Wollastonite’s pins and needles

By Alex Feytis
Published: Monday, 26 October 2009

The world of wollastonite supply is changing as two newcomers enter an industry which still remains uncomfortable from the global economic downturn

The indiscriminate impact of the global economic recession continues to come as a surprise.

Since the beginning of the situation over a year ago, the wollastonite industry has experienced a severe downturn. One of the main reasons is that the wollastonite industry serves a multitude of markets - paints, coating, ceramics, construction, friction, metallurgy, see Table 3 - which have all been significantly affected by the recession.

There are few better examples of the scope of the global recession than the wollastonite industry.

“With regional recessions, companies were at least able to depend on export sales to help weather the economic downturn,” explained Robert Virta, wollastonite analyst with the US Geological Survey (USGS).

While the effects from the global recession on wollastonite’s
major end markets - ceramics, plastics, and paints -
appear to be subsiding, uncertainty still clouds future demand

“As a result, some of their wollastonite being exported to countries affected by the recession - even producers in China and India are suffering, despite their growing economies,” he added.

The majority of wollastonite’s markets are related to manufacturing industries which have been hit hard: automobiles (automotive plastics and friction products), appliances and heavy equipment (powder coatings), steel (slag conditioners), technical ceramics (a ceramic body component), and housing (caulks, ceramic floor and wall tile, joint compounds, paints, sanitaryware, sealants, and stucco).

The fortunes of these markets have resulted in notable reductions in wollastonite sales, particularly in Europe and North America.

“The most dramatic change in the latter half of 2008 and first half of 2009 has been the major decline of the automotive market and its influence into demand of plastic, coating and metallurgical materials,” Anssi Koikkalainen, sales manager at Nordkalk Corp., the Finland based wollastonite producer, told IM.

At the same time, the construction sector fortunes have plummeted directly impacting demand of wollastonite through ceramics, paints and coatings. As a result, producers have been seeking ways to improve productivity and cut costs, without threatening the secure material flow to the customers.

In these though times, however, what came as a surprise is that the world of wollastonite supply is evolving, with newcomers making a discreet entrance into the market from Spain and South Africa.

USA suffering

After a many years of being the world’s leading wollastonite producing country, the USA relinquished the title 1995 when Chinese production entered the market.

In 2008, the USA slipped to third place in the world produced stakes after it mined less than 100,000 tonnes in the year, 50,000 tonnes less than in 2000. China and India are now the leading world’s leading producers.

The USA has two producers of wollastonite: NYCO Minerals Inc., the world’s second largest producing company after Udaipur based Wolkem India Ltd - and RT Vanderbilt Co. Inc. (see Table 1).

NYCO has three mines in the USA: Lewis, Oak Hill and Fox Knoll Mines (Essex County, New York) in addition to Pilares Mine in Sonora, Mexico. Lewis and Pilares are the only operational mines at present.

The company supplies high aspect ratio (HAR) grade wollastonite for plastics (including automotive), rubber, paint and coatings, adhesives, sealants, metallurgical, ceramics, friction, fire-resistant calcium board and construction applications to Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America.

NYCO had to recently reduce its production of ore from Lewis and Sonora. In 2009, the Lewis Mine produced 50,000 s. tonnes down from 150,000 s. tonnes in 2008. “Output is lower in 2009 due to the economy and reserves stockpiled from 2008,” Dawn Revette, marketing manager at NYCO, told IM.

Revette also explained that due to the winter weather in northern New York state and established permits, the Lewis operation can only mine ore from April to November.  “Due to slow sales, the mine did not open until May 2009 with most of the mining and trucking completed by October,” she added.

As a result, NYCO’s sales have plummeted by almost 40% compared with the same period in 2008.

At the Oak Hill Mine, infrastructure is under development with no major production to date. It does not expect to restart production for between 6-8 years based on existing sales.

The Fox Knoll Mine has not been operational since early 1980s.

In Mexico, Pilares Mine has a projected production of 28,000 tonnes in 2009, down from 45,000 tonnes in 2008.

As Revette revealed to IM, the overall effects from the world recession continue to influence the market adversely. NYCO was significantly impacted by the collapse of the North American automotive industry and the housing market.

“Consumer spending continues to be conservative,” she commented.

