The technical ceramics industry is continuing to
see demand growth for value-added products in niche markets,
particularly in developed economies, where refractory producers
as well as the steel, nonferrous metal and cement industries
are shifting towards high quality, speciality products.
The refractories industry in Europe has
experienced weak demand in the last two years, particularly for
traditional magnesite-based bricks and monolithics, owing to a
slowdown in construction activity, which suppressed steel and
cement consumption, following the global economic crisis in
World-leading refractory producer RHI AG said
last year that a challenging market environment in the glass
industry impacted its turnover in the first nine months of 2014
- with its profits halving in H1 2014 - due to weak demand in
Europe, the CIS and the Middle East.
Factors such as global overcapacity in the glass
industry - particularly in the flat glass segment - and low
metal prices have eaten into demand for refractories,
particularly in Europe, where the company is planning to close
a glass facility and scale back manufacturing operations in the
next two years.
In the last four years, refractory consumption in
European Union (EU) countries dropped by 11%, with the Czech
Republic notably posting a 20% decrease in production, while
production in China rose by 14%.
According to Czech Republic-based refractory
producer, REFRASIL s.r.o., production of low-quality refractory
materials - such as fireclay, silica and magnesite with a high
content of ferric impurities - has been falling in the last
four years, while production of high-quality ceramics has been
"Aluminosilica materials production has been
decreasing, while basic materials, with high utility values,
have been pushing their way up more and more," the company said
in a report published in June 2014.
The development of high quality products in the
refractories industry, especially among US and EU-based
producers, has been driven by a steady decrease in specific
refractory consumption by the steel industry, which accounts
for 65-75% of global refractories consumption.
Average specific consumption has fallen from
50kg/tonne of steel in the 1950s to 15kg/tonne of steel in
2010, with consumption as low as 7kg/tonne of steel in Japan
(see Figure 1), and averaging about 22kg/tonne of
steel in China.
According to independent refractories consultant
Charles Semler, quality issues resulting from contact between
refractories and molten steel in steel production has fuelled
demand for improved refractory products, which create fewer
defects in the steel and increase its purity.
China is now the world’s leading
refractories manufacturer with, 28.2m tonnes of refractories
produced in 2013, accounting for more than 66% of global
production, according to statistics from the Association of
China Refractories Industry (ACRI).
Hongxia Li, from Sinosteel Luoyong Institute of
Refractories Research, said at 10th India
Refractories Congress (IREFCON) in January 2014 that the
Chinese refractories industry has made unprecedented advances
over the last 30 years, but needs to move towards better
allocation of raw materials, environmentally friendly and
It also needs to increase the use of monolithics
as a proportion of refractories consumed from 40% currently to
70%, and up its use of recycled materials to 70%.
The refractories industry has gradually moved
towards the development of new products with improved quality
and purity, including synthetic materials, low silica
magnesia-chrome (MgO-Cr2O3) bricks, solid
solution bonded alumina-chromite
bricks, magnesia-carbon/graphite (MgO-C) products, zirconia
(ZrO2)-added products, MgO-
Al2O3 spinels and high-tech castables
with steel/organic fibres.
Meanwhile, the market has increasingly shifted
from bricks towards unshaped monolithics, which accounted for
the 68% if the total market in Japan in 2012.
Refractories producers have been conducting
studies to improve control of the microstructure of products to
enhance their chemical, physical and mechanical properties.
New research is underway to develop modified
structures and pre-reacted spinels, nanopowder rods, wires and
fibres, flexible, functional and monolithic refractories, as
well as high-tech engineered ceramics, according to Semler.
Market trends for advanced
Several technical ceramic products have seen
growth or stability in their respective markets worldwide. A
positive impact has came from the expansion of the industry
globally, which boosted demand for technical refractory
materials in kilns for the production of tiles and
According to recent data from the Italian
Association of Manufacturers of Machinery for Ceramics
(ACIMAC), tiles production reached 11.9bn m2 in
2013, up 6.4% year-on-year (y-o-y), with stable demand during
"If international events do not escalate and
there is new stabilisation, we believe the market will grow
more in 2015," Fabio Tarozzi, ACIMAC’s president,
said at Tecnargilla 2014 in Rimini, Italy, in September
Refractories producers told IM
at the side lines of Tecnargilla that they expect growth in the
production of synthetic minerals used in the ceramics
Italy-based Refrattari Speciali told
IM that they are seeing business growth in
their mullite and cordierite-based refractory products for the
ceramic kilns market.
