Sifting Through the Raw Materials Markets
In response, Alcoa made a bid for Reynolds Metals, which would preserve its status as the aluminum leader. Alcoa is already the largest producer of non-metallurgical alumina, including calcium aluminate cements, tabular alumina, and calcined aluminas. The company accounts for over 20% of the world’s metallurgical and specialty alumina.
Such consolidation will no doubt reduce the demand for alumina and other refractories materials. Though the global outlook is strong for other minerals—including talc, wollastonite, pyrophyllite, kaolin and certain clays—increased competition will keep prices and profits down. Some mineral processors are still increasing capacity by as much as 20% in expectation of continued growth. Others are forming joint ventures overseas to take advantage of markets there.
Alumina and BauxiteThe worldwide demand for bauxite and alumina slightly increased by <1% in 1998, due to the increased availability of aluminum from Russia. “We expect global demand for these raw materials to have increased by 2.6% in 1999, as demand for aluminum increased,” says Louis Bollag, VP of Specialty Aluminas at Alusuisse USA. A similar increase is predicted for 2000. World production of bauxite increased slightly by 1.7% to an estimated 125 million tons in 1998, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The majority of bauxite and about half of the alumina consumed in the U.S. is imported. Of the total alumina used domestically, about 10% goes to nonmetallurgical uses, including ceramics and refractories. Annual alumina capacity is currently around 6.2 million tons. Exports of both materials increased in 1998 by roughly 2-3%.
Preliminary 1999 data shows that U.S. exports of alumina decreased by 21% for the first half of the year compared to 1998, whereas imports remained about the same. Preliminary 1999 data of bauxite imports for refractories shows that demand may be on a downward trend; 84,800 tons were imported in the first half of 1999, less than half of the total imported for all of 1998.
About 60% of all calcined alumina and 90% of tabular alumina is consumed by refractories. Global markets for these materials have been estimated at around 2 million and 300,000 tons per year, respectively. Refractories demand for both materials has decreased with the downturn in the steel industry, leading to a drop in prices. This trend is expected to continue. Demand for other ceramic applications is expected to remain constant.
On a positive note, the trend toward high-alumina refractories has increased the demand for specialty aluminas. White fused alumina also may eventually replace tabular alumina in refractories, especially in the U.S., if cost differences become a significant factor.
BoronDomestically, the glass industry remains the largest end user of boric oxide at 71%. Globally, this falls to 42%, followed by frits and ceramics at 12%. The total U.S. market dropped by over 12% to $440 million in 1998 compared to the previous year. Production increased slightly by about 2% to an estimated 619,000 tons in 1998. The United States remains the largest producer of boron compounds and still exports about half of its production.
Turkey is the largest producer of boron ore in the world at over 40%, exporting materials that compete with boron compounds produced in the U.S. The United States almost shares the lead with Turkey at 39%. Chile also exports borates to the U.S. that are mainly derived from the country’s ulexite mines. Chinese researchers have patented a process for preparing low-cost ceramic fritted glazes using szaibelyite, a mineral rich in boron. This mineral may compete with both boron and magnesium compounds, since it replaces borax, boric acid and raw materials containing magnesium.
The global consumption of all borates is around 1 million tons per year, and is growing slowly at approximately 1% per year. Demand in Europe and Asia has remained relatively flat, whereas South America has seen consumption grow by as much as 4% per annum.
ClaysDomestic demand for ball clay slowed in 1998, increasing by about 8% to 1.13 million tons, compared to a growth of ~11% in 1997. The breakdown of markets remains the same as last year. Tennessee is again the largest producing state. Of all clays produced, ball clay represents only about 2.5%.
U.S. apparent consumption for all clays was an estimated 38 million tons in 1998. Mexico and the UK were the major sources for imported clays, mainly kaolin and bentonite, which increased from 64,000 to 75,000 tons. Exports also increased slightly to 5.1 million tons, with kaolin accounting for 67%.
Missouri leads the way in fireclay production, whose total for the U.S. decreased by ~7% to 604,000 tons in 1998. Over half of U.S. fireclay production is used in refractories, which may account for the decrease since volume is shrinking for this application.
U.S. production of common clay totaled almost 25 million tons in 1998, a slight increase from the previous year. This represents about 58% of all clay production. Over half of common clay is used for brick, followed by about a quarter for cement.