The primary challenges facing NYCO’s ability to supply wollastonite are related to stringent government regulations required for sustainable development.

“These regulations increase the costs to produce wollastonite which make it difficult to compete with other countries, such as China and India,” she declared, pointing out that “labour costs are also much higher in the United States” in addition to logistic costs which are “a significant component of our costs and ability to be competitive in the world marketplace”.

Another main challenge is the increasing demand by manufacturers for improved performance at reduced pricing.

But Revette remains confident as manufacturers, particularly in the USA, are looking towards higher value products: niche markets which open opportunities for wollastonite as a speciality mineral.

“Although the recession has significantly impacted the world economy, it has also opened opportunities for companies to test new materials for enhanced properties, to reduce manufacturing costs, such as energy or reduce scrap,” she underlined to IM.

However, recovery for the US wollastonite market is not expected before 2012 as the USA is “showing the least development versus Europe and China.”

RT Vanderbilt (RTV) is the second largest wollastonite producer in the USA with an estimated capacity of 40,000 tpa. The company is located in north-east New York state, and mines through RT Vanderbilt’s largest mining and minerals processing plant, Gouverneur Talc Co., Inc.

Gouverneur Talc Co. manufactures VANSIL® wollastonite for the paint, ceramics and plastics industries from its two milling operations and several mining operations which are located on over 2,300 acres of land.

The milling operations include dry-grinding, air-milling and air-classification processes. The mines are both open pit and underground.

RTV’s wollastonite is sold into ceramic products such as wall tiles, dinnerware, and sanitaryware, and as a reinforcing agent in plastics. Both products contribute high-fired brightness, low shrinkage, and strength to ceramic products.

India: growth still present

India ranks second after China producing almost 20% of the world’s wollastonite. But production is limited to Wolkem India Ltd and Galaxy Corp.

Wolkem has a capacity of over 160,000 tpa wollastonite from the Sirohi district of Rajasthan, India’s north-west province. Galaxy Corp. produces 6-10,000 tpa from the same deposit but a different mine to Wolkem supplying the domestic ceramics industry (IM August ’09, p.28: A minerals passage to India).

As in China (see “China v India”), large scale development of the country’s wollastonite did not occur until the 1980s, when India started to produce about 10,000 tpa.

One of the main reasons behind this was the challenges associated with Wolkem’s two operations, the Belka Pahar and Kheratala mines, located in a hilly and forested area in the Siroshi district of Rajasthan.

India then started to steadily increase production from 35,000 tonnes in 1990 to 160,000 tonnes in 2008 (see Table 2), owing in the main to Wolkem production, which is now world’s leading wollastonite producer.

Wolkem supplies grades for the polymers, coatings, building material, ceramics, friction and metallurgical applications. Wolkem supplies the Indian market but mainly exports its wollastonite to Europe, south-east Asia and Asia Pacific.

As with US wollastonite producers, India has been impacted in a similar way by the financial crisis. Interestingly, domestic demand has not reported an actual decline just a slowing of growth, but there was a substantial reduction in demand from overseas customers.

Gaurang Singhal, Wolkem’s director, revealed to IM that, even though domestic sales are growing marginally exports sales were “adversely affected to the polymer, automobile, building material and friction applications.”

However, Wolkem sustained production in 2008/09 and expects the export markets to pick up by mid-2010.

Before the recession, the wollastonite industry in India had to face challenges such as the fluctuation in currencies (euro and dollar versus rupee) in addition to logistics costs and availability of containers. As the recession gripped logistics costs and availability became favourable, but demand fell.

Now that the market is starting to show signs of recovery, a slight increase in sea freights from India is expected compared to 2008-2009 levels.

Singhal believes that the future is bright: “It is time to invest in new product developments and to develop new applications for this mineral,” he declared to IM, explaining that the areas with more potential included polymer markets, (coated and uncoated) with high aspect ratio and extremely fine grades.

Demand for wollastonite in India should increase this year compared to 2008-2009. “The Government’s stimulus to revive the economy and investments in infrastructure will have a positive impact on wollastonite sales,” he forecasted.

However, the director of Wolkem believes that sales related to automobile sector “will remain subdued” until mid-2010.

