Raw & Manufactured Materials: 2011 Overview

January 1, 2011
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Emerging economies such as China and India are offering some opportunities for materials producers, despite the worldwide recession that has led to almost across-the-board decreases in materials consumption.

Global demand for kaolin will grow by 1.7% per year to 24.8 Mt in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Advanced Primary Minerals.)

Manufactured Abrasives

According to The Freedonia Group, domestic demand for abrasives is forecast to increase by 4% per year through 2014 to $5.7 billion, with raw material demand reaching $1.2 billion. Gains are expected to be driven by a rebound in durable goods manufacturing activity, though an expected moderation in abrasives pricing through 2014 will hold back value gains to some extent.1

Production levels and values remained stable for regular-grade and high-purity fused aluminum oxide in 2009, with no changes reported vs. 2008. Imports for consumption decreased dramatically, however, by 82.7% to 49,200 t. Exports posted a decline as well, by 45.7% to 11,900 t.

Silicon carbide's production levels and values also remained stable for 2009. Again, however, imports for consumption decreased significantly, by 56.0% to 55,900 t. Apparent domestic consumption of silicon carbide shrank by 49.9% to 72,700 t; exports increased by 7.6% to 18,300 t.

According to ResearchInChina, that country's output of approximately 535,000 t of silicon carbide in 2009 comprised 56.3% of the global total. Despite the sufficient supply of output, most silicon carbide products made in China are low-end and preliminarily processed; a demand-supply gap exists in refined products with high added value. In addition, the supply of high-tech products, such as silicon carbide whisker and crystal, are not satisfactory. China imported 13,000 t of silicon carbide in 2009 to make up for its domestic market deficiency.2 Silicon Carbide & More estimates that China's production capacity for silicon carbide could reach 928,000 t per year by the end of 2011.3

Bauxite and Alumina

While the 2010 market forecasts for alumina are better than for previous periods, the levels attained in 2008 will probably not be reached in the near future, reports Merchant Research & Consulting Ltd. Slow recoveries are occurring in the U.S., Japan and Europe, but production is more encouraging in India and China. New alumina refinery capacities are planned to come on-line in the next few years, namely in Brazil, China, Australia and India.4

In 2009, according to ResearchInChina, the output of alumina in Asia accounted for 36.9% of the global total. China's alumina industry has developed rapidly since 2005, with output increasing beginning in the second quarter of 2009 following 2008's recessionary levels.5

Domestically, apparent consumption of bauxite and alumina in 2009 decreased by 38.4% to 2.1 Mt. Imports of bauxite for consumption posted a 41.1% drop to 7.3 Mt, while alumina imports decreased by 28.8% to 1.8 Mt. Bauxite exports were down by 6.5% to 29,000 t, while alumina exports decreased by 4.3% to 1.1 Mt.


Growth in global demand for boron has been driven by an expansion of demand from China, where consumption rose 15% per year from 2000-2008, according to Roskill Information Services. The increase in market share held by Asian countries reflects the shift in production of textile-grade fiber glass, borosilicate glass and ceramics away from North America and Europe to countries with lower production costs.

Demand dropped sharply in 2009, but markets for both textile-grade fiber glass and borosilicate glass recovered in the second half of the year. Demand for borosilicate glass in LCD screens was expected to grow by 15% in 2010. The main factors affecting future demand for textile-grade fiber glass include continued growth in electronic products, increased penetration of fiber glass in markets traditionally held by steel and concrete, and the emergence of new markets such as wind turbine blades. Increases in construction activity and government-led initiatives to reduce energy consumption are expected to provide a medium-term recovering market for insulation-grade fiber glass.

The gap between China's domestic production and demand (and the relatively low grade of locally mined borates) will continue to be the main factor driving worldwide capacity expansions. Future expansion is dominated by plans to expand capacity for refined borates, boron oxide and calcined tincal in Turkey.6

In 2009, boron compounds were consumed domestically by manufacturers of glass and ceramics, 76%; soaps, detergents and bleaches, 5%; agriculture, 4%; enamels and glazes, 3%; and other, 12%. Domestic production and consumption are expected to increase, with end uses shifting slightly away from detergents and soaps toward glass and ceramics. It's predicted that the decline in glass consumption by the construction industry will be offset by increased growth in the fiber glass and high-tech sectors. Consumption of borates in high-tech applications is expected to increase by 10% in North America and 13% in Europe by 2012.