Demand is high outside Europe - particularly in
Turkey, Iran and Indonesia - and moderate in the US, while
there is growing consumption in India, despite strong
competition among local producers, the company told
Johannes Heckmann, member of the board of
directors at German producer Nabaltec AG, told
IM that synthetic mullite typically has a
niche market, with global annual consumption of 20,000 tpa,
compared with 2m tpa for speciality alumina.
The mineral, which accounts for 10% of the
company’s business, is marketed at an average
price of €1,000/tonne ($1,184/tonne*), but varies
according to grade and grain size.
"The market for technical ceramics is quite
stable. There are new opportunities in terms of new value-added
products and high-performance ceramics," Heckmann told
Portugal-based Ceramifor, which produces
cordierite, a magnesium-iron-aluminium cyclosilicate, and
silicon carbide (SiC)-based refractory bricks and kilns, told
IM it has seen growth in demand for its
refractory products in 2013, on the back of an expanding
ceramic tiles market across Europe.
The company was awarded a contract to supply two
tunnel kilns and one shuttle kiln for sanitaryware production
in Algeria, which is part of a modernisation project to
increase equipment performance and efficiency.
Ceramifor’s daily production exceeds
2,000-2,500 pieces for the tunnel kilns, with a capacity over
100 m3 for the shuttle kiln.
Egypt-based Asfour Mining and Refractories also
told IM that the ceramics market is steadily
growing in the Middle East and North Africa region,
particularly in Algeria, driving up demand for refractories in
ceramics kilns. The company produces refractory materials for
kilns in the steel, ceramics and cement industries, with a
total production capacity of 90,000 tpa.
Russia’s largest refractories
producer, Magnezit Group, recently launched a series of new
refractory bricks for the glass industry, marketed under the
brand of MZ-84, with improved thermophysical characteristics
for lining walls of glass-melting furnaces.
The company, which also launched a zirconium
silicate-based thixotropic refractory castable for lining steel
ladles in June 2014, installed a new multi-hearth furnace with
a production capacity of 100,000 tpa of periclase clinkers at
its Satka plant in Russia, the following July.
Also in 2014, UK-based technical ceramics
producer, Magma Ceramics & Catalysts, launched a new series
of zirconia crucibles, which improve yields and reduce
processing costs in the superalloy industry, according to the
"Zirconia crucibles offer superior resistance to
alloy wettability and excellent thermal cycling properties,"
Tim Hazlehurst, Magma’s business development
manager, told IM.
Magma Ceramics, which entered a joint venture
(JV) with fellow UK-based refractories manufacturer Morgan
Advanced Materials in March 2014, said that it planned to
market its new zirconia crucible around the world through
strategic alliances with its major customers.
The zirconia market has grown in the last three
years, reaching global production of 520,000 tpa in 2014,
resulting from high demand for zirconium carbonate in
automotive catalysts and ceramic pigments, which use fused
zirconia in the digital inkjet printing technology for ceramic
tiles, according to consulting firm Roskill Information
New potential applications for zirconia are
offered by the dental millings industry, which uses zirconium
crowns and bridges,
due to the mineral’s strength which
allows it to withstand the biting pressure of the front teeth
as well as the grinding of back teeth. Minnesota Dental
Millings has developed
a zirconia crown which resembles natural teeth,
due to its ability to reflect light in the same way.
Other potentially significant uses of
zirconia-based ceramics are in fuel cells and 3D printing
technology. Researchers from Northwestern University in Boston,
US, have developed a novel process to produce ceramic materials
by 3D printing. They manufactured a yttrium-stabilised zirconia
(YSZ) material to be used in advanced solid fuel cells to
convert gas into electricity.
SiC is one of the products with high growth
prospects, according to technical ceramics producers.
World-leading producer Refratechnik Group said that SiC is a
particularly interesting area of focus in its research and
development (R&D) department, which is looking to expand
current applications and generate new market opportunities.
SiC is widely used in the abrasive industry,
which began to show signs of improvement in the second half of
2014, after a slowdown in early H1, compared with
India-based abrasive and global refractories
supplier Carborundum Universal Ltd (CUMI), which is a major
producer of SiC from its 65,000 tpa plant in Russia, reported
in September 2014 that "improved wear and metallised business
drove growth in industrial ceramics".
Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese abrasive producers,
including Henan Yuxin Abrasives Co. and Qinyang Sanhui
Refractory Material Co. launched new SiC abrasive products
towards the end of 2014, while France-based Saint Gobain
expanded its abrasive assets in Turkey with the acquisition of
Atlas Zampara in October last year.
According to a report published in December 2014
by Transparency Market Research, the global abrasives
market was valued at $35.2m in 2012 and is expected to reach
$1.4bn by 2019, with a 5.5% compound annual growth rate
Factors such as stringent government restrictions
on the use of silica-based abrasives and volatile raw material
prices might restrain the market growth, the report said.