Table 1: Major wollastonite producers

Country/company Location of operations Production capacity (tpa)
Lishu Dadingshan Wollastonite Co. Ltd. Jilin 160,000
Sanyi Mining Development Co. Ltd. Liaoning 60,000
Xinyu City South Wollastonite Industry Co. Ltd. Jiangxi 50,000
Lingnan wollastonite Materials Co. Ltd 100,000
Woll-union Import & Export Co. Ltd. Guangxi N/A
Jilin Shanwei Wollastonite Mining Co. Ltd Jilin >60,000
Bosai Minerals/Nanchuan Minerals Group Lianxian and Jilin 40,000
Dayu Mineral Materials Co. Ltd. (Dayu Glaze Ltd) Hubei, Fengcheng 50,000
Anhui Pioneer Mining Co. Ltd. Ahnui 20,000
Changxing Baixiang Wollastonite Mine Co. Ltd. Lijiaxiang 25,000
Nordkalk Corp. Lappeenranta 16,400
Wolkem India Ltd. Udaipur 160,000
Galaxy Corp. Rajasthan 10,000
NYCO Minerals Inc. (Minera NYCO SA de CV) Sonora 45,000 (28,000 in 2008)
General de Minerales SA Zacatecas 20,000
Minerales y Maquillas del Norte N/A
Crimidesa Group Salamanca 20,000
NYCO Minerals Inc. Willsboro, NY 150,000 (50,000 in 2008)
RT Vanderbilt Co. Inc Gouverneur, NY 40,000

*location shown as provinces.
Source: USGS, IM estimates

\India’s plastics growth

With reported growth rates of 10-12%, India’s plastics market represents considerable opportunities for filler minerals, including wollastonite (IM August ’09, p.22: Indian plastics to rise 10-12%).

The Indian economy appears to be already emerging from the downturn, which has had a positive effect on certain industries reliant on plastics as major components, such as the automotive and wire and cable sectors.

India’s economic growth slowed to 6.7% last year after three straight years of expansion of at least 9%, but is on track to grow 7% this fiscal year. Automotive sales, manufacturing, and cement production have seen recent improvement.

China v India

For almost 15 years, world production has been widely dominated by China which produces more than 50% of the world total (p.27, Wollastonite at a glance).

Starting with about 5,000 tpa during the 1980s, half of India’s wollastonite output at that time, China gradually increased its production during the following decade to reach 250,000 tpa and the status of world’s leading producer in 1995, overtaking the USA.

In 2008, China produced 325,000 tonnes through a handful of producers with the largest being Lishu Dadingshan Wollastonite Co. Ltd, with a capacity of 160,000 tonnes in 2008 from mines located in the Jilin and Liaoning provinces, northeast of China (see table 1).

The company supplies ceramic, metallurgical, painting, and welding grades in addition to HAR wollastonite to the domestic market and to Europe, South Africa and South-East Asia.

China’s wollastonite producers, however, could not escape the effects of the economic downturn. “It’s very tough The global crisis had a big impact on all industries”, Lishu Wollastonite told IM.

As is an increasing trend with China’s resources, sales restrictions appear to be the future for wollastonite. Lishu Wollastonite said: “The government does not encourage the exporting of our sources and focuses more on protecting environment”.

According to the Chinese company, two main factors have impacted the domestic market. Firstly, the dramatic decrease in demand for wollastonite mainly from Europe, and secondly, the strong competition from India.

Even though the market is still depressed, a recovery for China is expected from 2010, most probably before the USA and Europe. However, the general picture of the wollastonite world may change again as India’s production is starting to push ahead.

As Lishu Wollastonite told IM, in the future the main competition could be between the two Asian countries. China being affected by “the government policies to control mining sources” resulting in rising mining costs and rising prices. India could overtake China as the leading low cost source of wollastonite.

Finland: ‘creating opportunities’

Until recently, Finland’s Nordkalk Corp. was the only wollastonite producer in Europe and one of the top five world producers with an estimated 16,000-20,000 tpa output (Spain: The newcomer).

Nordkalk operates the Ihalainen wollastonite-calcite marble deposit, which is located in Lappeenranta, south-east Finland, and supplies Europe for ceramics and plastics, and the Asian plastics industry.