Exports of boric acid decreased by 10.9% in 2009 to 270,000 t, while refined sodium borate exports were down 7.5% to 480,000 t. Imports for consumption are shown in Table 1.


The total estimated U.S. production of clays declined by 17.3% in 2009, to 25.3 Mt. Table 2 provides a breakdown by type. Apparent consumption decreased by 15.9% to 21.7 Mt, while imports for consumption were down 18.0% to 210,000 t. Import sources (2005-2008) included Brazil, 84%; UK, 4%; Mexico, 3%, Canada, 2%; and other, 7%.

Exports dropped by 25.2% to 3.8 Mt and included: ball clay, -30.8% to 45,000 t; bentonite, -38.5% to 670,000 t; fireclay, -18.6% to 320,000 t; fuller's earth, -32.3% to 86,000 t; and kaolin, -27.4% to 2.2 Mt. Exports for other clays not elsewhere classified rose by 2.3% to 499,000 t.

The Freedonia Group projects that global demand for kaolin will grow by 1.7% per year to 24.8 Mt in 2013, exceeding the growth achieved in 2003-2008. Demand for kaolin in paper production is expected to improve, offsetting an expected slowdown in the ceramic market.

Kaolin demand in advanced economies is generally expected to recover from the declines of the 2003-2008 period, while demand in the faster growing emerging markets will slow somewhat (see Table 3). Strong demand gains in China and other developing countries in Asia are expected to account for the majority of global kaolin demand in 2013. China is forecast to surpass the U.S. as the largest market for kaolin by 2013; imports into China are expected to grow especially fast.

International trade in kaolin is widespread, with approximately one-half of kaolin being consumed outside of its country of origin in 2008. In part, this is due to the concentration of kaolin production in the U.S. and Brazil. By 2013, Brazil is expected to surpass the U.S. as the world's leading exporter of kaolin, gaining market share in Western Europe and Asia at the expense of the UK and the U.S. Brazil boasts sizable deposits of high-quality kaolin, making it economical to produce there, despite the additional shipping costs.7

Enriched boron materials are contributing to technology advances in the nuclear power industry. (Photo courtesy of Boron Products LLC, a Ceradyne Company.)


Marketable U.S. production of feldspar decreased by 22.1% in 2009 to 530,000 t, while apparent consumption dropped by 20.8% to 528,000 t. Exports decreased significantly (73.3%) to 4000 t, while imports for consumption remained flat at 2000 t. The main import sources (2005-2008) included Turkey (54%) and Mexico (42%).

The estimated 2009 end-use distribution of domestic feldspar was 70% glass and 30% pottery and other uses. Most feldspar consumed by the glass industry is for the manufacture of container glass. While residential and automotive flat glass have seen significant declines, fiber glass demand is forecast to expand steadily at 3.3% per year in the U.S. through 2013.


The global natural graphite industry had a difficult year in 2009, reports Business Analytic Center, with many producers forced to scale down operations or even close mines in the first half of the year. Graphite producers saw a slowdown in demand as the credit crunch had a negative effect on the steel sector. In addition to the global recession, the industry was adversely impacted by unfavorable weather conditions and regulatory changes in China. The outlook seems to be getting better, but recovery is expected to proceed at an overall slow pace.8

Domestically, the major uses of natural graphite in 2009 were refractory applications, 24%; foundry operations, 8%; brake linings, 7%; lubricants, 3%; and other applications, 58%. Apparent U.S. consumption of natural graphite plummeted by 74.0% in 2009, to 13,000 t. Exports remained stable at 8000 t, while imports for consumption dropped by 63.8% to 21,000 t.


Apparent U.S. consumption of kyanite and related materials in 2009 was 106,000 t, a decline of 15.2% vs. 2008. The majority (90%) of the kyanite-mullite output was estimated to have been used in refractories; of that amount, 60-65% was used in iron/steelmaking, while the remainder was used for the manufacture of chemicals, glass, nonferrous metals and other materials.