Though the domestic market is shrinking and cheaper imports are on the rise, some clay suppliers are able to continue growing by meeting customer demands. In Europe, consolidation continued as several more clay suppliers merged, leaving just a few big players. For instance, Stephan Schmidt Group in Germany produces 1.45 million tons of clay every year, with a 25% market share in Germany. Fuchs’sche Tongruben, an affiliate of the U.K.’s WBB, claims 40% of the total output of members of the German association of ceramic raw materials suppliers.
FeldsparU.S. feldspar production (including aplite) dropped to about 800,000 tons in 1998, with an estimated value of $40 million. According to the USGS, the three largest producers accounted for almost two-thirds of the output. North Carolina is the largest producer, providing about 46% of the output. The major end uses of feldspar remains the same, with glass at 70% and pottery/other the remainder. Exports more than doubled to 18,000 tons in 1998.
World production of feldspar grew slightly to 8.1 million tons in 1998. Italy is the leader at 2.4 million tons, followed by Turkey at 1 million ton (up from only 139,000 tons in 1989). Turkey exports a major portion (about 75%) to ceramic industries in Spain and Italy, as well as to North Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. Saudi Arabia may be a future source of feldspar, as recent tests have shown that pegmatic feldspar deposits would be suitable for ceramic applications.
FluorsparDemand for fluorspar decreased for 1998, especially for glaze applications, as end users move away from glaze compositions containing this material. Overall, environmental pressures are negatively impacting demand, with decreasing fluorine emissions remaining an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) priority. This trend of decreasing demand is expected to continue. The move away from fluorspar may help other mineral suppliers increase their market share if they can provide low-emission alternatives.
The U.S. government has played an important role as a supplier of fluorspar as it liquidated stockpiles for the past 5 years. This liquidation is now mostly complete. Since there is also no domestic mine production of fluorspar, the U.S. relies on imports. As further evidence of the decline in U.S. demand for this product, imports for first quarter 1999 dropped to 150,000 tons, compared to 173,000 tons in the previous first quarter. Consumption of fluorspar used in enamel, glass and fiberglass, and other non-ceramic applications was 3,820 tons in first quarter 1999, compared to 4,540 tons in fourth quarter 1998.
Total production of fluorspar in Europe was 435,000 tons in 1997. Since Laport Minerals closed its UK operations recently, this market will be reduced by around 50,000-60,000 tons. World production decreased slightly to 4.54 million tons, with China the leading producer at ~53%. With such Chinese control of the market, U.S. supply is questionable as the Chinese government continues to decide how much to export via licenses and at what price. Though prices have recently been lower since large quantities of Chinese material were still available, this could change as this material disappears and license fees go up.
KaolinFor ceramic applications, kaolin is sold either as a dry pulverized (1-3% moisture) material, semi-dried or crushed lumps (7-15% moisture), crude (18-22% moisture) or as a slurry (68-73%). About 14% of U.S. kaolin is used for refractories, followed by 7% for fiberglass.
Total U.S. production of kaolin increased by 3.7% to ~9.8 million tons. Over half of this production is consumed by the paper industry. Georgia remains the largest producer of kaolin. Four out of the five leading producing companies of specialty clays in the U.S. produce kaolin. In decreasing order of tonnage these were Engelhard Corp. (total production includes fuller’s earth), ECC International, Thiele Kaolin Co. and Dry Branch Kaolin Co.
Kaolin or china clay is also a key component in whiteware products. An increase in demand for tableware in the U.S. has led to an increase in kaolin demand by as much as 12% in 1998 by some suppliers. This trend is expected to continue, as disposable income, new households and commercial construction continue to increase.
However, the situation is expected to be different elsewhere in the world. “Though continued growth is expected in the U.S., the Pacific region and Eastern Europe, losses in production from consolidation in Western Europe and the Middle East are decreasing demand in these regions,” says Tommy Kilgore, ECC International, Inc. “Improvement in performance is therefore key.”
In Asia, kaolin demand has reached almost 3 million tons for tableware, tiles and sanitaryware. China is the largest producer by volume in this region, with whiteware applications accounting for 60% of total kaolin production, consuming around 1.6 million tons. Due to the Three-Gorge Dam project, and the towns that will be relocated and houses rebuilt as a result, kaolin consumption in tiles and sanitaryware is expected to increase over the next few years.
