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Analysis: Borates


MARCHING AHEAD


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BORATES LOOK TO HIGH-PRICED FUTURE China: a dominant consumer


orld production of boron minerals in 2011 was an estimated 3.51 million metric tonnes. Growth has been driven by an increase in demand from China, India and South East Asian countries. Increase in market share held by Asian countries reflects a shift in the production of textile-grade glass fibre, borosilicate glass and ceramics away from North America and Europe to countries with lower production costs. Following the years of strong growth in the first eight years of the last decade ( 2000-2008), the year 2009 saw a sharp drop in demand for borates, mostly on account of global economic situation. However, boron demand from glass and ceramic industry has significantly recovered as of late 2011, with markets for both textile-grade glass fibre and borosilicate glass recovering and ceramic glazes, at least in Asian countries. The rise in global demand has been driven by high growth rates in fibreglass and borosilicate production. A rapid increase in the manufacture of reinforcement-grade fibreglass in Asia with a consequent increase in demand for borates has offset the development of boron-free reinforcement-grade fibreglass in Europe and the USA. The recent rises in energy prices may lead to greater use of insulation-grade fibreglass, with consequent growth in the boron consumption.


Borates (the general term associated with boron containing minerals such as borax and boric acid) most commonly originate in dried salt lake beds of desert or arid areas (such as Death Valley in USA, Turkey, and China). On the supple side, global boron industry is a duopoly, where Eti and Rio Tinto account for almost 70 % of total global market.


Industry upturns In the ceramic industry, boron compounds are commonly used due


to a unique property of lowering the firing point of ceramics, as well as strengthening the structure of ceramic slips. The minerals colemanite and ulexite are used mainly for the production of ceramic frit . New technology for high temperature, cost-efficient glaze and ceramic products will increase the borates demand in ceramic industry in short and medium term.


60 asian ceramics february 2012


Global boron reserves (‘000 tonnes) Country


Proven Reserve


Turkey U.S.


Russia China Chile


Bolivia Peru


Argentina


Kazakhstan Serbia Total


227,000 40,000 40,000 27,000 8,000 4,000 4,000 2,000


14,000 3,000


369,000


Possible Reserve


624,000 40,000 60,000 9,000


33,000 15,000 18,000 7,000 1,000 -


807,000


With glass and ceramics dominating borates consumption, we take a look at how the suppliers of this key mineral have fared over the last 12 months…


China accounts for 4 % of the world boron reserves, yet it accounted for 18 % of the global mineral production in 2010. Though in terms of B2O3 content , the country accounted for 10% of the global output because of low grades mined in the country. Fibreglass and


Total


851,000 80,000


100,000 36,000 41,000 19,000 22,000 9,000


15,000 3,000


1,176,000


% of Global reserve


72.2 6.8 8.5 3.1 3.5 1.6 1.9 0.8 1.3 0.3


100.0


borosilicate glass production in China has spurred the global boron industry almost singlehandedly. Fibreglass production in China has now touched 1.96 million tones from a meagre 275,000 tons at the start of the decade.


Borax pentahydrate and boric acid are the main boron products consumed by the Chinese ceramic glaze industry. Ground colemanite and ulexite is also used. Ceramics for domestic market have lower quality requirements and use domestic boron products. Around 40% of boron demand in ceramic industry is covered by domestic supply. But in recent years there has been a marked shift towards imports as Chinese ceramic producers have started giving greater emphasis on quality of finished products.


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