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A new global report on zirconium from Global Industry Analysts Inc. predicts the global market to reach 2.6 million metric tons by the year 2017. A rapid increase in the global nuclear energy sector will lead to high demand for zirconium and a simultaneous increase in production capacities worldwide. In addition, burgeoning demand from the Asia-Pacific region, including China, and growing ceramic tile production activity across the world reportedly represent key growth factors.
Zirconium oxide or zirconia is used in high-end, high-value, low-volume applications. Zirconia is used in various industrial and consumer applications such as cosmetics, waterproof clothing, optical fibers and medical products. Due to comparatively lower supply of the material in relation to other zirconium chemicals, zirconia can command higher prices and profit margins.
The U. S. continues to be the largest producer and consumer of fused zirconia, while Japan is the second-argest consumer. In recent years, the global zirconium market faced several challenges that hampered the market growth to a noticeable extent. The global economic turmoil that flattened the worldwide industrial sector during 2008 and 2009 severely impacted the zirconium market, especially during 2009. The crisis led to an oversupply of the mineral, despite significant production cuts implemented by the producers. However, the market is expected to recover quickly and post a robust growth in ensuing years, on the back of a sharp rise in demand for the mineral in the Asia-Pacific region, the largest consumer of zirconium in the world. In addition, the exploration of new mine reserves is likely to encourage increased consumption across the end-use sectors.
Ceramics, including tableware, sanitaryware and tiles, represent the largest end-use market for zirconium. Zircon is used as an opacifier for ceramic articles including sanitaryware, floor and wall tiles, and tableware. Refractory and foundry sectors represent the next leading markets for zirconium. Consumption in the foundry industry displayed modest demand growth.
Zircon is used as a glass component in television and computer monitor faceplates due to its radiation absorbing characteristics. Ceramics continues to retain supremacy as the largest consumer, while use in the TV glass sector will be tempered due to an increasing preference for new display methods such as liquid crystal displays/thin film transistors.
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