- THE MAGAZINE
As reported in Ceramic Industry’s August 2002 “Giants in Ceramics” issue, 2001 was a difficult year for many ceramic and glass manufacturers. The U.S. economic recession, coupled with the severe decline in demand for technology-related products, had a negative impact on many ceramic-related sectors—and on the industries supplying raw and manufactured materials to those sectors. Production and consumption of almost all materials were lower in 2001, and although 2002 figures were not yet available at the time this article was written, the economy continued to hover on the brink of a “double-dip recession,” and this will likely be evident in the 2002 data. However, some suppliers surveyed by Ceramic Industry indicated increased production and sales in 2002, as well as optimism for additional growth in 2003 and 2004.
Although high energy and labor costs (especially the rising costs of employee health care) are forcing many raw and manufactured materials suppliers to increase prices by 3-5% over the next several years, suppliers are also increasing their services and product offerings. Thanks to research and technology investments by many vendors, today’s ceramic and glass manufacturers now have access to a wide range of customized body formulations and particle sizes, as well as increased customer service and technical support.
While future trends in materials and ceramics will depend largely on the trends of the U.S. economy as a whole, new materials and products might provide a much-needed boost. Advances in fuel cell and battery technologies, for instance, could significantly bolster demand for some materials, and the capabilities of other materials to reduce energy consumption and/or improve product characteristics could also help spur additional sales. Following is an overview of how some specific materials sectors fared in 2001, along with their prospects for the near future.
AbrasivesProduction of regular-grade fused aluminum oxide in the U.S. and Canada in 2001 was estimated to be 50,000 t with a value of $15.1 million. This was a decrease of 44% by weight from the 2000 regular-grade fused aluminum oxide production. However, this decline can be at least partially attributed to several plant-related factors. In the second half of 2001, Norton Co. permanently shutdown its Worcester, Mass., aluminum oxide plant, and workers at Washington Mills Ltd. in Niagara Falls, NY, were on strike during the fourth quarter.
The total value of fused aluminum oxide abrasive grain consumed in the U.S. was estimated to be nearly $62 million in 2001—down 33% from the estimated value of $93 million consumed in 2000. However, at least part of the decline in value can be attributed to lower prices, since the average unit value of regular fused aluminum oxide produced in the U.S. and Canada dropped to $302/t at the point of production—a $29/t decrease compared to 2000. The average value of high-purity fused aluminum oxide also dropped slightly, down to $530/t in 2001 compared to $566/t in 2000. Figures on the output of high-purity fused aluminum oxide were not available.
A decline in overall U.S. imports of fused aluminum oxide in 2001 does point to at least some decline in demand. Imports of crude fused aluminum oxide decreased by 11% to 98,600 t valued at $29.6 million compared with those of 2000, and imports of ground and refined fused aluminum oxide decreased by 11% to 104,000 t valued at $49.9 million. However, the balance of total imports continues to shift in China’s favor. China, Venezuela, and Canada supplied 51%, 24% and 24%, respectively, of the crude imports; while China, Canada, Austria, Germany, and Brazil provided 55%, 20%, 7%, 7% and 5%, respectively, of the ground and refined material. Compared with 2000, crude imports from Venezuela and China increased by 45% and 12%, respectively, while imports from Canada decreased by 52%. Ground and refined imports from China increased by 31%, while imports from Canada decreased by 48%.
Production of silicon carbide abrasives in Canada and the U.S. in 2001 was estimated at 40,000 t valued to be $24 million. This is down slightly from 2000, when production was estimated at 45,000 t valued at $26.3 million. The total value of silicon carbide consumed in the United States was also lower, dropping from $111 million in 2000 to an estimated $78 million in 2001, despite apparent price increases. The average value of abrasive-grade silicon carbide at the point of manufacture was estimated to be about $603 per ton in 2001, compared to $585 per ton in 2000.
Imports of crude silicon carbide decreased by 34% during the year to 106,000 t valued at $38.6 million. Imports of silicon carbide in ground or refined form decreased by 6% to 26,600 t valued at $33.3 million. China accounted for 86% of the crude silicon carbide imports (up from 82% in 2000) and 29% of the ground or refined silicon carbide (down from 48% in 2000). As in 2000, a large part of the Chinese imports included metallurgical-grade material. (For more information about the silicon carbide markets, see the feature “Silicon Carbide Producers,” by Paul Harris, in this issue.)