By the year 2010, forecasts predict kaolin consumption in Asia as high as 1.2 million tons per year, of which 250,000 tons will be high-grade material for glazes and tableware. ECC has several joint ventures in China and Thailand to take advantage of this growth.
LithiumMore than 60% of lithium compounds are consumed for ceramics, glass and primary aluminum production in the U.S. Thermal shock-resistant cookware consumed the majority, with aluminum production the second largest use. There has also been some increase in the use of lithium in specific glass fiber applications. Lithium is usually added to ceramic and glass compositions in the form of lithium carbonate or as one of the natural lithium-containing minerals, such as lepidolite, petalite, amblygonite or spodumene.
Chile is still the largest lithium carbonate producer in the world, followed by China, Russia, the United States and Argentina, in descending order of production. Zimbabwe’s Bikita Minerals has the largest petalite deposit in the world, and in 1998 produced around 50,000 tons of this and related minerals. For 1998, the U.S. remained the leading consumer of lithium minerals and compounds and the leading producer of value-added lithium materials. Estimated consumption increased slightly to 2,900 tons from the previous year.
Since one U.S. operation closed (FMC Corp. in North Carolina) in early 1998, U.S. exports of lithium compounds declined by nearly 29% (1,340 tons) compared to 1997. Imports increased by a whopping 166% to 2,590 tons as FMC’s Argentina operation reached full production. Further increases were expected for 1999. Chile accounted for 53% of all imports.
Lower global demand for lithium minerals has been mainly due to the Asian crisis. Though spodumene sales were down, petalite sales (all from Zimbabwe) increased in 1998-99. Canada’s Avalon Ventures Ltd. developed a new proprietary petalite processing technology that could have an impact on this industry in the next several years. Demand for petalite should remain strong overall, but shortages could result if the political situation in Zimbabwe worsens before the Avalon project comes on stream. “Major takeovers in the glass and ceramic industries of the U.S. by European companies will tend to make the technologies more uniform, which will result in some increase in the use of petalite,” adds Gary Pearse, project manager, Avalon Ventures Ltd.
Over the long term, lower prices may benefit the lithium industry by expanding the use of lithium materials into new high-volume but price sensitive markets. Potential new uses of lithium to prevent the deterioration of concrete may eventually increase the market for this material. Pearse also believes that growing interest in use of lithium in container glass, fiberglass, and other glass products—since it lowers melting temperatures, improves workabilty of the glass and produces more durable products—should provide a healthy 3% to 4% annual growth.
Magnesium CompoundsIn 1998, about 62% of magnesium compounds consumed in the United States were used for refractories, a slight drop from the previous year. Refractory magnesia (dead-burned) shipments decreased by 21% to 223,000 tons valued at ~$77 million as users replaced U.S. materials with lower cost imports from China. The shrinking iron and steel industry has reduced demand for refractories as well. Caustic-calcined magnesia and olivine are also consumed in U.S. refractories, at 14% and 12%, respectively.
The largest magnesite production facilities in the world are in China, North Korea and Russia. These three countries account for 59% of the world magnesite production capacity. Japan and the U.S. account for 56% of the world’s magnesium compounds production capacity from seawater or brines. World production of magnesite increased slightly in 1998 to 10.8 million tons. China is the dominant supplier of dead-burned magnesia and increased the quantity that it exported to the U.S. in 1998 from that exported in 1997.
Demand for refractory magnesia is expected to continue to decline as improvements in refractory performance and service life continue. Imports from China will also remain a threat. However, Dr. Charles Semler, refractories consultant, points out: “There are numerous opportunities for refractory raw materials suppliers to benefit by offering more value-added materials. This may allow suppliers to maintain or increase profitability, despite the loss of volume.”
Natural GraphiteChina also continues to dominate the world natural graphite market. More recently, new plants in Canada, Mozambique and Tanzania have been established to produce high-quality crystalline flake. The demand for flake graphite continues to increase, with the move towards higher-quality grades, according to Roskill Information Service Ltd. (London, U.K.). On the other hand, this move is causing the market for amorphous graphite, a lower-quality product, to shrink.