Global demand for abrasives in 2012 was estimated
to be about 13.9m tonnes, driven by expanding automotive and
medical devices markets. The bonded abrasives segment, which
accounts for the largest share of the market, is forecast to
reach a value of $16.7m worldwide in 2019, with a 4.5% CAGR,
according to Transparency Market Research.
SiC has found new market opportunities in
technological applications such as liquid membranes.
US-headquartered LiqTech International saw a 12% increase in
sales of its SiC-based membrane technologies for the removal of
heavy toxic metals in wastewater treatment in the third quarter
But the largest growth for SiC is offered by the
semiconductors and power electronics markets, in which the
product is gradually substituting traditional silicon
metal-based semiconductors, as it offers low power loss during
on/off switching, enabling more efficient current flow in
hybrid (HEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs), even at high
In May last year, Japanese car manufacturers
Toyota Motors and Denso developed a SiC-based power
semiconductor for applications in automotive power control
units (PCUs). According to the two companies, the new material
will improve efficiency by 10% and reduce PCU size by 80%.
In July 2014, General Electric announced a $500m
project in collaboration with the New York State government to
develop low-cost SiC wafers to be used in smaller, lighter and
more powerful semiconductors for computers, solar power and
According to a report published by RNR Market
Research in September 2014, the SiC-based semiconductor
market is expected to grow at a 42% CAGR to 2020, with
Asia-Pacific countries driving the growth at a 43.5% CAGR,
accounting for 36.5% of the total market.
Japanese company Showa Denko increased its
production of SiC wafers from 400 units per month to 1,500
units per month, for applications in power devices in September
2014. Sweden-based Norstel AB started the supply of SiC wafers
to British company Anvil Semiconductors in October 2014 and
UK-based Glenrothes Raytheon started the production of SiC
metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs)
for EVs and HEVs in November.
A report released in December 2014 by
MarketsandMarkets projected the SiC-based ceramic
matrix composites market to reach a value of $1.2bn by 2019,
due to rapidly growing demand in the aerospace, automotive,
energy and power industries, where they are used owing to their
fracture toughness and high temperature, wear and corrosion
resistance. India is the fastest growing market, with an 18.3%
CAGR forecast between 2014 and 2019. Growth in the North
American market is forecast at a 13.5% CAGR.
China’s ceramic industry
Ceramic tiles (bn
Source: EH Consultancy
Alumina-based spinels and speciality alumina
products are also seeing increasing growth opportunities in
Nabaltec told IM that there are
growth opportunities for Al2O3 and
MgO-Al2O3 spinels as steel producers in
Europe and the US are shifting to higher quality
"Although Asia offers higher potential for
increasing consumption of Al2O3 in this
field, we remain confident that Europe will still be an
important market," Heckmann told IM.
The proppants market in Asia, the US and the
Middle East also offer growth prospects for calcined bauxite
and kaolin as sources of Al2O3. US-based
Carbo Ceramics Inc. introduced an alumina-based ceramic
proppant, named Kryptosphere, which is able to work at 20,000
psi to maximise and sustain hydrocarbon flow in fracking
In China, oilfield technology supplier, Anton
Oilfield Services Group (Antonoil), started ceramic proppants
production in China in April 2014, with first-phase production
capacity expected to be 50,000 tpa.
Canadian junior First Bauxite is planning to
develop its Bonasika refractory-grade bauxite project in
Guyana, targeting the production of 150,000 tpa bauxite both
for refractory and proppant markets.
Meanwhile, high-density alumina (HDA) grinding
balls have seen steadily increasing demand in the expanding
ceramics industry, especially among tiles and sanitaryware
Spain-based global supplier, Hito Technical
Industries Srl, told IM at Tecnargilla 2014
that global demand for HDA balls rose from 50,000 tpa in the
mid-1990s to 150,000 tpa in 2014, with Europe, Asia, North and
South America notably recording higher demand.
Speciality alumina has seen increasing
consumption in the rapidly expanding fibreglass market.
Ukraine-based kaolin producer Prosco Resources told
IM that there is an increasing need for the
mineral in the Russian fibreglass industry, which is expanding
at a rapid pace. Kaolin is an aluminosilicate with a content of
37-39.5% Al2O3, which makes it an
important source of alumina.
Canadian junior Hudson Resources told
IM that it is mainly targeting the e-glass
market - now the most common type of glass fibre used to make
fibreglass - to supply speciality alumina from its White
Mountain anorthosite project in Greenland.
