expected to return to selling their products in their traditional markets, thus lowering the quantity of imports into the U.S. market. This may lead to an upturn in U.S. steel production and consequently, a slight increase in refractories demand.

Figure 3. U.S. distribution of soda ash in glass manufacturing, 1999.
Source: USGS

Soda Ash

U.S. production of natural soda ash from California and Wyoming increased slightly to 10.2 million metric tons in 1999. U.S. apparent consumption of soda ash was 6.74 million tons. The distribution of soda ash by end use in 1999 was glass, 51%; chemicals, 26%; soap and detergents, 11%; distributors, 5%; flue gas desulfurization, pulp and paper, and water treatment, 2% each; and other, 1%.

In glass manufacturing, the container sector comprised 49%; flat, 35%; and specialty and fiber, 8% each. According to U.S. Bureau of the Census data, production of glass containers decreased from 8.92 million tons (9.83 million short tons) in 1998 to 8.82 million tons (9.72 million short tons) in 1999, primarily because of the beverage sector, which continued to decline because more soft drinks were packaged in plastic containers than in glass bottles. However, production of glass containers for the beer industry increased 1.6% in 1999 to 3.95 million tons from 3.89 million tons in 1998.

A relatively new competitor to certain glass container products is emerging that has the potential to further reduce soda ash consumption in glass container manufacture the way polyethylene terephthalate (PET) did in the early 1980s. The introduction of polyethylene naphthalate (PEN) plastic may displace part of the glass container market, especially in the food container category and possibly part of the beer container sector. PEN is the next generation of plastics and has better performance properties than PET plastic products. PEN is highly suited for hot fill products, such as baby foods, beverage containers (for enhanced oxygen and carbon dioxide resistance), jams and jellies. It also screens ultraviolet light to extend shelf life and preserve natural flavors.

Despite the potential of PEN displacing a portion of the packaging market held by the glass container sector, a new glass container was recently introduced. Owens-Illinois, Inc., (O-I) developed a new lightweight glass bottle known as the Duraglass XL™ (for Duraglas Extra Light) bottle, that reduces the amount of glass required to make a typical bottle, resulting in faster and more cost effective production of containers, reduced energy consumption and lower transportation costs. However, raw material requirements for this new design are reportedly reduced 10 to 20%, which will further reduce soda ash sales to this sector. O-I also became a 25% partner of General Chemical Corp.’s soda ash business in 1998 when O-I acquired British Tire & Rubber, p.l.c., which owned the soda ash share through its subsidiary, Australian Consolidated Industries International. This transaction gives O-I a stake in the raw material side of glassmaking as well.

Worldwide, nine countries have the capacity to produce more than 1 million tons of soda ash per year. They are, in descending order, the U.S., China, Russia, India, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the U.K. Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine had production installations that were rated at about 1 million tons; adverse economic conditions have, however, caused these nations to produce below their design capacities.

Recent acquisitions or joint ventures with major European soda ash producers having soda ash manufacturing expertise should reverse this situation in the next few years. Most of these soda-ash-producing countries have large populations that require consumer products made with soda ash. The less developed nations tend to have higher soda ash demands and higher growth rates as soda-ash-consuming industries are developed.

In 1999, world soda ash production was estimated to be 32.9 million tons, which was a 1% increase compared with that of 1998. Demand for soda ash in the U.S. is expected to grow between 0.5 and 1.0% per year, and world demand is forecast to range from 2.0 to 2.5% per year for the next several years. Despite the problems in the Asian economies, the majority increase in soda ash consumption in the future will be in Asia and South America.

Talc and Pyrophyllite

Approximately 881,000 tons of talc valued at $102 million were sold or used in the U.S. in 1999, an increase from 870,000 tons valued at $109 million in 1998. Of the 881,000 tons of talc sold or used, producers reported that 771,000 tons were sold for domestic use, and approximately 110,000 tons were exported. Domestic markets included, in decreasing order of consumption, ceramics (pottery, sanitaryware, tiles, etc.), paper, paint, plastics, roofing, cosmetics, rubber, insecticides, and refractories. Domestic sales of talc did not change significantly between 1998 and 1999.