Roskill predicts that the world supply of natural graphite will exceed demand until at least 2000, reaching 700,000 tons per year. Refractory applications for the iron and steel industry will be the major consumer. If the Chinese iron and steel industry continues to increase its domestic consumption, exports may decline, encouraging new producers to enter the market.
There are no U.S. producers of natural graphite, with the material being mainly imported from Mexico, Canada and China. U.S. apparent consumption increased significantly by 38% to 29,000 tons in 1998, with refractory applications leading at 33%. Primary recycling of refractory articles is growing , with brick and linings leading the way in the recycling of graphite products.
SilicaAbout 37% of the 29 million tons of industrial sand produced in the U.S. is used in glassmaking. The U.S. remains the world’s largest producer and consumer of silica, exporting to almost every region of the globe. Exports nearly doubled in 1998 compared to the previous year, with most going to Mexico. Total U.S. demand increased slightly (1.6%) in 1998. It was estimated that 1999 total domestic production and apparent consumption in the U.S. would reach 29.5 and 27.5 million tons, respectively.
Demand from the U.S. glass industry decreased about 5% in 1998, since many manufacturers moved to Mexico and some switched to feldspathic sand. This loss is expected to be offset by domestic growth in 2000. Safety and health regulations will continue to impact the industry.
The European Union produces around 16 million tons of glass sand annually, which is used in a wide range of applications. Flat and container glass are the largest consuming markets. Demand for glass sand has recently increased by 2-3%. Flat glass remains a good growth prospect, in addition to technical and tableware glass. Glass sand major producers in Europe include SCR-Sibelco SA (Belgium), Quarzwerke GmbH (Germany), Hepworth Minerals and Chemicals Ltd. (UK) and Saint-Gobain (France).
Specialty silicas are also expected to see some growth, growing at a rate of ~4% a year through 2002 to a global market over $2 billion, according to Kline Europe SA (Brussels, Belgium). North America and Europe currently dominate production. Specialty silicas fall into four categories: precipiated silica, silica gel, fumed silica and colloidal silica. A major application for fumed silica is refractories, in addition to coatings and abrasives. Precipitated and colloidal silicas find application in catalysts, among others.
Soda AshAlmost half of all domestic soda ash is still consumed by the glass industry, and the U.S. remains the largest sodium carbonate producer in the world, with a total capacity of 12 million tons. Consumption by the glass industry appears to be on a slight upward trend, increasing by 1.2% to 1.61 million tons in the first half of 1999 compared to the same period in 1998 (see Table or Figure).
Overall, apparent consumption was 8% higher for the same period (reaching 729,000 tons), whereas production was 1% lower. Imports increased by 4% to 7,960 tons, whereas exports were 15% lower (206,000 tons) due to the Asian economic crisis. The total estimated value of domestic soda ash produced in 1998 was $840 million. Total world production decreased slightly to 31 million tons in 1998.
World demand for soda ash is expected to grow 1.5% to 2% annually in the early part of the next century.
Talc and PyrophylliteThe largest U.S. consumption of ground talc in 1998 was in ceramics at 29%. Major consumers of pyrophyllite include ceramics and refractories at about 76%. Total U.S. production of talc decreased by almost 9%, to an estimated 958,000 tons. Apparent consumption also decreased by 6%, to 934,000 tons valued at $109 million. However, domestic sales to the ceramic industry increased by 2% in 1998 to 240,000 tons. Refractories consumption remained the same at 5,000 tons.
Imports increased by almost 10% to 136,000 tons, with about 10,000 tons going for ceramics and refractories, whereas exports decreased by the same amount. World production of talc and related materials decreased about 6% to 8.14 million tons. China remained the world’s leading producer of talc, followed by the United States, India, Brazil and Finland. Japan was the largest producer of pyrophyllite.
Since the major talc products, including ceramics, are projected to experience slow growth through 2003, the rate of growth in talc consumption is expected to range from 1.5% to 2.5% for the next few years. Increased competition from imported talc should continue.
Domestic consumption of pyrophyllite decreased by 8% from that of 1997, with sales in general decreasing for ceramics and refractories. However, according to Cihat Kutbay of Resco Products’ North State Pyrophyllite Division, U.S. demand for his company’s product increased by 50%, with an additional increase of 10% predicted for 1999.