Although domestic production data for boron carbide were not available, the U.S. International Trade commission reported that the U.S. imported 282 t of boron carbide valued at $6.87 million from five countries, primarily Germany, China, and Japan, and exported 32.4 t valued at $685,000 to 18 nations. This compares to U.S. imports of 277 valued at $6.97 million from the same five countries, and exports of 28.6 t valued at $481,000 to 12 nations, in 2000.
U.S. output of industrial diamond rose 24% in 2001 to 308 million carats. The U.S. also remained the world’s largest market for industrial diamond, with consumption increasing to an estimated 504 million carats, compared to 484 million carats in 2000. However, much of this consumption was in stone cutting and highway building/repair. Total 2001 industrial diamond output worldwide during the year was estimated to be in excess of 800 million carats; various reports have estimated that global output was at least 600 million carats valued between $600 million and $1 billion. Almost 70% of the total global natural and synthetic industrial diamond output was produced in Ireland, Russia, and the U.S.
Since the abrasive markets are closely tied to the manufacturing sector in the U.S., future demand will depend on the timing and strength of economic recovery. Cheaper imports and higher domestic costs will continue to challenge U.S. producers of fused aluminum oxide and silicon carbide. Competition from developing nations, especially China, will probably lead to further decreases in domestic output for these materials.
The U.S. will most likely continue to be the world’s largest market for industrial diamond well into the next decade, and will also remain a significant producer and exporter of this material. However, the strength of U.S. demand will depend on the vitality of the nation’s industrial base and on how well the life cycle cost effectiveness of diamond continues to compare with competing materials that initially are less expensive. World demand for industrial diamond will continue to increase during the next few years. Constant-dollar prices of synthetic diamond products, including chemical-vapor-deposition diamond films, is expected to decline as production technologies become more cost effective and as competition increases from low-cost producers in China and Russia.
Bauxite & AluminaTotal world production of bauxite in 2001 increased by 2% to 138 million t (Mt) compared with that of 2000. However, U.S. production of alumina (calcined equivalent), derived almost exclusively from imported metallurgical-grade bauxite, decreased by 9% to 4.3 Mt in 2001. World output of alumina also decreased slightly in 2001.
Alcoa Inc. announced the permanent closure of its 600,000-ton-per-year (tpy) alumina refinery in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, after temporarily closing the plant at the end of January 2001. In February 2001, Alcoa also announced a reduction in the operating rate of its 2.3 Mtpy Point Comfort, Texas, refinery to between 1.6 and 1.9 Mtpy. The reduction, which was effective immediately, reportedly was in response to decreased internal and external demand for alumina. In December 2001, Ormet also announced the temporary closure of its 600,000 tpy alumina refinery at Burnside, La, citing excess world capacity, depressed prices and low demand as reasons for the shutdown. The company said that the plant would be kept ready to reopen when market and economic conditions improved.
The world aluminum and alumina markets continued to be in an oversupply situation during the first half of 2002. By mid-June, demand was showing some signs of increasing but did not appear to be high enough to draw down inventories and to absorb the production from new and/or previously idled capacity that was coming onstream. However, demand is expected to increase over the next few years as the world economies begin to grow.
According to Roskill Information Services Ltd., world demand for non-metallurgical bauxite is forecast to grow at 0.8% per year to 2006, bringing the market to just over 7 Mtpy.* The highest growth in percentage terms is expected in its minor uses, and as a proppant. Markets for non-metallurgical alumina are expected to expand somewhat faster, at about 2.4% per year to reach 4.4 Mtpy by 2006, bolstered by demand for cement, chemicals and ceramics.
Demand for bauxite refractories has declined, while demand for calcined and fused alumina for use in high alumina refractories has been maintained and has some limited growth potential. Roskill also reports growth potential in the relatively small markets of zeolites (the main builder in detergents), catalysts (mainly in petrochemical hydrocracking and hydrotreating) and fillers (paper and adhesives), as well as in advanced ceramics used in electronic and wear-resistant applications, and aluminosilicate ceramic fibers.
