By Alexandra Feytis,
Consumption trends in the global market for feldspar and
nepheline syenite are largely defined by demand from their
major end-user industries of ceramics and glass.
The financial downtown of 2008-09
impacted these markets during that time, significantly reducing
market revenues for the ceramic minerals. The economic
recession resulted in noticeable declines in housing starts and
a downturn in commercial construction projects, particularly in
the developed countries in North America and western Europe,
with construction being a primary user of ceramics and
The scenario resulted in a
significant drop in demand for automotive and residential flat
glass: The erosion in the housing construction market led
to a slump in the overall consumption of feldspar in tile and
porcelain pottery units used in sanitaryware, Global
Industry Analysts Inc. (GIA) told IM.
Global feldspar production dropped
in 2009 with levels falling to 19.6m tonnes, which is nearly
14% lower than 2008 production figure. The situation, however,
eased in the following years with production levels increasing
to 20.7m tonnes in 2011, according to the US Geological Survey
(USGS). World production has more than tripled since 1990.
But the feldspar market is still
recovering from the downturn of the last crisis, with some
regions and end markets performing better than others. GIA
reported that the world market for feldspar and nepheline
pegged at 11.6m tonnes in 2011 and is forecast to expand at a
moderate pace to reach 13.9m tonnes by 2017.
The US-based market research
company explained that Europe is backed by enhanced consumption
and production from select markets of Italy, Turkey, France and
Spain, the largest worldwide consumer of feldspar and nepheline
The consumption of feldspar in
Europe and the US continues to be sluggish mainly on account of
the slow-to-recover housing starts market, plants closures and
increases in prices and imports.
In Europe, pending the long-drawn
anti-dumping petition, the EU slapped hefty antidumping duties
of about 70% on ceramic tiles imported from China for a period
of five years. As GIA explained, the duties were imposed to
save the interests and profit margins of domestic ceramic tile
manufacturers in the EU.
Spain, one of the main consumers
for feldspar, was the European country the most affected by the
slowdown of 2008-09, which resulted in the collapse of the
countrys construction sector.
According Pascual Castejn,
general manager at Spain-based ceramic minerals producer
Euroarce, the sector declined from 800,000 new housing starts
in 2006 to fewer than 50,000 in 2011. Sanitaryware is reported
to have dropped more than 50% since 2009 and frits and glazes
about 20%. ÊCastejn reported that feldspars for
tiles bodies, where we are not producers but
end-users, decreased by over 35%.
The crisis of the
construction sector in Spain has been much more severe than in
other European countries and has deeply affected our
customers, he said to IM.
Euroarce, which produces about
175,000 tpa floated potassium feldspar, supplies frits, glazes,
sanitaryware, tableware and glass. Its main markets are Spain,
Italy, North Africa and Turkey, but the Spanish company also
supplies speciality products to central Europe, the UK and
The fall has been lower in the rest
of Europe, but there has been a decay which, together with the
global financial crisis, has directly affected tile and
sanitaryware production from Spanish and Italian companies.
The financial situation in
the country has seriously damaged many companies and it is not
yet over, Castejn commented to
Volumes are lower and many
ceramic producers are financially very weak, which also
increases credit risks. Feldspar producers are looking since
then for new emerging markets and partially finding them, but
it is not easy because logistics are especially relevant for
this mineral, he added.
Despite of this, Castejon reported
that customers had recovered partly because of a dramatic
increase of their exports to East Europe and Asia.
However, we have been able to
perform quite successfully during this period of strong
recession and our most relevant customers keep in good shape.
This keeps us very confident about the future, Castejon
said, pointing out that after a brisk downfall in
2009-10, the feldspar market is steady at the moment.
The Asia Pacific region constitutes
a major market, both in terms of sheer size as well as growth
The region - spurred by
intense demand from China, Thailand, South Korea and India - is
poised to demonstrate a robust growth rate over the
years, GIA said.
