India’s feldspar fortunes

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Published: Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Ajay Kulshreshtha reports on the feldspar industry of India and the country’s production hub, Rajasthan, discussing the outlook for key ceramic and glass consumers

Feldspars are aluminosilicates containing varying amounts of calcium, potassium, or sodium. In glassmaking, feldspar provides alumina for improving hardness, durability and resistance to chemical corrosion. In ceramics, feldspar is used as a flux, lowering the vitrifying temperature of a ceramic body during firing and forming a glassy phase. Glass and ceramics are the major end uses of feldspar. A minor quantity of feldspar is also consumed by refractory, abrasive and electrode industries

The Indian state of Rajasthan contains large quantities of potassic and sodic feldspars, much of it being oligoclase and microcline. These deposits are plentiful in Kishangarh and Jaipur districts of Rajasthan together with nepheline syenite.

Feldspars are usually found in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan. The Taragarh Hill of Ajmer and the adjoining Babugarh hill contain good deposits of commercial grade feldspar. The samples contain around 64.2% SiO2 and 21.33% Al2O3. The deposits of Lohagal are suitable for the glass industry, containing a very small amount of Fe2O3 -  which is less than 0.1%.

The pegmatites of Kalesara and Govindgarh of Ajmer district produce a good amount of undecomposed feldspars, meant for a ceramic industry of western Indian states including Maharashtra and Gujarat where there are several ceramic markets.

Feldspar reserves

According to the Indian Bureau of Mines, the total resource of feldspar in India (as of 2005 data) was 90.78m. tonnes. The resources in Rajasthan alone are to the tune of 56.18m. tonnes, which accounts for 61.89% of the total feldspar mineral resource of India. The district-wise reserves/resources of feldspar are given in Table 1.



A feldspar plant utilising a roller mill at Beawar, Rajasthan


Production

The production of feldspar in India remained steady over a period of about 30 years prior to 1999. In the early days there was not enough awareness of the Indian resources as ceramics were often known as ‘China-wares’ because of their introduction first in China.

India’s first glass plant was set up in 1908 but the glass and ceramics business remained largely a cottage industry - comprising numerous small producers working primarily from their homes.

In recent years the industry has transformed and developed. From rudimentary mouth-blown and hand-working process, the industry has evolved to adopt modern processes and automation. This resulted in fast production giving way to an increase in demand for feldspar. A growth rate of 17% in exports during such years also created a sharp rise in demand, resulting in an upward swing in feldspar production.

The rising trend since 1969 is shown in Table 2. In the year 2010 the national feldspar output exceeded 1m. tonnes, contributing to about 5% of global production total (Table 3).

In 2010 the global feldspar market remained unchanged from 2009 as the ceramics market continued its recovery from the 2008 downturn. The US Geological Survey estimates global output in 2009 and 2010 to be 20m. tonnes, with Italy and Turkey leading world feldspar production in 2010. Italy is estimated to have produced 23.5% of the total followed closely by Turkey with 22.5%. Data on India’s production varies between agencies, with the IBM placing output at 950,000 tpa, while USGS places it more than 50% lower at 410,000 tpa.





Market drivers

The feldspar market is dependent mainly on the growth of Indian glass and ceramics industries as well as on exports. The Indian glass sector has been growing across all segments, with sheet and float glass recording the fastest growth - a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of nearly 67% in 2001-2005. Other glassware segments such as containers and fibreglass have recorded more modest growth rates of about 5-6% CAGR over the same period.

Tiles and sanitaryware constitute the bulk of India’s ceramic industry. Ceramic tile production has been increasing at a cumulative rate of close to 6%. The floor tiles segment is growing faster compared to wall tiles, and the increase in demand has matched the installed capacity.

Capacity has almost doubled from 2001 to 2005.The demand for ceramic tiles reached 207m. tonnes in 2005. Apart from domestic demand the export of tiles from India is also increasing. In a report, CAGR at 12% has been recorded over a period of five years from 2001 to 2006. The production of sanitaryware grew at about 17% CAGR in the same period.

Glass, including tableware, bangles, beverage containers and insulation for housing and building construction, continued to be the leading end use of feldspar in India. Most feldspar consumed by the glass industry is for the manufacture of container glass.

Residential and automotive flat glass have seen recent heavy declines as a result of the fall in housing starts, a decrease in demand from commercial construction, and a slowdown in automobile sales. The demand on the domestic front may remain sluggish for a short period until inflation comes down, as the Reserve Bank of India - in order to curb inflation - increased interest rates many times in the past year making the cost of credit more expensive, especially for these sectors. But there is hope from the other sectors such as container glass, bangles, and tableware - which appear to be evergreen - and also from increasing exports.

New sources

The Indian Bureau of Mines reports that there is an increase in the number of newly sanctioned mines. Entrepreneurs are taking an interest in feldspar mining, which gives a clear indication that the market is set to rise further.

Mahavir Minerals is one of the leading feldspar producers in the country, supplying its products to glass and ceramics industries. The company owns more than a dozen mines in Rajasthan, and is understood to be applying for licenses to open new mines.

With the growing importance of the Indian ceramics and glass sectors, the mine owners are serious about the quality of their products - taking stringent measures right from mining to processing and packing together with R&D. They have got state of the art techniques to process the crude ore, after manual inspection of the quality of the lumps by age-old experienced labour.

The ore is first segregated grade-wise and impurities are removed further during the processing. Minerals are processed in variety of sizes as per the requirement of respective customers, ranging between 43 microns to 500 microns.

The laboratory and R&D centre is regarded as one of the most important facilities in feldspar production and the majority of the leading suppliers’ units are well equipped with most modern technologies and are strategically built to carry out all necessary analytical jobs without holding up the production process.

Bharat Minerals supplies feldspar to steel industries in India. The quality control and quality assurance characteristics of the industry are also gaining wide importance in order to supply uniform and guaranteed quality products in the domestic and overseas markets. Branches of some of the leading laboratories and sample collection centres are being set up in various parts of Rajasthan to provide efficient analytical and research services to the processing units on its doorstep.

Prices

The government is charging royalties at 12% on an ad valorem basis. The average feldspar price is Rs 338/tonne ($6.80/tonne) for lumps. The price of the processed minerals is based on factors such as the mesh size and packing purity etc. The average price of sodic feldspar is greater compared to the potassic feldspar. The firing quality and the iron-free nature are also some of the important factors in deciding the price of the final product.

Contributor:
Ajay Kulshreshtha, AK Minerals Consultancy, India.


Spotlight on Rajasthan’s mineral industry

Rajasthan is located in the north-western region of India. The economy of Rajasthan is predominantly agricultural and rural in nature, besides this there are good mineral resources, industries and industrial areas and an expanding tourism industry. The major minerals include asbestos, ball clay and other clays, calcite, feldspar, fluorspar, gypsum, phosphate rock, soapstone, talc and wollastonite. Major metals include copper and zinc.

Rajasthan is the second largest state in the country to produce glass and ceramic raw materials. All of these minerals are available in abundance and offer good scope for promotion and development of the ceramic and sanitary industries at suitable locations preferably where common service facilities can be easily provided at economic costs.

Rajasthan also produces 99% of India’s gypsum, 99% of its lead and zinc, 60% of its quartz, 99% of its phosphate rock, 97% of its feldspar and 12% of the country’s mica output. Ajmer district is the leading producer in the state with about 28m. tonnes of estimated feldspar resources, containing 11-14% K2O.