BoronBoron production in the U.S. decreased slightly during 2001 to 536,000 t valued at $506 million, compared to 546,000 t valued at $557 million produced in 2000. U.S. consumption and exports also decreased to 347,000 t and 306,000 t, respectively, compared to 360,000 t (consumption) and 532,000 t (exports) in 2000. The U.S. and Turkey remained the world’s largest producers of boron in 2001.
The glass industry, which continued to be the largest U.S. market for boron production in 2001, accounted for 78% of boron consumption. Insulation-grade glass fibers accounted for an estimated 48% of domestic consumption (+1% from 2000); textile-grade glass fibers, 20% (+2%); boron sold to distributors, 8% (-1%); borosilicate glasses, 6% (-1%); soaps and detergents, 6% (-1%); enamels, frits, and glazes, 4% (unchanged); and other uses, 8% (unchanged). World consumption of borates was estimated to be about the same as in 2000, with insulation, fiberglass, textile fiberglass and heat-resistant glass at 41%; ceramic and enamel frits and glazes at 13%; detergents, soaps and personal care products at 12%; and agricultural micronutrients at 6%.
In August 2002, Rio Tinto Borax, a leading worldwide supplier of refined borates, announced plans to invest US$2.6 million to construct a new boric acid plant adjacent to its current refinery operations in Campo Quijano, Argentina. The plant is projected to begin producing boric acid in 2003.
The company also recently announced a 12% productivity increase and a 7% reduction in fresh water usage at its primary boric acid plant in Boron, Calif., a plant that is reaching capacity. According to David Peever, Borax’s chief commercial officer, Borax is building its new boric acid plant to meet rising global demand fueled by regional economic recovery, growth in the textile fiberglass and borosilicate glass industries, and success in converting customers from raw mineral feed to refined boric acid.
The demand for boron in the U.S. is expected to remain strong, with new applications in gypsum board and strong demand in the glass industry expected to boost consumption. World demand is also expected to grow, primarily in the glass industry.
Several new applications for boron are also under way, particularly in the energy sector, where Millennium Cell plc of Eatontown, N.J. has been working with several companies to develop alternative energy technologies using borates. For example, a study undertaken by U.S. Borax Inc. as part of a joint development arrangement between Millennium Cell and U.S. Borax found that use of Millennium Cell’s Hydrogen on Demand™ technology (a sodium borohydride-based hydrogen fuel system) in all vehicles could dramatically increase worldwide demand for borates while significantly decreasing pollution from automobile emissions.
Millennium Cell is also developing a sodium borohydride battery and a battery technology based on a family of boron-containing compounds called borides. Both the borohydride and boride batteries are expected to provide longer lasting power than currently available commercial batteries.
Boron compounds and chemicals can also reduce energy use and raw material consumption in the processing of many products, including porcelain tile and other whitewares, so this might also lead to increased boron demand in the future.
ClaysTotal U.S. production of clays—including ball clay, bentonite, common clay and shale, fire clay, fuller’s earth and kaolin—declined by about 2% to 40 Mt valued at $1.47 billion in 2001. Production of ball clay declined by 3.5% to 1.1 Mt valued at $45.2 million. Of the total ball clay sold by producers in the U.S. in 2001, 387,000 t were reportedly used in ceramic floor and wall tile (-3.3% compared to 2000); 247,000 t in sanitaryware (-3.5%); 62,600 t in refractories (-9.2%); 20,500 t in pottery (-9.7%); and 135,00 t in miscellaneous ceramics, including catalysts, electrical porcelain, fiberglass, fine china/dinnerware, glazes and mineral wool (-10.6%).
U.S. production of common clay and shale declined by 2.1% to 23.2 Mt valued at $129 million. Of this total, 409,000 t were reportedly used in ceramic floor and wall tile (-20.9% compared to 2000); 11.1 Mt in extruded brick (-4.3%); 1.7 Mt in other brick products (-2.9%); 79,900 t in clay drain tile and sewer pipe (+10%); 256,000 t in clay flue linings (-1.2%); 71,400 t in miscellaneous heavy clay products, such as flower pots, roofing tile and terra cotta (-33.9%); and 741,000 t in refractories (+36.3%).
Production of fire clay declined by 19.5% to 383,000 t valued at $5.97 million, with 88,200 t used in heavy clay products and lightweight aggregates (-12.7% compared to 2000) and 277,000 t used in firebrick, block, shapes and other refractories (-20.4%).
