Ceramic Industry

Zircon Supply Shortage Expected to Continue

June 28, 2011
Consumption of zircon rebounded strongly in 2010, reaching 1.33 Mt, following an 18% fall in 2009 because of the global economic downturn, according to a report.

Consumption of zircon rebounded strongly in 2010, reaching 1.33 Mt, following an 18% fall in 2009 because of the global economic downturn, according to “Zirconium: Global Industry Markets and Outlook, 2011,” a report from Roskill Information Services. Growth over the last decade has come mainly from the ceramics and chemical sectors, increasing 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.

Chemical uses for zircon include pigments, coatings, and catalysts, as well as the production of synthetic zirconia and zircon metal. Zirconia finds widespread use as a refractory and catalyst material, while zircon metal is used largely in nuclear fuel rods. Other end uses, including foundries and refractories, have shown little or no growth over the last decade. The use of zircon in cathode ray tubes has declined considerably as consumers have switched to flat panel display screens.

Zircon is produced predominately in Australia (accounting for 40% of output in 2010), South Africa (29%) and the U.S. (8%). Output is controlled by four major producers: Iluka Resources, Richards Bay Minerals, Exxaro Resources and DuPont, together accounting for two-thirds of capacity in 2010.

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, especially in the ceramics sector. Other end uses are forecast to show little growth and could be negatively affected by higher prices and substitution.

For more information, visit www.roskill.com/zirconium.