Sanitaryware, an important end user
of feldspar, witnessed above-average growth in developing
markets of China, parts of South East Asia, Mexico, South
America and the Middle East.
Top 24 feldspar producing
x2 compare to 2005; x27.5 compare
x3 since 1990
-8.5% since 2005
Republic of Korea
x10 since 1990
x17.2 since 1990
* Estimated; ** Includes pergmatite;*** Includes apatite.
Main producing countries
Feldspar is the most abundant group of minerals in the
Earths crust, forming about 60% of terrestrial rocks.
Feldspar reserves are found in various countries such as India,
Czech Republic, Portugal and Poland among others.
Turkey and Italy are the top two
producing countries, accounting for about 50% of the world
production with almost 10m tpa estimated in 2011 according to
the USGS (see table).
Turkey became the worlds
leading feldspar producer in 2006, outpacing Italy, which had
led feldspar production during the two previous decades.
Between 2005 and 2001, Turkey almost doubled its output and
during the past 21 years, its domestic production increased
27-fold to an estimated 5m tpa in 2011 from 182,000 tonnes in
1990. Meanwhile, Italys production grew three-fold to
4.7m tonnes from 1.6m tonnes during the corresponding
The two leading countries are
followed by China (2.1m tonnes estimated in 2011), the US
(690,000 tonnes), France (650,000 tonnes), and South Korea
Some countries, such as Poland,
have showed a significant boost in production during the past
few years. The eastern European countrys feldspar output
increased 17-fold to an estimated 550,000 tonnes in 2011 from
32,000 tonnes in 1990, as its domestic ceramics production
rocketed dramatically during the past two decades. The tile
industry, which accounts for about 80% of feldspar consumption
in the country, was a major demand driver.
Meanwhile, Egypts output rose
to 180,000 tonnes last year compared with 9,900 tonnes in 1990.
Germany was the only country to see its production drop
significantly during the same time, from 418,000 tonnes to
The worlds top five producing
companies, with capacity of >1m tpa, include Italys
Gruppo Minerali Maffei SpA, Frances mining conglomerate
Imerys SA, Turkeys Kaltun Mining Co., Esan Eczacibasi
Industrial Raw Minerals, and Cine Akmaden Madencilik Ticaret
SA. Gruppo Minerali SpA became the largest feldspar producing
company in the world when it took over Italys Maffei SpA
US feldspar production was valued at about $43m in 2011,
according to the USGS. Last year, the country produced 690,000
tonnes, an 8.7% decrease compared with 2005.
Interestingly, US domestic feldspar
consumption has gradually shifted from ceramics toward glass
markets, with most of the raw material consumed for the
manufacture of container glass.
In 2011, 70% of domestic feldspar
in the US was estimated to be used for the glass industry -
including beverage containers and insulation for housing and
building construction - with about 30% dedicated for pottery
and other uses (see panel: Feldspar at a glance).
The glass container industry
was moderately stable, although competing materials in some
market segments, such as baby food, fruit juices, mineral water
and wine, and a recent trend to import less expensive
containers from China, continued to present challenges,
said USGS analyst Arnold Tanner.
Additionally, increasing use
of post-consumer glass collected through local government and
neighbourhood recycling programmes continued to provide
additional competition for traditional raw materials, such as
feldspar in the manufacture of glass containers, he
Gradual improvements that began in
2010 continued in 2011, while recovery for world economic
markets from the economic recession in 2008 and 2009 continued
to be slow.
Residential flat glass markets
improved slightly in 2011, but remained somewhat
sluggish, Tanner believes.
The USGS reported that housing
starts were projected to increase a small amount in 2011, based
on the first nine months, whereas housing completions were
expected to decrease slightly. The USGS forecasts significantly
fewer completions during the first half of the year compared
with those of the corresponding period in 2010. In the
meantime, commercial construction and automotive glass markets
India, which produced an estimated 410,000 tonnes feldspar in
2011 according to the USGS, could ban exports of feldspar and
quartz in the next few months.