Nordkalk’s wollastonite product portfolio includes three product families, characterised by different aspect ratios and available with alternative surface treatments for polymer applications: Nordkalk FW grades (low aspect ratio), Nordkalk Wicroll grades (medium aspect ratio) and Nordkalk Harwoll - grades (high aspect ratio).

Recently the company launched the Nordkalk Harwoll product series which are fine particle size, HAR grades.

Despite this focus, the company is still eying new applications, such as high performance coatings.

“The development projects are focused into creating new grades and surface treatments into above mentioned application segments,” Anssi Koikkalainen, sales manager at Nordkalk told IM.

Owing to this, Nordkalk has reorganised its distribution network in Europe by signing a pan-European contract with family-owned Grolman Group which operates a speciality chemical distribution company focusing on paints and coatings, plastics and rubber, sealants and adhesives, construction chemicals and printing inks.

According to Koikkalainen, the wollastonite industry faces different challenges. In the short term, the industry will strive to cut costs and minimise tied up capital.

Koikkalainen believes that the main challenge is “to find a right balance for the stock level and production capacity in uncertain market conditions” in order to minimise tied up capital but, at the same time, “secure the steady raw material flow to the customers”.

Long term, the role of Asia in bulk wollastonite exports is expected to decrease owing to strong domestic growth and possible protective governmental acts. This would force many western customers to find alternative sources to the Chinese wollastonite.

Many believe now is the time to improve production ability and consider higher value applications.

“Market development is the key issue in creating new opportunities,” he said, adding that one of the main focal points in research and development will be to develop more functional and cost effective fillers for the polymer applications.

“Totally new openings are needed to secure the future growth for the industry in Europe and North-America,” he commented, such as CO2 capture or functional filler for wood plastic composite products.

Table 2: Wollastonite production evolution

Country 1980 1990 1995 1999 2000 2005 2008
USA N/A 110,000 125,000 150,000 150,000 125,000 <100,000
China 5,000 70,000 250,000 300,000 200,000 395,000 325,000
India 10,000 35,000 79,000 83,000 100,000 169,000 120,000
Mexico N/A 15,000 29,000 44,126 75,000 27,100 50,000
Finland N/A 40,000 29,000 22,000 20,000 16,800 16,400
Spain none none none none none 20,000** 20,000
Others* N/A 500 2,000 2,000 5,000 N/A N/A

* May include Czech Republic, Kenya, North Korea, Namibia, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey, Morocco
** Production started in 2003 with 500 tonnes
Source: USGS, IM estimates

Spain: the newcomer

After years of heavily concentrated global supply, Spain has quietly emerged as a major producer of wollastonite in what is an industry dominated by only a handful of players.

Crimidesa Group owned Compania Mineral Ilustracion (CM) is Spain’s new major wollastonite producer mining a total of 20,000 tonnes in 2008 at its Ilustracion deposit.

CM Illustracion started to exploit its deposit, located in Aldea del Obispo, Salamanca, in 2003, with minimal tonnages. According to the company, the deposit has estimated resources of 26m. tonnes and an extraction capacity of 100,000 tpa.

Jose Arribas, CM’s quality manager, told IM: “We started our production with about 500 tonnes in 2003, and have increased it to 20,000 tpa in four years.”

The company supplies the ceramics and casting industries in west Europe to companies such as Saint Gobain and Arciblansa. It is also expanding its focus to include container glass supplying Santos Barosa Vidros SA, a Portuguese producer of container glass bottles. Its material can also be used for CO2 emission regulation.

As explained by CM, Spanish wollastonite tends to have a higher iron content than, for instance, the wollastonite produced in Finland. Therefore, CM decided to target markets that normally do not use wollastonite.

This may explain why Spain has made a surprisingly discreet entrance into the wollastonite industry, with many of the main producers unaware of the country’s production despite it now producing 20,000 tpa.

“We have developed and introduced our wollastonite directly to our customers. As they did not use wollastonite before, the other wollastonite producers have not noticed any change in the market,” Arribas explained.

Eventually, 20,000 tpa production will certainly have an impact on the European market.

On wollastonite’s downturn, Arribas echoed the thoughts of other producers around the world. The Spanish producer is down 20 % on last year’s sales and has had to reduce production accordingly.

Could CM start to exploit new deposits in Spain? At the moment, CM owns just one wollastonite deposit, Ilustracion, previously owned by Desarrollo de Recursos Geologicos (DRG).