U.S. production of kaolin decreased to 8.11 Mt valued at $867 million in 2001 from 8.80 Mt valued at $929 million in 2000. Approximately 56% of the kaolin produced was water washed; 17%, calcined; 13%, delaminated; 11%, airfloat; and 3%, unprocessed. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, producers reported a total production of 1.37 Mt valued at $238 million of calcined kaolin. Of this amount, 769,000 t valued at $224 million was pigment-grade (low-temperature), with the remainder composed of refractory-grade (high-temperature) calcined kaolin. However, as has occurred in each of the past two years, it is believed that production of refractory-grade calcined kaolin production was greater than reported by producers in 2001. Based on industry trends, actual U.S. production is estimated to be in the 850,000 to 950,000 t range, rather than 602,000 t as reported by producers.
Of the kaolin used in ceramic applications, 212,000 t were reportedly used in catalysts (-3.2% compared to 2000), 6,940 t in electrical porcelain (-12%), 26,300 t in fine china and dinnerware (-8.4%), 39,900 t in floor and wall tile (-19.2%), 4,590 t in pottery (-66%), 37,400 t in roofing granules (-3.4%), 81,100 in sanitaryware (-10.5%) and 288,000 t in fiber glass and mineral wool (-5.3%). Common and face brick used an estimated 122,000 t of kaolin in 2001, compared to 126,000 t in 2000.
Sales of kaolin for refractories were reported by producers to be 637,000 t in 2001 and 424,000 t in 2000, but these data are also believed to be considerably less than actual sales to the refractories market. Estimated sales of refractory-grade kaolin probably were between 850,000 t and 950,000 t in 2001 and about 1.0 Mt in 2000. This corresponds more closely with recent sales patterns for clay refractories.
Producers reported that a total of 2.60 Mt of clays was used for the domestic manufacture of refractories in 2001, compared with an estimated 2.80 Mt in 2000. However, the USGS estimates that the reported tonnage should be increased by about 200,000 t to 300,000 t, bringing sales for refractory usage to about 2.90 Mt compared with 2.80 Mt in 2000 and 3.06 Mt in 1999. Bentonite accounted for 34% of domestic refractory sales, followed by common clay and shale, 29%; kaolin, 25%; fire clay, 11%; ball clay, 1%; and fuller’s earth, less than 1%. Fire clay and kaolin were the predominate clays used in firebrick and grogs; bentonite, in foundry sand; common clay, in refractory mortar and cement; and kaolin, in high aluminum brick.
Clay exports from the U.S. in 2001 declined by 5.5% to 4.97 Mt valued at $836 million compared to 5.26 Mt valued at $896 million in 2000. Imports, however, rose by 35.5% to 148,000 t valued at $33.9 million, compared to 95,500 t valued at $34.9 million in 2000. The majority of 2001 clay imports came from Brazil (30.4%), Mexico (10.1%), the UK (9.3%) and Canada (4.5%).
The outlook for the clay industry is expected to be mixed for the next few years. Although construction-oriented markets are still growing slowly despite the slowdown in the U.S. economy, sales of clays for brick, ceramics, fiberglass, adhesives, lightweight aggregate, paint, and other construction-oriented markets have slowed and even declined slightly. Very low growth in sales of clays to these markets, as well as to refractory and other industrial manufacturing applications, will probably persist as long as the U.S. economy continues to stagnate.
Feldspar and Nepheline SyeniteU.S. production of marketable feldspar in 2001 was up 1.3% to an estimated 800,000 t with a value of $44.1 million in 2001. Shipments by U.S. producers of glass containers, a major end use of feldspar, were about 1% less than in 2000. However, the housing and remodeling markets—in which feldspar was used in glass fiber insulation, sanitaryware, and tile—helped buoy demand. Housing starts were about 1.6 million, which was about 2% more than in 2000.
Of the U.S. feldspar sold or used, about 70%went into the manufacture of glass, including glass containers and glass fiber—a 4% increase from 2000. Pottery (including electrical insulators, sanitaryware, tableware, and tile) and other uses, such as fillers, accounted for the remaining 30%.