Mine production in the U.S. decreased by 30.4% to 80,000 t, while synthetic mullite production posted a 25.0% increase to 50,000 t. Exports declined by 11.1% to 32,000 t, and imports for consumption (andalusite) decreased by 33.3% to 8,000 t. Anticipation of long-term growth in the andalusite market was pushing expansion in South Africa, which was projected to increase production by 40% in order to alleviate tight supply conditions caused by production constraints in France.

Silicon carbide crude, which will be processed into silicon carbide microgrits and powders for a range of applications. (Photo courtesy of Washington Mills.)

Magnesium Compounds

U.S. magnesia consumption fell significantly in 2009 because of the steep decline in U.S. steel production. Through the first seven months of 2009, imports of caustic-calcined magnesia were 40% lower than those in the same period of 2008, and imports of dead-burned magnesia were down by 85% in the same time period. An 88% decline in imports of dead-burned magnesia from China was primarily responsible for the decrease in total imports.

China canceled its export licenses for the second half of 2009 because of reduced demand. The International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce began an antidumping duty investigation of imports of magnesia-carbon bricks from China and Mexico, as well as a countervailing duty investigation of imports of magnesia-carbon bricks from China.

Some proposed expansions in magnesia production capacity that had been announced were postponed, most notably a 100,000-ton-per-year caustic-calcined magnesia expansion in Australia. These expansions were initially planned in response to reduced exports from China, particularly to the European Union and U.S.

Despite sluggish global economic conditions, one firm in Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a 140,000 t/year magnesite processing plant (no timetable was determined). A new magnesite producer in Turkey was expected to have a 100,000-t/year dead-burned magnesia plant onstream as well. In Brazil, a small seawater magnesia producer announced it would double its production capacity to 12,000 t/year by the end of 2010.

Apparent U.S. consumption of magnesia compounds in 2009 decreased by 40.4% to 352,000 t. About 52% of the magnesium compounds consumed in the U.S. was used for refractories. The remaining 48% was used in agricultural, chemical, construction, environmental and industrial applications.


U.S. mine output of molybdenum (in concentrate) in 2009 decreased by 10.6% to 50,000 t. Imports for consumption decreased slightly (3.4%) to 14,000 t, while exports posted a modest increase to 35,000 t. Domestic roasters operated at full production levels in 2008, but only at about 80-90% of full production capacity in 2009.

Reported consumption in the U.S. for 2009 decreased by 9.1% to 19,000 t, though apparent consumption was down more significantly at 19.7% to 29,000 t. Mine capacity utilization in 2009 was about 17%.

Roskill Information Services reports that, although consumption has declined on a global level, emerging markets such as China saw demand continue to increase in 2009. Chinese consumption, estimated to have risen by around 5% in 2009, will continue to outstrip growth in the rest of the world. While the developed markets of Europe, the U.S. and Japan are expected to see annual average growth of 2% per year for the next five years, Chinese consumption is expected to enjoy an increase of 9% per year.9


Apparent U.S. consumption of niobium in 2009 plummeted 74% to 2200 t, though reported consumption dropped at a lower rate of 50% to 3000 t. Niobium was consumed mostly in the form of ferroniobium by the steel industry and as niobium alloys and metal by the aerospace industry. The estimated value of niobium consumption in 2008 was $324 million and was expected to be about $108 million in 2009 (as measured by the value of imports).

Niobium exports decreased by 23.2% to 600 t, while imports for consumption dropped by 69.7% to 2800 t. Niobium was principally imported in the form of ferroniobium and niobium unwrought metal, alloy, and powder. U.S. niobium import dependence was expected to be about the same as that of 2008, when Brazil was the leading niobium supplier. By weight in 2008, Brazil supplied 87% of total U.S. niobium imports, 91% of ferroniobium, 87% of niobium metal and 63% of niobium oxide.