It has been eyed by a few wollastonite companies as a possible take-over target but to no avail until the acquisition by CM Ilustracion.

The company had also started to look at the Huelva deposit in south Spain. However as the deposit is a marble quarry with dispersed thin layers of wollastonite, purification costs would have been “astronomical” so the idea was abandoned.

Table 3: Main wollastonite characteristics and related applications

Important characteristics Advantages Applications
Polymers Fine particle high aspect ratio; low hydroabsorptivity; thermal stability and conductivity; low resin demand; chemical purity Increased flexural modulus & heat distortion temp.; reduced CLTE* and shrinkage; high loadings; low initial viscosity; fast moulding cycles; low moisture absorption; good surface finish; fine grades give high impact, resistance; can be coated e.g. with organo-silanes Numerous components manufactured from engineering alloys and alloy blend; polyurethanes; polypropylene; thermoplastic, polyolefins; liquid crystal polymers; polybutylene, terephthalate; polyethylene terephthalate, acrylics, polyester, silicone
Paints/ Coatings Acicularity; non-hazardous; pH 9.9; brightness; chemical stability Improved mechanical strength, durability and weathering; resistance; gloss control; low oil absorption; high loadings; buffering action; good initial; brightness; enhances barrier properties Industrial coatings; architectural paints; powder; coatings, roof coatings, black fillers, textured coating
Metallurgy Chemical purity & consistency; low melting point CaO:SiO2 (1,540°C); ratio (close to 1); low viscosity Good low temperature fluxing and inclusion modification; properties; prevents re-oxidation; absorbs non-metallic inclusions; lubricating action; aids uniform heat transfer; source of CaO Continuous casting mould powders; tundish powders; slag conditioners & inclusion modifiers
Ceramics Low softening and sintering temperatures; low LOI*; high brightness; chemical composition (adds CaO, very low alkalis) Improves green strength; accelerates drying rates; adds CaO to alkaline glazes; no out-gassing gives improved glaze strength & surface finish; maintains high brightness during firing; excellent electrical insulating properties; improves impact and dimensional stability (less shrinkage); reduces thermal expansion Bodies of ceramic tiles, sanitaryware, tableware and electrical ceramics. Frits, glazes, stains and enamels.
Construction Acicularity, non-hazardous, chemical stability Can improve high temperature stability, inter-laminar bonding, matrix strength, water drainage, pick-up from slurry to rolls, and dimensional stability. Will reduce edges cracking and chipping. Increases fire resistance. Improves fiber dispersion, durability and weathering resistance. Numerous cement-based interior and exterior construction products such as flat corrugated sheets, slates, and insulation slabs and forms, shingles, cladding, extruded products, mortars and grouts.
Friction High aspect ratio; non-hazardous; high thermal and dimensional stability; medium hardness (4-5 Moh’s); high compressive strength; good heat capacity Ease of processing; reduced formulation costs, improved friction stability. Increased strength, durability and thermal insulation; reduced wear Used in conjunction with other inorganic organic, or metallic fibres in heavy duty blocks; automobile brake pads & gaskets; clutch facings; friction papers, industrial equipment

* CLTE = Coefficient of Linear Thermal Expansion; LOI: Loss On Ignition
Source: NYCO Minerals, industry sources

New South African production

South Africa could soon return as a producer of wollastonite by the end of 2009. Namaqua Wollastonite, which exited the business in 1999 was South Africa’s last producer.

Production is expected to initially be 3,600 tpa for domestic markets increasing to 12,000 tpa for export to Europe and the USA.

At present, South Africa sources wollastonite from China.

Also, the South African rand has strengthened against most foreign currencies over the past year so imported prices have fallen.

“The importers have not passed on the savings to the end users. With the strong currency, exports are down as suppliers of the finished products cannot compete,” explained South African trader, Gary Burgess from Omega Chemicals Pty Ltd.

South Africa’s wollastonite market has suffered from shipping delays, an increase in Chinese raw material prices and poor market conditions along with slow payment by domestic end-users.

Coatings, resin (glass fibre replacement) and ceramic body markets have all experience significant slumps in activity in South Africa, but ceramic glaze is performing well while brake lining producer’s are stable.

