Ceramic Industry

Raw & Manufactured Materials: 2012 Overview

January 1, 2012
Despite the slower than expected worldwide economic recovery, demand is on the rise for the majority of the raw and manufactured materials covered in this report.

Crystalline boron. Photo courtesy of H.C. Starck.

Manufactured Abrasives

Imports and higher operating costs continued to challenge abrasives producers in the U.S. and Canada in 2010. Foreign competition, particularly from China, is expected to persist and further curtail production in North America. Abrasives markets are greatly influenced by activity in the manufacturing sector in the U.S. During 2009, downturns in the U.S. manufacturing sector caused modest decreases in U.S. manufactured abrasives production, but significant decreases in consumption. This was particularly true of manufacturing activities in the aerospace, automotive, furniture, housing and steel industries.

The U.S. abrasive markets also are influenced by economic and technological trends. As the world and the U.S. slowly began to recover from the global economic recession during 2010, U.S. manufactured abrasives production and consumption also slowly began to show signs of improvement.

Production of regular-grade fused aluminum oxide had an estimated value of $1.92 million in 2010 (U.S. and Canada), remaining flat at 10,000 t. U.S. imports for consumption shot up by 164.8% to 170,000 t, while exports increased by 54.5% to 19,000 t.

U.S. and Canadian production of crude silicon carbide was also flat in 2010 (at 35,000 t) and had an estimated value of $26.4 million in 2010. U.S. imports for consumption increased by 79.5% to 140,000 t, while exports increased by 15.9% to 24,000 t. Apparent domestic consumption of silicon carbide increased by 62.5% in 2010, to 150,000 t.

High-purity, semi-friable, medium-density, virgin green silicon carbide. Photo courtesy of Washington Mills.

Bauxite and Alumina

According to Global Industry Analysts, Inc., the global market for bauxite is forecast to reach 191.7 Mt by 2015, while the global market for alumina is expected to reach 70.3 Mt. Refractories and abrasives represent the major markets for non-metallurgical bauxite and alumina. Other applications include aluminous cements, chemicals and proppants. High-performance materials will influence future demand for both bauxite and alumina. The application of alumina trihydrate in flame retardants and calcined alumina in electronic ceramics and bioceramics is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.1

Based on production data from the International Aluminum Institute and industry sources in China, world alumina production in 2010 was up by 14% over 2009 levels. Increases in production from reopened, new and expanded mines in Australia, Brazil, Guinea, India, and Jamaica accounted for most of the 6% increase of worldwide production of bauxite in 2010 vs. 2009 levels.

U.S. imports of bauxite for consumption increased by 16.5% to 9.1 Mt in 2010, while exports jumped by 87% to 43,000 t. Alumina imports decreased by 10.2% to 1.7 Mt, while exports were up 79.7% to 1.7 Mt.

Boron Minerals

The estimated distribution pattern for boron compounds consumed in the U.S. in 2010 was: glass and ceramics, 78%; soaps, detergents and bleaches, 4%; agriculture, 4%; enamels and glazes, 3%; and other, 11%. While the global economic downturn negatively affected sectors vital for boron consumption, such as the construction and automotive industries, the moderate economic recovery in 2010 created steady growth in boron production and consumption.

Demand for fiber glass, the principle use of boron, is expected to increase 2.3% annually through 2012. Consumption of boron used in high-tech fiber glass sectors, such as electronic products and wind turbines, is expected to increase by 10% in North America and 13% in Europe by 2012. Demand for borates is expected to shift slightly away from detergents and soaps toward glass and ceramics.