Rare Earths

In November 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued a report entitled "The Principal Rare Earth Elements Deposits of the United States-A Summary of Domestic Deposits and a Global Perspective." According to the report, approximately 13 Mt of rare earth elements (REE) exist within known deposits in the U.S.10

"This is the first detailed assessment of rare earth elements for the entire nation, describing deposits throughout the U.S.," said Marcia McNutt, Ph.D., director of the USGS. "It will be very important, both to policymakers and industry, and it reinforces the value of our efforts to maintain accurate, independent information on our nation's natural resources. Although many of these deposits have yet to be proven, at recent domestic consumption rates of about 10,000 metric tons annually, the U.S. deposits have the potential to meet our needs for years to come."

According to a report from China Research and Intelligence, about 95% of worldwide rare earth products are produced and supplied by China. In 2009, China's production of rare earth products (calculated by rare earth oxide) was 129,400 t, an increase of 3.9% over 2008. Chinese rare earth enterprises mainly produce up- and mid-stream products of low added value, high pollution, and high energy consumption. They fall far behind developed countries in the production of downstream, expensive rare earth devices and terminal application products.11

The Chinese government has intensified its rare earth resources policy control in recent years, implementing a mandatory production and export quota system. China's rare earth exploitation was capped at 89,200 t in 2010, up 8.4% over 2009, while the export quota stood at 33,000 t, a 39.5% year-on-year decrease.12

The estimated value of refined rare earths imported by the U.S. in 2009 was $84 million, a decrease from $186 million imported in 2008. Based on final 2008 reported data, the estimated distribution of rare earths by end use was:
  • Metallurgical applications and alloys, 29%
  • Electronics, 18%
  • Chemical catalysts, 14%
  • Rare earth phosphors for computer monitors, lighting, radar, televisions, and X-ray intensifying film, 12%
  • Automotive catalytic converters, 9%
  • Glass polishing and ceramics, 6%
  • Permanent magnets, 5%
  • Petroleum refining catalysts, 4%
  • Other, 3%


According to The Freedonia Group, world demand for specialty silicas (including precipitated silica, fumed silica, silica gel and silica sol) will increase by 6.3% per year to 2.7 Mt in 2014. Gains will be driven by a rise in world manufacturing activity, as well as rising levels of silica use in developing economies such as China and India. However, gains will be limited to some extent by market maturity in the U.S. and western Europe, particularly in refractories and other applications.

Precipitated silica, which accounted for 70% of world specialty silica demand in 2009, will remain the leading product type through the forecast period. Precipitated silica will also be the fastest-growing silica product.13

U.S. production of industrial sand and gravel (often called silica, silica sand and quartz sand) in 2009 decreased by 9.7% to 27.4 Mt valued at about $827 million. About 31% of the U.S. tonnage was used as glassmaking sand, 27% as hydraulic fracturing sand and well-packing and cementing sand, 14% as foundry sand, 7% as whole-grain fillers and building products, 4% as whole-grain silica, 3% as golf course sand, 3% as ground and unground silica for chemical applications, and 11% for other uses. Apparent consumption dropped 10.8% to 24.7 Mt.

Imports for consumption plummeted by 76.6% to 83,000 t, while exports decreased by 9.8% to 2.8 Mt. The relative high level of exports was attributed to the high quality and advanced processing techniques used in the U.S. for a large variety of grades of silica sand and gravel.

Soda Ash

Following growth of 4.2% per year in 2000-2008, global consumption of soda ash fell by 7.6% in 2009, according to Roskill Information Services. Consumers in the glass industry, which accounts for 53% of total demand, scaled back purchases during the global economic downturn.

China was one of only a handful of countries showing a positive increase in soda ash consumption in 2009, and was responsible for 90% of world growth in 2000-2009. In industrialized economies, however, demand for soda ash has been flat due to the maturity of products using soda ash in the market, as well as substitution and competition pressures.

Future demand for soda ash, forecast to grow at 3% per year over the next five years, will be led by flat glass, detergents and water treatment. Emerging economies, particularly China and the wider Southeast Asia region, but also the Middle East, South Asia and South America, will continue to provide the best opportunities for soda ash demand growth on a regional basis.14

In the U.S., 2009 soda ash production decreased by 3.5% to 10.9 Mt, while apparent consumption was down 4.1% to 6.1 Mt. Exports dropped by 8.8% to 4.9 Mt, while imports for consumption decreased by 61.5% to 5000 t. Import sources (2005-2008) included the UK, 29%; China, 25%; Mexico, 24%; Germany, 6%; and other, 16%.