Although nepheline syenite was not mined in the U.S. in 2001, it was imported from Canada for use in the glass and ceramic industries. Unimin Canada, Ltd., operated two plants at its Blue Mountain deposit, in Ontario, Canada, about 175 km northeast of Toronto. Output was estimated at 650,000 t in 1999, the latest year for which data on nepheline syenite are available. In Norway, North Cape Minerals AS produced nepheline syenite from an underground mine on the Arctic island of Stjernoya, Output from that mine was about 305,000 t in 1999.
The outlook for feldspar and nepheline syenite depends to a large extent on the strength of the glass container industry. By mid-2002, many glass companies were predicting higher sales for 2002 and 2003, boosted by beer and wine sales, as well as the introduction of new ready-to-drink low-alcohol refreshers, or “malternatives.” However, increased recycling of glass containers would reduce the required quantity of new raw materials in glass manufacturing. Additionally, while the housing market remained relatively robust throughout 2002, it is expected to slow in 2003, which could reduce demand for feldspar and other raw materials in applications such as sanitaryware and ceramic tile.
GraphiteNo graphite was mined in the U.S. in 2001. Total imports of natural graphite decreased in tonnage to 52,100 t in 2001 from 60,800 t in 2000—a more than 14% decline—and the value declined to $23.3 million in 2001 compared with $32.5 million in 2000. Principal import sources of natural graphite, in descending order of tonnage, were China, Mexico, Canada, and Japan, which accounted for more than 80% of the value of total imports.
U.S. consumption of natural graphite decreased to 32,900 t in 2001, down by more than 22% compared to the 42,200 t consumed in 2000. The crystalline grade decreased by 23%, from 18,200 t in 2000 to 14,100 t in 2001, while the amorphous grade decreased by 22%, from 24,000 t in 2000 to 18,800 t in 2001. This decreased use translated into a 21% decrease in value for natural graphite in 2001.
The four major consuming industries—refractories, brake linings, foundries, and lubricants—continued their dominance in graphite usage, accounting for half of all natural graphite consumed by U.S. industry in 2001. The refractories industry was again the major consumer of crystalline flake graphite. However, refractory consumption of crystalline flake graphite decreased by a staggering 41% compared with 2000. The decline in the steel industry during 2000 accounts for most of the decrease in the use of graphite in refractory brick production.
Production of synthetic graphite in the U.S. reached an estimated 298,000 t with a value of $906 million—an increase of 2.7% and 14.9%, respectively, compared to 2000. As in previous years, the main market for high-purity synthetic graphites was as a carbon-raiser additive in iron and steel. Other significant uses of all types of graphites were in the manufacture of low-current, long-life batteries; steelmaking; solid carbon shapes; static and dynamic seals, valve and stem packing; catalyst supports; porosity enhancing inert fillers; manufacture of rubber; and powder metallurgy. The use of graphite in low-current batteries is gradually giving way to carbon black, which is more economical.
U.S. exports of both natural and synthetic graphite declined by 2.3% to 91,900 t. However, for the second year in a row, exports recorded a modest 3.5% increase in total revenue to $100 million in 2001 compared with $96.5 million in 2000, owing to the increase in value of the finished goods exported.
World production of both natural and synthetic graphite in 2001 was estimated to be 873,000 t compared with 857,000 t in 2000. China maintained its position as the world’s leading graphite producer with 450,000 t, with India in second place with 140,000 t, followed by Brazil, Madagascar, Mexico, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Korea, and Canada in order of tonnage produced. These five countries accounted for 87% of world production.
Future refractory use trends of graphite will closely follow the events in the steel industry. If the U.S. steel industry benefits from the recent tariff levy on steel imports, then the share of graphite used in refractories may again reach the levels seen in 2000. However, according to Roskill Information Services, consumption of graphite-based refractories will likely be down 15% in 2002, at least in the U.S., owing to refractory plant closures and the difficult steel market.** Brake linings and other friction materials are expected to steadily consume more natural graphite as new automobile production continues to increase and more replacement parts are required for the growing number of vehicles.