According to Burgess, recovery is just 6-8 months away and the wollastonite market faces interesting opportunities, particularly for the plastic and coating industries as the market is supplied with a low aspect ratio product.

On the plastics and coatings industry, Burgess said: “They need technical support, experimentation and a will on behalf of the local compounders to look to new areas incorporating functional fillers like wollastonite for use in engineering plastics.”

“However with a strong currency and multinationals exporting masterbatch to South Africa, the easy road is taken, and all the profits are made in the developed countries,”

“There is no competition in the propylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), nylon, or polyethylene (PE) and the suppliers are protected by tariffs on imports. These companies are not interested in developing engineering plastics locally to serve the automotive and allied industries,” he added.

Therefore, the idea of having a new competitor with a 12,000 tpa-capacity targeting the US and European markets could be a critical development for the reduction of exports.

“If the local mining operation could get back into production it would become a major opposition to the imported products, thus forcing prices down and creating larger market usage,” Burgess said.

India based Wolkem, extracting from its mine
near Udaipur, Rajasthan, is the world’s leading producer.


A third player is vying to enter the wollastonite market in North America. Ontario based Canadian Wollastonite owns a wollastonite deposit located closed to RT Vanderbilt and NYCO’s deposits, just over the US border in Canada.

Canadian Wollastonite has been working on the project for a while but does not know yet when it will be able to start production.

Bob Vasily, Canadian Wollastonite’s president, told IM that the company had qualified for significant federal and provincial funding support, but still needs a firm “strategic” partner before committing construction.

“We were progressing with [funding] discussions with several suitable firms, but the recession has slowed this process considerably,” he explained.

Canadian Wollastonite was expected to establish a demonstration plant in October producing 15,000 tpa wollastonite and 10,000 tpa diopside byproduct but the decision to build this year has been put off (IM June ’09, p.22: Canadian Wollastonite welcomes RTV challenge).

“We have taken an interim step and shipped ore to an existing flotation facility which has been made available to us. We will be performing some of the testing intended for the demonstration plant there,” declared Vasily.

According to the company, the deposit has the potential to produce HAR wollastonite and diopside as a by-product (see Table 4).

The company has already secured a deal with local LaFarge cement plant in Bath, Ontario and is also working with a number of other major firms who are evaluating the diopside, as well as some new and innovative wollastonite markets.

There are no other wollastonite producers in Canada but the country has a few potential resources which could be developed, the most notable one being the former Orleans deposit in Lac Saint-Jean, around 550km north of Montreal.

Table 4: Typical chemical analysis for main producers

Element CANWOL NYCO Vanderbilt Gemsa Nordkalk Wolkem Anhui
Location Ontario Lewis, NY NY Mexico Finland India China
CaO 47 48 46 38 45 48 46
SiO2 52 51 50 50 53 49 51
Fe2O3 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
MgO 0.15 0 2 None 1 0 1
Al2O3 0.01 0.2 0.21 5.34 0.62 0.66 0
LOI 0.12 0.68 1 5 0 1.68 1.3

Source: Canadian Wollastonite


Over the last few years, small scale wollastonite production has cropped up in Namibia, Morocco, Turkey, Czech Republic, North Korea, and Pakistan. In Europe, S&B Industrial Minerals process the material.

Low prices

At present, wollastonite prices are low.

“Pricing is reflective of current economic conditions but cannot withstand long-term sustainability,” believes Revette of NYCO.

Wollastonite is expected to continue to offer value and reduce costs of expensive resins and materials which can accommodate higher pricing.

“Commodity products will continue to be priced very low until more material is consumed internally within China and India,” she explained.

However, the whole industry is unanimous: prices can only go up, mainly owing to increasing energy costs and emissions control.

Attempting to forecast the rate of increase, however, is another question. Even though new suppliers such as Spain and South Africa (and at some point Canada) are entering the market, it is still too early to predict if this could lead to oversupply.

Also, any new milling and beneficiation technology that could greatly reduce costs for wollastonite producers is not expected to arrive, according to Virta of the USGS.

In India and China, prices are also sluggish and expected to go up “step by step”, in China partly because of increasing taxes.

“Outside India the prices in the ceramics and metallurgy markets are extremely low, though reasonable for high value markets,” explained Singhal from Wolkem.