Though no major changes are expected in most pyrophyllite markets, Resco Products plans to expand its production capacity by 25% and expects U.S. demand for its pyrophyllite and related materials to increase by 20% in 2000 due to new applications for the mineral.
WollastoniteDomestic wollastonite production and sales figures declined slightly from those of 1997. Prices also declined due to competition from imports. Domestic consumption slightly increased. Worldwide production in 1998 was estimated at between 575,000 and 625,000 tons in 1998, an increase ranging from 22 to 28%. China remains the largest producer.
Worldwide demand for wollastonite is expected to continue to increase, though at much slower rates. Annual growth in domestic sales is predicted to be between 3% and 5%, or slightly greater than the gross domestic product through 2003.
ZirconThe global supply and demand of zirconium mineral concentrates was largely in balance in 1998, and this trend is expected to continue over the next few years. About 900,000 tons of zircon are produced by major suppliers in Australia, South Africa and the U.S. Long-term supply shortages of zirconium minerals may occur unless new production sources are developed. U.S. imports of zirconium concentrates were estimated to have increased 73% in 1998, and exports decreased 16% compared to the previous year.
Of the total zirconia produced globally per year (36,000 tons), the mineral baddeleyite accounts for less than half (17,000 tons). Synthetic zirconia produced from zircon sand makes up the rest. About 10,000 tons of baddeleyite is used in refractories, 3000 tons in ceramic pigments, 2000 tons in abrasives and the remainder in other applications. Synthetic zirconia is mainly used in refractories and pigments (26% each), followed by electronics and advanced ceramics (21% for both).
The global market for zirconia was predicted to increase by as much as 10% in 1999. Zircon production could reach over 1 million tons by 2000, resulting in zirconia production of roughly 70,000 tons.
Refractory and pigment markets are expected to continue to offer growth, though which type of zirconia is used may depend on price and availability. Fused zircon could replace baddelyite in some applications.
On the other hand, an oversupply of zircon opacifiers has led to a decrease in demand in Asia, with prices dropping by 50% for micronized zircon. Prices are not expected to reach 1996 levels until 2000. Most of Asia and Japan have seen a 25-30% drop in zircon consumption over the last few years. Micronized zircon may see an increase in China in the future as manufacturers continue the switch to this higher grade, whereas Japan’s demand will be relatively flat unless the economy improves.
Author’s note: The majority of this information is based on data compiled by the United States Geological Survey; Industrial Minerals; and Roskill Information Services Ltd., 2 Clapham Rd., London SW9 0JA, England, (44) 171-582-5155 fax: (44) 171-793-0008. All units are in metric tons, unless otherwise noted.
Raw Materials Mergers/Acquisitions/Expansions, 1998-1999
- France’s Imetal acquired the U.K.’s English China Clays Co. (ECC). There are four operational groups: pigments and additives, building materials and ceramics, refractories, and metals processing.
- JM Huber Corp. is studying the feasibility of restarting Comalco Ltd.’s kaolin operation at Weipa, Queensland, which has a production capacity of 140,000 tpa.
- Avalon Ventures Ltd. has estimated its Big Whopper petalite deposit near Konora, Ontario, Canada, at 11.6 million tons. A feasibility study is underway, with production scheduled to come on stream in 2001.
- South Africa’s Anglovall Mining Ltd. sold andalusite producer Rhino Minerals to Mireal South Africa Ltd., a subsidiary of French group Imetal.
- WBB increased its share in Clays and Minerals Ltd. of Thailand to ~72% and formed an Eastern Europe division to cover the region from the Czech Republic to the Ural mountains. WBB also formed a joint venture in Qingyuan, China, WBB Jianbei, to produce clay blends for sanitaryware and electrical porcelain.
- Germany’s Stephan Schmidt Group acquired Marx Bergbau GmbH & Co. and a 60% stake in Mittelhessische Tonbergbau GmbH.
Germany’s Fuchs’sche Tongruben acquired Villeroy & Boch AG’s plastic clay operations at Mogendorf, Westerwald.