According to Roskill, graphite usage in battery manufacture shows significant growth potential in both the U.S. and Asia. There are hopes that fuel cells, in particular, will brighten future prospects. Demand from this sector currently accounts for just 12,000-15,000 tpy, but some industry observers believe that long-term demand for high quality, high carbon graphite in batteries and fuel cells could increase to 100,000 tpy, or 15% of present world production.**
Magnesium CompoundsEven though refractory magnesia production was about 9% higher than that in 2000, imports, which supply a significant part of consumption, were down by about 27%, leading to an overall decline in U.S. consumption. According to preliminary data from the American Iron and Steel Institute, U.S. steel mill shipments in 2001 were 8.8% lower than those in 2000, and the U.S. steel industry’s capability utilization rate through December 2001 was 75.6%, down from 84.4% in 2000. Total steel production in 2001 declined by 11.5% from that in 2000. Because refractory magnesia primarily is used as a lining in iron and steel furnaces, the drop in steel production resulted in a decline in refractory magnesia consumption of about 19% from the 2000 level.
About 66% of the total consumption of magnesium compounds was for refractory applications. The remaining 34% was used in agricultural, chemical, environmental and other applications. China remained the dominant supplier of imports for caustic-calcined and refractory magnesias, with 60% and 67%, respectively, of the totals.
Although specific production data on olivine were not available, foundry uses remained the largest application in the U.S., accounting for 83% of consumption of domestically produced material. Slag conditioning accounted for 8% of U.S. consumption; sandblasting and other abrasive uses, 5%; and refractory applications, 4%. U.S. exports of olivine in 2001 were up about 13.8% to 1,010 t, with 51% of the material shipped to Venezuela and 44% shipped to Argentina. U.S. olivine imports totaled 97,800 t, all from Norway, which was less than half the level of imports in 2000. Although some of this drop might be attributed to the fact that 2000 imports were significantly higher than in the preceding years, the 2001 import level was still significantly less than in 1999 (117,000 t) or 1998 (174,000 t). Because olivine’s principal use is in the steel industry, the decline in U.S. steel production affected consumption of olivine, much of which is supplied by imported material.
Dead-burned magnesia exports from the U.S. increased by about 6% in 2001, with Canada (64%) and Austria (12%) as the principal destinations. U.S. imports of dead-burned magnesia in 2001 declined significantly, with the imports from China, the main source country, decreasing by more than 100,000 t. China (67%) and Australia (15%) continued to be the principal source countries.
Demand for magnesia in the U.S. will continue to be directly affected by the health of the U.S. steel industry. As with graphite, the recent tariff levy on steel imports might lead to an increase in consumption of magnesia refractories if the steel industry recovers. However, imports of magnesite, mainly from China, are expected to continue to supply much of the U.S. demand for magnesia for refractory applications.
Talc and PyrophylliteIn 2001, U.S. mine production of talc was 853,000 t valued at $22.1million, compared with 851,000 t valued at $22.3 million in 2000. Although specific figures were not available, the USGS reported that production of pyrophyllite decreased from that of 2000.
Producers reported that 786,000 t of talc valued at $91.3 million was sold or used in 2001, a decrease from 821,000 t valued at $96.1 million in 2000. Domestic sales by U.S. producers declined by 6% to 677,000 t in 2001 from 722,000 t in 2000. Sales for most end uses declined in 2001, of which the largest decline was for ceramics. However, according to the USGS, three companies accounted for most of the sales loss to the ceramic industry, suggesting market shifts affecting specific companies or ceramic product lines rather than the entire ceramic industry. Ceramics and refractories consumed an estimated 15,000 t of talc in 2001, compared to 20,000 t in 2000. Domestic consumption of pyrophyllite also declined from that of 2000, with ceramic and refractory uses accounting for more than 70% of domestic sales.
Talc exports decreased by 11% in tonnage to 137,000 t and by 12% in value to $28.8 million. Canada, with 64,000 t, was the leading importer of U.S. talc, followed by Japan (10,000 t), Mexico (6,000 t), Brazil (5,580 t), France (5,520 t), Germany (4,890 t), Singapore (4,630 t), the Republic of Korea (4,090 t), and Belgium (4,000 t).
Talc imports decreased by 33% in tonnage to 180,000 t and by 16% in value to $35.8 million in 2001. This tonnage is more consistent with domestic consumption patterns than the tonnages imported in 1999 and 2000. During those two years, amounts in excess of market demand probably were imported and stockpiled for future sales. China supplied 55% of all talc imports, followed by Canada at 30%.
Overall, domestic production and sales of talc are expected to be relatively unchanged for the next two to three years. Following a decline in 2001, no major changes are anticipated in pyrophyllite markets in the near future.