Consumption of strontium minerals has been shifting away from cathode ray tubes (CRTs), the key commercial market for many years. (Flat-panel technology requires much smaller quantities of strontium carbonate.) With global shipments of liquid-crystal display televisions expected to double by 2012, strontium demand for CRTs that was initially stable in Asia and Mexico is expected to vanish.

Even without strontium carbonate consumption in CRTs, however, estimated strontium consumption in ceramics and glass manufacture remained one of the top end-use industries in 2009, through its use in ceramic ferrite magnets and other ceramic and glass applications.

U.S. production of strontium minerals ceased in 1959. The U.S. is 100% import-reliant on celestite, the most common strontium mineral consisting primarily of strontium sulfate. Apparent U.S. consumption (celestite and compounds) in 2009 dropped slightly (6.5%) to 10,000 t. Exports of strontium compounds saw a slight increase (7.4%) to 800 t. Imports for consumption of strontium minerals shot up 190.6% to 5900 t, while imports of strontium compounds fell 44.8% to 5200 t. Most of the U.S. imports of strontium minerals and compounds came from Mexico (93%).

Technical and market forces are driving the growth of fine fireclay in sanitaryware production. (Photo courtesy of Imerys Ceramics.)

Talc and Pyrophyllite

The global talc and pyrophyllite market is projected to reach 5.7 Mt by 2015, according to Global Industry Analysts, Inc. Sales of talc are traditionally strongly dependent on the manufacturing sector and new home construction. The worldwide economic recession adversely influenced talc demand from various end-use applications such as roofing, paints, ceramics, adhesives, plastics, caulks, rubber and joint compounds. In addition, the shift toward talc alternatives such as precipitated and ground calcium carbonates discouraged talc market participants. The pyrophyllite market also witnessed a significant decline due to the slump in the paint, refractories and ceramic industries that constitute its major end uses.

The market is likely to recover beginning in 2011, with projected growth in the consumption of talc and related minerals across various end-use sectors. The Asia Pacific region represents the largest regional market for talc and pyrophyllite, and is expected to retain its dominance over the coming years. Wall tile production is a major end-use area for both talc and pyrophyllite within the ceramic industry; most of that market is concentrated in South America.

Pyrophyllite production is concentrated mainly in Asia, which is a major consumer of talc and related minerals due to the availability of inexpensive raw materials. Of late, the pyrophyllite industry has been facing severe competition from higher performance mag-carbon and dolomite-carbon products in the refractories industry.15

Mine production of talc and pyrophyllite in the U.S. dropped 25.4% to 527,000 t in 2009. Table 4 details worldwide mine production. U.S. imports for consumption decreased by 49.2% to 98,000 t in 2009, while exports were down 22.1% to 190,000 t. Apparent consumption declined by 33.6% to 435,000 t. Consumption of pyrophyllite (in decreasing order by tonnage) was primarily in refractory products, ceramics and paint. The total estimated use of talc in the U.S. (including imported talc) was:
  • Plastics, 22%
  • Paint, 17%
  • Paper, 16%
  • Ceramics, 15%
  • Roofing, 7%
  • Cosmetics, 5%
  • Rubber, 3%
  • Other, 15%

Titanium and Titanium Dioxide

U.S. production of titanium mineral concentrates remained stable in 2009 at 200,000 t. The value of titanium mineral concentrates consumed in the U.S. was about $460 million; estimated consumption decreased by 22.5% to 1.1 Mt. Zircon was a coproduct of mining from ilmenite and rutile deposits.

About 94% of titanium mineral concentrates was consumed by domestic titanium dioxide pigment producers; the remaining 6% was used in welding rod coatings and for manufacturing carbides, chemicals, and metal. Exports of titanium mineral concentrates jumped 57.1% to 11,000 t in 2009, while imports for consumption decreased by 27.0% to 810,000 t.