In 2010, clay and shale production was reported in 39 U.S. states. Apparent consumption increased by 9.5% to reach 23 Mt. Sales or use was estimated to be 27 Mt valued at $1.5 billion. Major uses for specific clays were estimated as follows:
  • ball clay-floor and wall tile, 36%; sanitaryware, 22%; and other uses, 42%
  • bentonite-absorbents, 25%; drilling mud, 19%; foundry sand bond, 17%; iron ore pelletizing, 12%; and other uses, 27%
  • common clay-brick, 50%; lightweight aggregate, 25%; cement, 16%; and other uses, 9%
  • fire clay-heavy clay products, 38%; and refractory products and other uses, 62%
  • fuller’s earth-absorbent uses, 74%; and other uses, 26%
  • kaolin-paper, 58%; and other uses, 42%
Many markets for clays improved in 2010 as the U.S. economy began to recover from the recession. A slight improvement in commercial and private housing construction resulted in increased sales of ball clay and common clay. Bentonite sales increased with greater demand from the oil drilling, foundry and iron ore industries. Kaolin production improved because of a slight recovery in world paper markets and greater construction activity. Fuller’s earth and kaolin sales increased mainly on the strength of increased exports.


According to Merchant Research & Consulting Ltd., the global demand for feldspar in its end-use markets is increasing, particularly in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Consumption is expected to increase 3% annually in the Asia-Pacific region, while Europe will offer high growth rates of feldspar consumption for the ceramic industry. Challenges to the worldwide feldspar industry include increasing transportation costs and rising natural gas and fuel oil prices. In addition, demand from the glass industry is projected to decline over the next five years.2

In the U.S., feldspar production was valued at around $36 million in 2010. Estimated marketable production increased by 3.6% to 570,000 t, while imports for consumption remained flat at 2,000 t. Exports jumped 62.5% to 13,000 t.

Apparent consumption was estimated at 560,000 t, a 2.9% increase over 2009. Glass represented 70% of the end-use distribution, while pottery and other uses made up the remaining 30%. Most feldspar consumed by the glass industry is for the manufacture of container glass. The glass container industry was moderately stable, although competing materials in some market segments (e.g., baby food, fruit juices, mineral water and wine), along with a recent trend to import less expensive containers from China, presented challenges.

Feldspar use in tile and sanitaryware continued to be sluggish because of the struggling housing market. At the request of European ceramic makers, the European Union (EU) began an antidumping probe of imported ceramic tile from China to determine whether Chinese imports had caused injury to the EU’s industry. Antidumping duties could be assessed against Chinese imports in the EU, depending on the results of the investigation.

Kyanite and Related Materials

One firm in Virginia with integrated mining and processing operations produced kyanite from hard-rock open pit mines in 2010, while another company produced synthetic mullite in Georgia. Commercially produced mullite is synthetic, produced from sintering or fusing feedstock materials such as kyanite or bauxitic kaolin; natural mullite occurrences are typically rare and uneconomic to mine.

Of the kyanite-mullite output, 90% was estimated to have been used in refractories and 10% in other uses. Of the refractory usage, an estimated 60-65% was used in ironmaking and steelmaking, and the remainder in the manufacture of chemicals, glass, nonferrous metals, and other materials.

U.S. mine production of kyanite and related materials decreased by 1.4% in 2010, to 70,000 t. Synthetic mullite production remained flat at 40,000 t. Apparent consumption of kyanite and related materials also decreased, by 5.6% to 85,000 t, while exports jumped 23.1% to 32,000 t.

Rare Earths

Roskill Information Services reports that China is estimated to account for 94% of the world’s supply of rare earths in 2011, with most of the remainder coming from Russia and the U.S. By 2015, the rest of the world will account for just over a quarter of world supply; this proportion is likely to increase through 2020.

Global demand for rare earths grew 5% per year between 2005-2010 (though the market shrank in 2009), according to Roskill. Growth in demand in China was much higher, running at 11% per year. The country now accounts for 70% of world demand, which is estimated at 125,000 t in 2010. Consumption of rare earths in the rest of the world declined by nearly 4% per year during the same period. The decline was partly due to the impact of the recession, but also reflected the increasing volume of downstream processing within China and the tightening export quota.