WollastoniteIn 2001, domestic wollastonite production decreased from that of 2000 to less than 130,000 tpy. Contributing to the sales losses were the continued slow growth in the U.S. economy and increased foreign competition in some of the low-value markets. Although specific figures were not available, the USGS reported that sales for ceramic, metallurgy and lower value products probably declined, while those for plastics remained unchanged in 2001.
Imports were also thought to have declined and were estimated to be in the 4,000- to 6,000-t range in 2001, with China, India and Mexico being the major sources. Imports from China and Mexico probably were in the form of lower value wollastonite grades. A small amount of wollastonite also was imported from Finland. Exports were thought to be less than 3,000 t in 2001.
The growth in world production and sales of wollastonite has moderated since 1996, averaging about 2.1% per year. This contrasts sharply with the 24% growth between 1970 to 1995, and even the 18% growth between 1990 and 1995. Slow growth probably will be the trend for the future because the wollastonite industry appears to be approaching mature industry status. The slow recovery of the U.S. economy probably will continue to hamper sales in the U.S., causing a stagnation or possibly a slight decline, and growth in ceramics and paint markets is expected to remain slow.
ZirconiumU.S. production of milled zircon in 2001 increased by 5% to 59,100 t, while production of zirconium oxide decreased by 6% to 21,500 t. However, according to the USGS, overall domestic production of zircon decreased slightly in 2001 because markets for most products—including refractories, foundry sands and high-temperature ceramics—declined. (Figures on overall U.S. zircon production were withheld to avoid disclosing company proprietary data.) The decreased demand resulted in a decrease in price; the average value of imported ore and concentrates declining by 16% to $356 per metric ton in 2001 from $396 per ton in 2000. Domestic prices of standard- and premium-grade zircon were essentially unchanged as a result of a tightening of supply, especially for premium grades.
U.S. exports of zirconium ore and concentrates were 66,900 t, an 8% decrease from that of 2000. U.S. exports of unwrought zirconium metal, waste and scrap were 186 t, a 3% increase in tonnage compared with those of 2000.
U.S. imports of zirconium ore and concentrates were 60,600 t, a decrease of 4,560 t from those of 2000. Australia and South Africa supplied about 97% of the imports of ores and concentrates. Imports of unwrought zirconium metal and waste and scrap amounted to 717 t, a 31% decrease compared with those of 2000. The leading import sources of unwrought zirconium, in descending order of quantity, were France, Germany and Mexico. Domestic imports of ferrozirconium alloys were 240 t in 2001, a 15% decrease from the 281 t imported in 2000. Imports originated primarily from Brazil, with a minor quantity from Germany. U.S. imports of unwrought hafnium metal and waste and scrap were 5 t, a 54% decrease compared with those of the previous year. Principal unwrought hafnium import sources, in descending order of quantity, were France and Germany.
Excluding U.S. production, world production of zirconium mineral concentrates in 2001 was estimated to be 797,000 t, a minor increase compared with that of 2000. Australia and South Africa supplied about 83% of all production outside the U.S. World reserves of zircon were estimated to be 36 Mt of ZrO2, while the world reserve base of zircon was 65 Mt of ZrO2.
The global demand for zirconium is expected to increase by 2% to 3% per year over the next few years, and new deposits are expected to come online. Exploration has continued to find new zircon-bearing deposits, and companies are expected to continue to search for new sources. Prices were forecast to rise in the near term in response to higher energy costs. During the next few years, however, the supply and demand of zircon is expected to be in closer balance as new deposits and plant expansions come online, especially in the U.S. and Australia. Production of zircon in the U.S. is expected to increase during the first decade of the 21st century.
References* The Economics of Bauxite and Alumina (5th edition, 2002), Roskill Information Services Ltd., London, UK. The full report (£1200/US$2400/€2100) is available from Roskill at 27a Leopold Road, London SW19 7BB; (44) 20-8944-0066; fax (44) 20-8947-9568; email email@example.com; http://www.roskill.co.uk.
** The Economics of Natural Graphite (6th edition, 2002), Roskill Information Services Ltd., London, UK. The full report is available from Roskill for £1000/US$2000/€1750.
Editor’s note: The foregoing report is based on information compiled from the U.S. Geological Survey (http://www.usgs.gov), Roskill Information Services Ltd. (http://www.roskill.co.uk) and supplier information. All units are in metric tons unless otherwise noted.