According to Merchant Research & Consulting, Ltd., global titanium dioxide capacity fell to 5.53 Mt/year in 2009. In the first half of 2009, the industry was in the midst of restructuring processes involving several plant closures; the industry returned to full production in the second half of the year due to a rebound in demand. Revenues decreased by 4.5%, however, as producers struggled to keep fixed costs flat. Asia's share of worldwide titanium dioxide capacity accounted for 30.8% (1.7 Mt) in 2009; North America ranked second with 29.4% (1.6 Mt) while third place went to Europe with 28.3%.

Worldwide titanium dioxide consumption is forecast to reach 5.8 Mt by 2015. Overall demand in Europe decreased by 10% in 2009 and in Asia by 4%.16

Zirconium and Hafnium

According to Business Analytic Center, worldwide consumption of zirconium is expected to reach 1.4 Mt by 2012; the industry growth rate is forecast to be 4.5% per year.17

Production and apparent consumption figures have been withheld to avoid disclosing proprietary company data. Ceramics, foundry applications, opacifiers, and refractories are the leading end uses for zircon; others include abrasives, chemicals, metal alloys, welding rod coatings, and sandblasting. The leading consumers of zirconium and hafnium metal are the nuclear energy and chemical process industries.

U.S. exports of zirconium ores and concentrates (ZrO2 content) decreased by 19.7% to 22,000 t in 2009, while imports were down 9.0% (to 20,300 t). Exports of zirconium oxides and germanium oxides dropped more precipitously (42.8%) to 1700 t, and imports decreased by 38.7% to 3100 t. Hafnium (unwrought, waste and scrap) imports decreased by 58.3% to 5 t.

Import sources of zirconium mineral concentrates (2005-2008) included Australia, 49%; South Africa, 45%; China, 3%; Russia, 1%; and other, 1%. Unwrought hafnium was imported from France, 60%; Germany, 21%; Canada, 8%; UK, 6%; and other, 5%.

Editor's note: The foregoing information, except where noted, was compiled from the U.S. Geological Survey (www.usgs.gov). All units are in metric tons except where otherwise noted. In most cases, 2009 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 in this issue.


1. Abrasives (published October 2010, $4800), The Freedonia Group, Inc., www.freedoniagroup.com

2. China Silicon Carbide Industry Report, 2009-2010 (published July 2010, $999), ResearchInChina, www.researchinchina.com.

3. Kennedy, Kormac, "China Frustrates," Silicon Carbide & More, November 2010, p. 1.

4. Alumina Market Research (published January 2010, $3770), Merchant Research & Consulting Ltd., http://mcgroup.co.uk.

5. China Alumina Industry Report, 2009 (published November 2009, $1700), ResearchInChina, www.researchinchina.com.

6. Boron: Global Industry Markets and Outlook (published March 2010, $5000), Roskill Information Services, www.roskill.com.

7. World Kaolins (published December 2009, $5700), The Freedonia Group, Inc., www.freedoniagroup.com.

8. Natural Graphite Market Review 2010 (published January 2010, $1210), Business Analytic Center, http://marketpublishers.com.

9. Molybdenum: Market Outlook to 2014 (published January 2010, $7000), Roskill Information Services, www.roskill.com.

10. Long, Keith R., Van Gosen, Bradley S., Foley, Nora K., and Cordier, Daniel, "The Principal Rare Earth Elements Deposits of the United States-A Summary of Domestic Deposits and a Global Perspective," www.usgs.gov.

11. Research Report on Chinese Rare Earth Industry, 2010-2011 (published October 2010, $2200), China Research & Intelligence, www.shcri.com.

12. China Rare Earth Industry Report, 2009-2010 (published November 2010, $2100), ResearchInChina, www.researchinchina.com.

13. World Specialty Silicas to 2014 (published June 2010, $5800), The Freedonia Group, Inc., www.freedonia.com.

14. Soda Ash: Market Outlook to 2015 (published September 2010, $7000), Roskill Information Services, www.roskill.com.

15. Talc and Pyrophyllite: A Global Strategic Business Report (published October 2010, $4500), Global Industry Analysts, Inc., www.strategyr.com.

16. Titanium Dioxide 2010 World Market Outlook and Forecast (published July 2010, $3920), Merchant Research & Consulting, Ltd., http://mcgroup.co.uk.

17. Zirconium and Hafnium Market Review (published January 2010, $1310), Business Analytic Center, http://marketpublishers.com.

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