The Hindus Business
Line reported in May 2012 that producers of ceramic tiles
and sanitaryware have asked the Indian government to ban
exports of feldspar and quartz; critical raw materials for the
industries, which consume about 84% of domestic feldspar
Globalisation and new ventures have
boosted demand for these two minerals resulting in a surge in
exports which has led to a shortage locally, a steady rise in
prices, and uncertainties in long-term strategies of the
domestic sector, the Board of Indian Council of Ceramic Tiles
and Sanitaryware said in a statement.
Depletion of these raw
materials will force domestic industries to rely heavily on
imports. This will result in further escalation of input costs
thereby making tiles and sanitaryware expensive for the end
user, said the industry bodys chairman, Sreekant
Somany, pointing out that it may also force many ceramic
tile and sanitaryware manufacturers to shut down.
During FY 2010, feldspar exports
were 342,000 tonnes, accounting for more than 30% of the
production, according to Business Line.
Such huge exports of the raw
material could cause a rapid depletion of the natural resource
for domestic industrys consumption, in turn creating
panic amongst them, Somany warned.
In India, the domestic feldspar
market did not pick up due to the poor growth of housing sector
during 2011-12 attributed to the high cost of interest rates on
housing loans, Ajay Kulshreshtha from AK Minerals Consultancy
Services, explained to IM.
According to Kulshreshtha, the
countrys economic growth fell to 6.5% in 2011-12. India
has also had to content with high inflation, and a slowdown in
the housing and commercial construction sectors.
Kulshreshtha, therefore, believes
that the Indian feldspar industry will have to wait for
some more time for the growth.
In June 2011, Norway-based Sibelco Nordic (formerly North Cape
Minerals AS) closed its pegmatite mine in Glamsland, near
Lillesand, owing to falling market demand for feldspar.
The 90,000 tpa feldspar Lillesand
plant, which also produced quartz, was the only facility
globally to separate potassic and sodic feldspar from pegmatite
Feldspar production continues at
the Fossbekk branch of the Lillesand plant, while a Belgian
sand source is used to supply the quartz facility.
Hilde Nordvick, plant manager and
senior vice president development, explained to
IM that the company decided to close the plant
owing to expensive processing costs and falling demand for
In recent years, the market for
feldspar in Europe has been characterised by enormous pressure
on prices and a simultaneous reduction in volumes resulting
from competition and technological development. As a
consequence, the flotation process and the demanding balance
between the three main products became too costly in relation
to what the market is willing to pay.
The market, notably in traditional
cathode ray tube (CRT) TV sets, has declined steadily since the
development of liquid crystal display (LCD) and plasma TV
screens, also affecting consumption of minerals such as
Ceramics and glass industries are the major end-use markets for
feldspathic minerals. According to GIA, consumption of feldspar
is higher in tile producing regions such as China, Latin
America, Spain, Italy and South East Asia.
The EU produces about a third of
world tile output, with Italy and Spain being some of the
largest tile producers in the region and Spain being the
largest worldwide consumer of feldspar and nepheline syenite,
capturing a substantial share of about 50% of the market in
In Europe, ceramic tiles are
predominantly used as flooring, while North American consumers
tend to use tiles as wall coverings. Use of ceramic tiles
and sanitaryware products in individual housing and commercial
construction sector is likely to remain steady, GIA told
The US-based market research
company also underlined that container glass, the largest
segment of the glass industry, is displaying steady
growth in some areas, particularly in China and South East
Asia, where the market for beer and soft drinks is expected to
grow faster than in other regions.
However, in other regions, glass
faces competition from alternative packaging materials like
plastic, coated paper and aluminium.
In Asia Pacific, China is the
largest supplier of feldspar to the domestic market as well as
many South East Asian countries. The country, which is the
worlds third largest feldspar producer after Turkey and
Italy according to USGS data, produced 2.1m tonnes in 2011.