- Germany’s Caminauer Kaolinwerk GmbH and Kemmlitzer Kaolinwereke merged—both are part of Amberger Kaolinwerke, owned by Quarzwerke GmbH. Amberger Kaolinwerke sold its 50% share in Euroclay BV, the European sales organization for Dry Branch Kaolin Co. and Rio Capim Caulim, to Imetal, which now owns 100% of the company. KPCL Deutschland GmbH, a subsidiary of Imetal, has also taken over AmbergerKaolinwereke’s porecelain body preparation plant in Schnaittenbach, Germany and purchased the Technical products/Raw Materials, Bodies and Glazes from Hutschenreuther AG, (Selb).
- alusuisse martinswerk expanded its aluminum hydroxide and activated alumina capacity by 18,000 tpa at its Bergheim, Germany facility.
- FMC Corp. acquired Tg Soda Ash Inc. from Elf Atochem North America Inc.
- Europe’s Viag merged with Alusuisse-Lonza.
- South Africa’s Metorex purchased Bayer’s fluorspar mine.
- Aluchem established a fused SiO2 plant in the U.S.
- U.S. Silica bought five Unimin assets.
- Lafarge invested $25 million in Chinese alumina cement plant.
- China’s Lishu opened a wollastonite mine.
- UCM invested $1 million in a zirconia expansion.
- Austpac Resources NL and Indian Rare Earths Ltd. signed an agreement for the design, construction and operation of a 10,000 ton per year synthetic rutile plant in Orissa state, India.
- Germany’s Quarzwerke acquired Amberger Kaolinwerke Edward Kick GmbH (AKW), a major German kaolin producer that also produces feldspar and silca sand.
- SGL Carbon AG (Wiesbaden, Germany) announced plans to take over 50% of the Aldila Materials Technology Corp. in the U.S., a producer of carbon fibers.
- Stephan Schmidt constructed a $600,000 homogenizing and clay mixing plant in Kamenz, Germany.
- Germany’s Kulkoni Handel GmbH began establishing a 200,000 ton per year kaolin facility in eastern Uzbekistan in a joint venture with Ugol, an Uzbekistan coal company.
- Russia’s Malyshevskoye mining company announced that it is restarting production at a mill to produce mica and feldspar.
- The Johnson Matthey Structural Ceramics Materials Division announced plans to construct a zircon micronizing facility in Jacksonville, Fla., to supply the U.S. market.
- Europe’s third largest fluorspar producer (with 60% of the market), Laporte Minerals, closed its UK operation and is seeking a buyer, after losing a major customer to a Chinese supplier.
- UK’s Fire and Vision established a company called caso to recycle plaster waste from the whitewares industry, based on a project at CERAM Research.
- A large analcime (natural zeolite) deposit, with an expected reserve of over 200 million tons, was discovered in Nei Mongol, China.
- A Norwegian baddeleyite plant began operation in a joint venture between BM Trading, Kovdor Mining and the Cookson Group, with a total capacity of 3000 tons per year of calcium stabilized and monoclinic zirconias.
- Sayberg Mining Ltd., a joint venture between a Dutch and Turkish firm established in 1998, announced reserves of bentonite (15 million tons), refractory grade olivine (five million tons), manganese (1.5 million tons) and talc (900,000 tons).
- Fuchs-Ton/WBB’s German subsidiary, Kaolin- und Tonwerke Seilitz Lothain GmbH, opened up a new kaolin quarry that has a reserve that will last up to 20 years.
- Germany’s Chemetall GmbH, a subsidiary of Metallgesellschaft AG, completed its purchase of Cyprus Foote Mineral Co., a producer of lithium compounds in the United States.
- FMC Corp., Lithium Division, closed its spodumene mine and lithium carbonate plant in North Carolina. Its new operation in Argentina has eliminated the need for this plant.
- UK’s ECC International purchased the U.S. fused magnesia producer Minco Inc., which also makes fused silica.
- Resco Products’ North State Pyrophyllite Division expanded production capacity by 30% and plans to add another 25%.
- SMP, a subsidiary of Zemex Industrial Minerals, formed a joint venture with Industria Mineraria Italiana Fabi Srl to process talc from IMI Fabi’s deposit in Western Australia.
- Alcoa increased its tabular alumina capacity at the Bauxite plant by more than 7000 tons per year.
- Alcan Chemicals North America increased its activated alumina capacity by 30% at its Bockville, Ohio, plant.