Domestic consumption of pyrophyllite decreased from that of 1998. Pyrophyllite was used, in decreasing order of consumption, in ceramics, refractories, paint, plastics, insecticides, and rubber. Ceramic and refractory uses accounted for 61% of domestic pyrophyllite sales.

China remained the world’s leading producer of talc, followed by the U.S., Brazil, India, Finland and France. The Republic of Korea was the largest producer of pyrophyllite, followed by Japan and Brazil. China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the U.S. produced 69% of the world’s talc and pyrophyllite.

Markets for talc should be stable and even slightly increasing for the next few years. No major changes are anticipated in pyrophyllite markets, and consumption probably will not change significantly for the next few years.


The major domestic uses of wollastonite are in plastics (37%), ceramics (28%), metallurgy (10%), paint (10%), friction products (9%) and miscellaneous (6%). Domestic wollastonite production and sales decreased slightly from those of 1998. Exports were estimated to be between 18,000 tons and 23,000 tons. Imports of wollastonite were estimated to be between 2,500 tons and 5,000 tons. Most of the wollastonite was imported from China, Finland and India.

Worldwide production of wollastonite was estimated to be between 575,000 tons and 625,000 tons in 1999. China accounted for approximately 300,000 tons. Production for Finland, India and Mexico was estimated to be 18,000 tons, 80,000 tons and 40,000 tons, respectively. Although a fledgling industry, Canadian wollastonite production is estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 tons per year. Small tonnages probably were produced in Chile, North Korea, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey.

Worldwide sales of wollasonite should continue to increase as the U.S. economy remains strong and Southeast Asian economies continue to recover.


Domestic production of zircon also increased as a recently opened mining operation in Stony Creek, Va. (Iluka Resources Inc.) continued to scale-up production. It was estimated that the U.S. controlled about 19% of world’s zircon production in 1999.

Excluding U.S. production, world production of zirconium mineral concentrates in 1999 was estimated at 941,000 tons, an 11% increase compared with that of 1998. Australia and South Africa supplied about 85% of all production outside the U.S. World reserves of zircon are estimated to be 36 million tons of ZrO2, while identified world resources of zircon were 65 million tons of ZrO2. During 1999, the zirconium industry continued to be active in the exploration and development of mineral deposits on a global basis, particularly in Australia, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa and the U.S.

Author's Note

The information presented in this article is based on information compiled from the U.S. Geological Survey (www.minerals.er.usgs.gov); Industrial Minerals (www.mineralnet.co.uk); and Roskill Information Services Ltd. (www.roskill.co.uk). All units are in metric tons, unless otherwise noted.