Chinas rapidly growing
economy continues to consume massive quantities of materials
including ceramics and glass. Demand from the country is
one of the major factors influencing and driving global
demand, GIA stressed, as Chinas auto and
construction industries are major consumers of flat glass.
The USGS reported that feldspar use
in tile and sanitaryware in the US and western Europe
continued to be sluggish because of the struggling
housing market, some closures of plants, and increased
imports. The main growth markets for sanitaryware have
been in China, Mexico, the Middle East, South America and South
In the US, fibreglass consumption
for thermal insulation is forecast to expand in line with
housing and commercial building construction through 2013.
According to the USGS, domestic feldspar consumption has been
gradually shifting from ceramics towards glass markets. Solar
glass, used in the production of solar cells, remains a growing
segment in the glass industry.
In India, demand for ceramics is
expected to increase with the growth in the housing sector.
There is considerable scope in demand for fibreglass products,
particularly due to growth in petrochemical sector and allied
Ajay Kulshreshtha, from AK Minerals
Consultancy Services, told IM there has been
a phenomenal growth during the past two decades in
the field of technical ceramics to meet specific demands of
industries like high-alumina ceramics, cutting tools and other
According to Kulshreshtha, India
produced 896,636 tonnes bottles/ bottle glassware during
2009-10 with imports worth Indian rupee (Rs) 16.7bn ($241m) and
Rs 21.4bn ($308m), respectively.
The city of Firozabad in Uttar
Pradesh, popularly known as the `Glass City of India, is
the chief centre of small-scale glass production units and
accounts for about 70% production in the small-scale sector.
These units make the most innovative items of glass which
are exported to different parts of the world, said
Challenges & opportunities
The feldspar industrys health depends on the ups and
downs of its end markets, principally ceramics and glass, which
are closely related to the variations of the global economy.
But the industry also has to face many growth inhibitors.
Among them, competition from
substitutes, increasing energy and transportation costs,
growing use of alternative packaging containers such as
plastics, are the main factors slowing down the market.
As GIA underlined to
IM, the use of glass cullet in preference to
mineral raw materials also remains a source of concern for the
In India, environmental concerns
and illegal mining are the major issues in the country, which
can also be held responsible for the negative mining sector
growth to some extent.
Ajay Kulshreshtha also confirmed to
IM that demand is still sluggish in the
country, but believes that there are vast opportunities in
technical ceramics from overseas customers especially from
Europe, the US, China and the Middle Eastern regions.
On the other hand, feldspar
production and capacity has been rising significantly since
1990, more than tripling to reach an estimated 20.7m tonnes in
2011 according to the USGS.
At present, the feldspar industry
sees a resilient demand from developing markets of Asia
Pacific, Latin America, Middle East and Eastern European
countries, GIA outlined, in addition to a
substantial demand from end-use industries such as
ceramics, glass, fillers, abrasives/ chemicals, and latex.
A gradual revival is reported in
the commercial and residential construction market, in addition
to the automotive sector.
Pascual Castejn, general manager at Spain-based Euroarce,
told IM that at the moment, it is
difficult to find a better quality-price relationship for the
markets that we are supplying.
However, imported nepheline syenite
remains the major alternative material. Feldspar can also be
replaced in some of its end uses by clays, electric-furnace
slag, feldspar-silica mixtures, pyrophyllite, spodumene and
According to GIA, materials
containing alkali metals confined to minerals other than
feldspar, can be used as substitutes for feldspar, for instance
nepheline syenites or nepheline phonolites, which can replace
feldspars as a melting agent.
As nepheline syenite is
composed of soda and potash feldspars and nepheline, it adds
alkalis and alumina to the glass composition. Further, because
it contains a higher proportion of these oxides per unit
weight, it is a formidable competitor for feldspar, GIA
In other applications such as fine
abrasives, filler in rubber, plastics and paints, feldspar can
be replaced by bauxite, corundum, diatomite, garnet, magnetite,
nepheline syenite, olivine, perlite, pumice, silica sand,
staurolite, calcined alumina hydrate, clays, talc, spodumene
and pyrophyllite or their mixtures.