According to The Freedonia Group, Inc., world demand for rare earths is forecast to expand 7.1% per year to 180,000 t by 2015 (see Table 1). In dollar terms, sales are expected to more than triple, from $3 billion in 2010 to $9.2 billion in 2015. Neodymium and dysprosium are expected to post the fastest growth rates of any rare earth types, spurred by increased sales of heat- resistant NdFeB permanent magnets. However, cerium will remain the most widely used rare earth, accounting for almost one-third of the 2015 tonnage total.8

The estimated value of refined rare earths imported by the U.S. in 2010 was $161 million, an increase from $113 million imported in 2009. Based on reported data through July 2009, the estimated 2009 distribution of rare earths by end use, in decreasing order, was: chemical catalysts, 22%; metallurgical applications and alloys, 21%; petroleum refining catalysts, 14%; automotive catalytic converters, 13%; glass polishing and ceramics, 9%; rare earth phosphors for computer monitors, lighting, radar, televisions, and X-ray intensifying film, 8%; permanent magnets, 7%; electronics, 3%; and other, 3%.


Industrial sand and gravel (often called silica, silica sand and quartz sand) valued at about $777 million was produced by 68 companies from 124 operations in 34 states in 2010. Leading states (in order of tonnage produced) were Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Minnesota, Michigan and California. Combined production from these states represented 59% of the domestic total. Total U.S. production in 2010 increased by 60% to 26.5 Mt.

About 31% of the U.S. tonnage was used as glassmaking sand, 25% as hydraulic fracturing sand and well-packing and cementing sand, 13% as foundry sand, 8% as whole-grain silica, 7% as whole-grain fillers and building products, 4% as golf course sand, 3% as ground and unground silica for chemical applications, and 9% for other uses. Apparent consumption increased slightly (4.3%) to 24 Mt in 2010.

Exports rose to 2.6 Mt (up 20.9%), while imports for consumption increased by 15.8% to 110,000 t. Imports of silica are generally of two types-small shipments of very high-purity silica or a few large shipments of lower grade silica shipped only under special circumstances (e.g., very low freight rates).


U.S. imports of zirconium ores and concentrates (zirconia content) increased by 23.8% in 2010, to 11,600 t, while imports of zirconia (ZrO2) dropped by 15.7% to 2,370 t. However, exports of zirconium ores and concentrates increased by 32.3% to 34,000 t, and zirconia exports jumped by 100.3% to 6,110 t.

Global consumption of zirconium silicate (zircon) rebounded strongly in 2010, reaching 1.33 Mt, according to Roskill Information Services. Growth over the last decade has come mainly from the ceramic and chemical sectors, growing by 4.1% and 7.5% per year, respectively, compared to overall market growth of 2.6% per year. China now accounts for over half of total consumption, with the wider Asian region accounting for two-thirds of consumption. Other major ceramic-producing countries, such as Spain and Italy, are also large consumers of zircon.

Growth in zircon production has lagged consumption since the early 2000s, but an almost doubling in zircon prices during 2004-2006 put more emphasis on primary zircon production. (Zircon has historically been a byproduct of titanium mineral extraction, and output has long been constrained by titanium mineral demand.) New deposits entering production (e.g., Victoria and South Australia) are being mined primarily for their zircon content. Table 2 details worldwide zirconium mine production.

Future demand for zircon is forecast to increase by 5.4% per year, led by ceramics and chemical output in China. Recovery in demand from Western markets is likely to be protracted, particularly in the ceramic sector. Other end uses are forecast to show little growth and could be negatively affected by higher prices and substitution.12

Editor’s note: The foregoing information, except where noted, was compiled from the U.S. Geological Survey (www.usgs.gov). Reference details are included with this article online at www.ceramicindustry.com. All units are in metric tons except where otherwise noted. In most cases, 2010 data were the latest available. For additional details regarding the uses of these materials in the ceramic, glass and related industries, visit the Materials Handbook pages in this issue.


Read this article in our Digital Edition for extended details on many of the materials included here, as well as additional coverage on materials such as magnesium compounds, manganese, niobium and tantalum, soda ash, and more!