Soda ash

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Market Brief

Soda ash, or sodium carbonate, can be produced either by mining natural sources or manufactured synthetically using salt and limestone.

About half of the soda ash produced in the world is used in the glass industry for the production of flat glass, container glass, fibreglass and other products.

High exposure to glass markets means that soda ash demand is significantly influenced by the fortunes of the construction and automotive industries.

Supply

China is the world’s largest producer of soda ash with an output of about 23m tonnes in 2011. Production in China has expanded rapidly since 2000 driven by surging domestic demand.

While most of China’s output is consumed in domestic markets, producers there have become increasingly established in export markets.

The world’s second largest producer, the US, is also the largest global exporter, but was been hit hard by the global economic downturn in 2008-2012.

The US soda ash industry is centred at the Green River Basin in north-western US state of Wyoming, where it is mined from natural soda ash, or trona. Producers operating in Green River include FMC, Solvay, OCI and Tata Chemicals.

Leading producers 

ANSAC – US producers including FMC, Tata Chemicals and OCI
Ciech – Poland
Eti Soda – Turkey
Nirma – India
Shandong Marine – China
Sisecam/Sida Sanayii – Turkey
Soda Sterlitamak – Russia
Solvay – Belgium/US
Tangshan Sanyou – China
Tata Chemicals – India

Markets

The 10 leading countries, representing 68% of total U.S. soda ash exports were, in decreasing order and percentage of total, Mexico, 16%; Brazil, 12%; Indonesia, 10%; Canada, 5%; Chile, 5%; Japan, 4%; the Republic of South Korea, 4%; South Africa, 4%; Taiwan, 4%; and the Netherlands, 4%.

The most common application for soda ash is in the glass industry, including flat glass and container glass, which accounts for nearly half of the world’s demand. Soda ash reduces the furnace temperature needed to melt the silica sand used in glass manufacturing, reducing energy costs for the producer.

In 2011, world soda ash production was estimated to be 51.3 Mt, which was a 7% increase from that of 2010. Of the 29 countries that produce natural and synthetic soda ash, the United States was the world’s second-ranked producer, accounting for 21% of total world output. 

Only Botswana, China, Ethiopia, Kenya, Turkey, and the United States produce soda ash from natural sources; the remaining 23 nations manufacture soda ash through various chemical processes, primarily the Solvay process. Total world natural soda ash production represented about 26% of combined world soda ash production.

Flat glass uses – which account for about 39% of soda ash demand – include the production of windows, glass doors and windscreens.

About 51% of soda ash is utilised in container glass, which is used bottles, jars and drinkware.

Soda ash is also used as a raw material in a variety of chemical markets including soaps and detergents, sodium triphosphate (used in food preservatives, cleaning products and ceramics), sodium silicates and zeolites, used as adsorbents.

Demand growth for soda ash is expected to be strongest in China, South East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and South America.