"The e-glass market appears to be growing at [a
CAGR of] 5-7% per year and we believe that anorthosite can
contribute between 25% and 40% of the batch that goes to the
furnace," Jamie Tuer, Hudson’s president, told
"We believe that global production of e-glass is
roughly 5m tpa. Therefore, the potential market for anorthosite
in e-glass is between 1.25-2m tpa," he added.
Tuer told IM that the company
targeted 200,000 tpa in its internal study for the project, but
expects to exceed 300,000 tpa within three years of entering
"E-glass is not generally made using alumina as a
source of aluminium for the glass," he said, adding that demand
is distributed as 25% in Europe, 25% in North America and 50%
According to Qianzhan Business Information
Co., global fibreglass production rose from 4.7m tonnes in
2010 to 5.3m tonnes in 2012, with China accounting for about
50% of global production.
Fibreglass finds major applications in
construction, automobiles, infrastructure and increasing demand
in China is expected to play a crucial role in boosting overall
growth in the market, according to market research firm,
High-purity alumina (HPA) has also seen growth
opportunities in high-tech industries, including smartphones,
light emitting diodes (LEDs), semiconductors and phosphor-based
According to leading speciality alumina producer,
Almatis, the market for speciality alumina materials is
characterised by positive long-term growth prospects, owing to
the material’s versatility and to growing demand
for advanced refractory applications.
A report from TechNavio Research,
published in April 2014, forecast HPA production to grow from
19,040 tpa in 2014 to 48,230 tpa in 2018, at a 48% CAGR.
According to TechNavio, the market is
expected to see significant growth especially in Asia-Pacific,
which accounts for 70% of global HPA consumption, thanks to its
hubs of high-tech companies. Europe, Africa and the Middle East
accounted for 16% of global demand, with North and South
America making up the remaining 14%.
Demand is largely being driven by the growing
market for artificial sapphire substrates for LEDs, as these
products have high thermal stability, chemical resistance and
mechanical strength. This segment accounted for 55% of HPA
global demand in 2013, according to TechNavio, which
forecast HPA consumption by LEDs to reach 31,810 tpa by 2018,
growing at a 32% CAGR (see Figure 2).
HPA is also used in semiconductor wafer
processing equipment as it provides a high level of plasma
corrosion resistance and high-bending strength.
As the semiconductor industry is expected to grow
steadily in the next few years, this will also boost demand for
HPA in this market, which accounts for 22% of total HPA
consumption, figures from TechNavio show.
HPA consumption in semiconductors was estimated
to be 3,100 tpa in 2013 and is expected to reach 4,210 tpa by
2018, growing at a 6.3% CAGR.
Phosphor-based applications and lithium-ion
batteries are two other markets which offer potential growth in
New projects under development by Australian
junior Altech Chemicals and Canada-based Orbite Aluminae also
aim to produce HPA at low cost from aluminous clays.
As major refractories consuming markets like
China and India move towards advanced refractory products,
there is an opportunity for technical ceramics to enter these
Refractories producers are consequently focusing
on R&D and are opening new technical centres in
Asia-Pacific to be close to prospective growth markets.
In 2013-2014, Almatis set up a new
state-of-the-art calcined alumina plant in Qingdao, China,
while developing technical support labs and R&D centres in
India, China and the US.
Calcium aluminate technologies world-leader,
Kerneos Inc., meanwhile, opened an R&D centre in
Tianjin-Teda province, China, in May 2014, to serve customers
around the globe with innovative products based on aluminate
technologies. The French company is also planning to commission
a new calcium aluminate cement plant in India, with an initial
capacity of 30,000 tpa, by the end of 2016.
A research project from the Technische
Universitaet Ilmenau in Germany urged the refractories industry
to develop a roadmap to support advanced research and product
Major emphasis is being placed on the
optimisation of product formulations in terms of porosity and
grain size, as well as in the development of alternative
materials compositions and requirements through appropriate
mixing and slurring technologies.
An illustrative case was given by the recent
design by Czech Republic-based iron and steel producer Trinecke
Zelezarny, which has developed a new concept in lining focusing
on the use of multi-components - applying
Al2O3-SiC-C, andalusite and bauxite
bricks in the slag line of pig iron transport ladles - to
increase average lining life of kilns.
Coatings and multilayer structures are gaining
increasing relevance, especially to improve thermal shock and
corrosion resistance of refractories, and joining different
ceramics and metals is another future research field of
interest, according to Technische Universitaet Ilmenau.
This may extend the scope of new refractory
materials and will meet the increasing demand for various
products and components that can be adjusted to specific
operating conditions in the steel, glass and cement
*Conversion made January 2015