Processed glass can be used in
ceramic products including sanitaryware, tiles, pottery and
tableware. Ground glass containing Na2O and
K2O can replace nepheline syenite and feldspar as a
flux agent to reduce raw material cost and energy consumption,
Alternatives for our
feldspars might be seen in some lower quality applications in
nepheline syenite as well as in sodic feldspars, said
Otto Hieber, general manager at Germany-based Amberger
Kaolinwerke Eduard Kick GmbH & Co. KG.
During the past five years, the average US prices for feldspar
have ranged $60-63/tonne, with a peak at $65/tonne during 2009
and 2010 from $60/tonne in 2007 and $62/tonne in 2008,
according to the USGS.
GIA confirmed the trend to
IM, adding that the US feldspar prices, which
fell marginally to $62/tonne in 2011, are likely to
continue at the similar level in the near term.
In China, the research company
reported that prices for feldspar increased steadily during the
past few years post-recession, particularly with respect to the
ceramics industry. The spike in prices in the region was
pegged at a high 25-30% in the recent past, trigged mainly by
raw material supply deficit, GIA said.
On the domestic front in India,
Kulshreshtha from AK Minerals Consultancy Services estimates
that the products are facing resistance to price
increases due to the sluggish demand.
Indian lump price ex-pit/mines is
around $6-7/tonne, with prices for sodic feldspar being more
important compared to potassic feldspar, Kulshreshtha
The probability of a more
protracted period of stagnation seems high. At the same time,
outlook for 2013 economic growth seems to be promising,
Kulshreshtha told to IM.
In Europe, Spanish floated
K-feldspar in glass grade moves in a range of 58-65/tonne
FOB Spanish Mediterranean port, while Turkish standard
Na-Feldspar would be between 28-32/tonne CIF same
The prices of sodium feldspar
came down about 2-3/tonne four years ago and they have
basically kept the same since then, despite periodical attempts
to increase, Pascual Castejon, general manager at
Spain-based Euroarce, told to IM.
Castejn revealed that the
floated and special feldspars, such as those produced by
Euroarce, could have higher prices but remain at
more normal levels.
According to him, the standard
grades of sodium feldspar for tiles, mostly Turkish, are
however living a war of prices, which has already lasted three
or four years, due to the lack of differentiation of the
products and the decrease of the consumption volumes.
Castejon remains cautious: I
do not expect an increase at least for the short future.
Afterwards, who knows.
The feldspar industry remains cautious as the last financial
downturn impacted the glass and ceramic industries, its main
markets. However, growth is expected from developing countries,
particularly in Asia. GIA told IM that
increased production of ceramics, particularly in China as well
as in some traditional producers such as Italy and Spain
is currently presenting huge opportunities for
Kulshreshtha confirmed to
IM that Asian countries such as India and
China serve as big markets which will help in keeping the
balance globally and I feel that by 2013 the demand will pick
In terms of end uses, sustained
increased demand from major markets of glass, ceramics,
fillers, adhesives and others should propel future growth in
the industry. Further, continued demand for feldspar and
nepheline syenite from fast emerging markets, such as Asia
Pacific, and Latin America, is expected to fuel market growth
over the years, GIA forecast.
In the US, fibreglass consumption
for thermal insulation is expected to rise in parallel to the
domestic housing and commercial building construction market
through 2013, according to the USGS.
In Spain, Castejon from Spain-based
Euroarce warned of progressive market consolidation as small
producers remain affected by economic uncertainty. This
has been already happening during the last years, he told
In India, Kulshreshtha believes
that demand for feldspar will remain under pressure as the
global economy contends with Eurozone woes and a potential
slowdown in China.
Some superior grades for some special applications
will remain positive, for which value-added products will be in
demand, he told to IM, warning, however,
that one has to remain cautious.