Silica sand demand in North America is forecast to expand 5.1% per year through 2020 to 82.8 Mt, according to The Freedonia Group, representing a somewhat slower pace than that recorded during the 2010-2015 period (see Figure 1). Low oil and gas prices into the near term will depress the number of new wells drilled through 2020, limiting opportunities for frac sand suppliers. Nevertheless, increasing intensity of use per well will fuel robust growth in silica sand consumption, making it the fastest-growing market in North America into the long term.
Demand for industrial sand in building product applications will also record healthy advances through 2020, fueled by a rebound in bituminous roofing demand as the U.S. construction industry continues to recover from the effects of the Great Recession. “Gains in the chemicals and flat glass markets will both increase at a steady pace,” said Zoe Biller, Freedonia analyst.
Freedonia reports that less robust increases will be recorded in the container glass market, dampened by glass’ declining share of the packaging market, as well as by the widespread use of recycled glass (cullet) in glass container manufacturing. The worst performance is expected in other, smaller applications due to the declining use of sand as a blasting abrasive because of the health concerns associated with worker exposure to silica dust.
In 2015, silica sand production in North America accounted for 28% of world output, making it the second-largest regional supplier after the Asia-Pacific region. Most trade is intraregional, with silica sand moving from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico.11
Grand View Research reports that the global specialty silica market is expected to witness significant demand through 2022, due primarily to increasing applications in the plastics, rubber/tire, packaging and oral care industries. The market is segmented into five product types: precipitated silica, silica gel, fused silica, colloidal silica and fumed silica. Colloidal silica is expected to witness the fastest growth, increasing at a CAGR of 6% in terms of volume from 2015-2022 due to increasing demand in applications such as catalysts, surfactants, absorbents, and abrasives for polishing silicon wafers.12 Freedonia estimates that U.S. demand for specialty silicas will increase 4.7% annually to $2.1 billion in 2019, with precipitated silica representing the largest and fastest-growing segment.13
Industrial sand and gravel production in the U.S. declined by 13.7% in 2015 to 94.9 Mt. Apparent consumption dipped 14.4% to 90.1 Mt. About 71% of domestic tonnage was used as hydraulic fracturing sand and well packing and cementing sand; 8% as other whole-grain silica; 7% as glassmaking sand; 6% as foundry sand; 2% each as whole-grain fillers and building products, as well as other ground silica; 1% as ground and unground sand for chemicals; and 3% for other uses. Imports for consumption grew by 23% to 300,000 t, while exports were relatively flat at 4.5 Mt.
11. World Industrial Silica Sand (published October 2016, $6,200), The Freedonia Group, www.freedoniagroup.com.
12. Specialty Silica Market Analysis by Product, Application and Segment Forecasts to 2022 (published April 2016; $4,950), Grand View Research, www.grandviewresearch.com.
13. Specialty Silicas-Demand and Sales Forecasts, Market Share, Market Size, Market Leaders (published January 2016; $5,200), The Freedonia Group, www.freedoniagroup.com.