“For other bulk volume markets, prices will remain stable while for low volume markets the prices may increase slightly, he added.

Table 5: Wollastonite prices

Type Price range
Wollastonite, acicular, 15:1 to 20:1 aspect ratio, US ex-works $444/s. ton
Wollastonite, Chinese, tonne Acicular minus, 200 mesh $80-90/tonne FOB
Wollastonite, Chinese, tonne Acicular minus, 325 mesh $90-100/tonne FOB
Wollastonite, Chinese, Powder grades, bulk/big bags, 0-250mm lump, China $50-60/tonne FOB
Wollastonite, Chinese, Powder grades, bulk/big bags, 150 mesh, China $70-95/tonne FOB
Wollastonite, Chinese, Powder grades, bulk/big bags, 200 mesh, China $75-100/tonne FOB
Wollastonite, Chinese, Powder grades, bulk/big bags, 325 mesh, China $80-105/tonne FOB
Wollastonite, acicular -200 mesh, US ex-works $182/s. ton
Wollastonite, acicular, -325 mesh, US ex-works $191/s. ton

* Price examples quoted in market place at time of press

Recovery to start in Asia

Even though the market is starting to show signs of recovery, the wollastonite industry may have to wait until the end of next year before seeing a noticeable improvement.

The supply side is fairly stable. A few companies have tried to start wollastonite mines but the market conditions have proven too difficult for such ventures.

In the USA and Europe, the financial markets are strengthening and the decline in manufacturing is widely expected to be close to reaching the bottom of the trough. However, tight credit, construction’s misfortunes, and relatively high unemployment will have to be dealt with before any recovery will be sustainable.

As Singhal explained to IM, after the end of recession which is expected by mid-2010, the wollastonite market may stabilise at around the same level as in 2007-2008 and thereafter may grow at 5-7% per year.

Therefore, the most likely sustained recovery for wollastonite is foreseen by mid to end-2010.

It is quite probable that Asia will lead the way to sunnier days.

“Geographically the market focus is moving towards east. In short term, market development is likely to be strongest in Asia Ð China and India being the most important markets,” Koikkalainen.

On the market side, wollastonite’s fortunes will be closely tied to automobile production, especially in the USA, followed by the glass industry. The auto sector is seen as more flexible than construction, yet also more susceptible to fluctuations. Therefore in this industry is expected to rebound quicker than construction.

In terms of growth markets, the plastic industry is expected to go from strength to strength for wollastonite.

In the USA, NYCO foresees a later recovery.

According to the US producer, the plastic and automotive markets in Asia and Europe have begun to improve as the end of 2009 approaches as well as improved demand from the steel worldwide.

The construction market in North America continues to be slow with low housing starts compared to 2008 therefore sustained recovery from 2012 onwards is foreseen.

A promising future

With the emphasis on using fewer of the world’s resources, the properties of wollastonite, particularly acicular wollastonite, appears to favour its uses in more highly engineered composites and plastics over some of its competitors.

And if petroleum prices do not begin to spike, opportunities in plastics will rise (see p.52 Minerals realise pipe dream).

The future for producers outside of China, particularly in the USA and Europe, is adding value to their product. India will begin to move in this direction but will still be main volume supplier, along with China, to the world.

Wollastonite’s use in carbon dioxide sequestration - or locking of emissions - is also a promising new application. But with the uncertainty still gripping the industry, the biggest immediate challenge is straddling the divide between weathering the recession and preparing for a higher value future - whatever the future may hold.

Wollastonite at a glance

Formula: Calcium metasilicate, CaSiO3, (Mineralogy guide: 48.28% CaO, 51.72% SiO2)

Property: the only naturally occurring, white, non-metallic mineral that has an acicular (needle-like) shape

World production in 2008: about 650,000 tonnes

Main producers: China (325,000 tonnes in 2008), India (160,000 tonnes in 2008), the USA (<100,000 tonnes in 2008), Mexico (28,000 tonnes in 2008), Spain (20,000 tonnes in 2007), Finland (16,400 tonnes in 2007)

Markets: Plastic, paints and coating, ceramics, metallurgy, friction materials, construction

Main world producers in 2007/08

Main markets

* Construction, friction products, metallurgical applications.
Source: USGS, IM estimates