SIDEBAR: Mergers, Acquisitions and Expansions in 2000

  • The merger of Alusuisse Group Ltd (algroup) with Alcan was completed in mid-October, forming a leading global alumina, aluminium and packaging organization with revenues over some $12.4 billion.
  • Asahi Glass Co. Ltd. announced that it would discontinued manufacturing soda ash at its last remaining plant in Kitakyushu, Japan. Production at the 350,000 tonnes per annum soda ash factory was expected to cease by March 2001.
  • A new company, Clayworld, Inc., was formed to offer materials and engineered solutions to the ceramic industry. The company is the exclusive sales agent for Old Hickory Clay Co., RZM Pty. Ltd. and Lakeside Ceramic Consulting. The company also represents Arkansas nepheline syenite products to the ceramic industry through an agreement with 3M Corp.
  • Clayworld, Inc., purchased the assets of Ex-Cel, Inc., a division of the House of Ceramics and American Art Clay Co. (AMACO) of Indianapolis, Ind.
  • dmc2 Degussa Metals Catalysts Cerdec AG merged all its construction ceramics activities into a new global organization named Cerdec Ceramics (CC). The new company supplies glaze systems, stains, additives and decoration products.
  • dmc2 Degussa Metals Catalysts Cerdec AG announced that it would significantly increase production floor space at its Hanau-Wolfgang facility by mid-2001.
  • Denain Anzin Minéraux SA (DAM), the industrial minerals division of France’s Nord Est Group, bought the feldspar assets of WBB Fuchs’ Turkismühle operation in Germany’s Saarland region. DAM also bought the 60,000 tpa processing plant.
  • Ferro Corp.’s Ceramic Glaze Specialties (CGS) group opened a new $3 million manufacturing and research and development center in Stoke-on-Trent, U.K.
  • G-P Gypsum constructed a $35 million state-of-the-art industrial plaster plant in Las Vegas, Nev.
  • Bayer subsidiary H.C. Starck GmbH & Co. KG signed an agreement to acquire U.S.-based CSM, a manufacturer of molybdenum and tungsten mill products, as well as machined components and fabrications made from alloys of other refractory metals.
  • IMC Global Inc. announced closures of Duisberg, Germany soda ash operations.
  • Imerys acquired halloysite producer New Zealand China Clays Ltd (NZCC) from Ceramco Corp. Ltd.
  • Imerys established a key calcium carbonate presence in South America with the acquisition of Quimica Industrial Barra do Pirai SA (Quimbarra), a subsidiary of Praxair.
  • Imerys purchased a 87.5% stake in Austria’s Treibacher Schleifmittel AG, the world’s leading producer of white and brown fused alumina for the abrasives and refractories industries.
  • Imerys acquired UK-based Keith Ceramic Materials Ltd (KCM), one of the world’s major fused mullite producers, through its Austrian fused alumina business, Treibacher Schleifmittel AG. The company said that it intended to run KCM within the Treibacher group but as an independent organization.
  • LignoTech USA completed a $10.8 million capital improvement project to boost production and provide customers with higher quality lignin chemicals.
  • Millennium Inorganic Chemicals announced expansion of its existing zirconia business through the acquisition of Hanwha Advanced Ceramics Australia Pty Ltd.
  • Oglebay Norton Co. created Oglebay Norton Specialty Minerals, a wholly owned subsidiary. The new entity includes the previously acquired Franklin Industries’ mica business and is the vehicle through which the company intends to expand its specialty mineral offerings.
  • Oglebay Norton Co.’s Industrial Sands group, through its wholly owned subsidiary Texas Mining LP, acquired the operating assets of Jebco Abrasives, Inc.
  • Resco Products Inc. entered the refractory brick market following the acquisition of a number of assets divested by RHI Refractories America, including the Hammond, Ind., and Marelan, Quebec, facilities that were formerly part of GIX (Harbison-Walker Refractories); certain products from RHI-America’s (formerly North American Refractories Co.) Farber, Mo., plant; and Harbison-Walker’s Windham, Ohio, facilities.
  • Tosoh Corp. completed a production capacity expansion for zirconia powders at its Nanyo Complex.
  • Watts Blake Bearne Group (WBB) completed the purchase of 94.08% of the shares in Kaolin Hlubany of the Czech Republic—shares formerly held by Germany’s Villeroy & Boch. The remaining 5.92% of the shares continue to be held by private ownership.
  • Unimin Corp. completed the acquisition of Georgia-based Albion Kaolin Co. from Süd-Chemie of Germany.
  • Unimin Corp. completed the acquisition of United Clays Inc. from Watts Blake Bearne & Co. PLC.

Editor’s Note

This is not a complete list. The above information was obtained from back issues of Ceramic Industry, company websites and other sources. To add your company’s 2000 activities to the above list, please contact the editor at grahlk@bnp.com. Please include the name of your company, the type of business, the action performed (merger, acquisition, expansion, etc.) and the date in which the action was performed. Please note: This list is limited to companies involved in the mining, production and distribution of raw/manufactured materials in the ceramic industry in 2000.

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