Global talc production and markets

By IM Staff
Published: Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Growth in the plastics industry is helping to drive expansion in talc markets, particularly for high purity material used in making lightweight, high performing components for automobiles. Ian Wilson, Consultant, gives an overview of worldwide talc production and consumption and examines some of the key trends shaping the industry.

Global talc production in 2014 was estimated at 6.4m tonnes, with 11 countries accounting for 92% of output. Imerys Talc is the largest company in the industry, producing 1.4m tonnes, or 22% of world output, last year, followed by Mondo Minerals with 750,000 tonnes, or 12% of global production.     

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Figure 1: Variation of mineralogy of some talc deposits. (Source: Ian Wilson)

China is the world’s foremost producer of talc. Chinese talc production last year was 1.9m tonnes, or 30% of overall supply, with output coming mainly from Liaoning, Shandong and Guangxi provinces. Today, Chinese talc is more expensive than high-quality talc from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has lately registered significant growth in exports, particularly to the US.    

New sources of talc are now being offered from Pakistan and North Korea. While Pakistan is credited with much of the new talc in the market, the majority of it comes from Afghanistan, where high quality white talc is being exported via Pakistan to all continents, with some material even going to China. Global demand for talc is expected to rise steadily, with strong growth in plastics, coatings and technical ceramic markets, offset by a fall in consumption in paper and traditional ceramic applications.Talc production in China remains stable around the 1.9m tpa mark. India continues to develop as a supplier, meanwhile, and is now the second largest producing country. A decline in the use of talc as a paper filler has been more than offset by growth in the use of talc in polymers, especially for automobile parts. 

Talc deposits have been classified into four types, based on the rocks they are formed from – as outlined below.

Types of talc

Magnesium carbonate 

• Transformation of dolomite and magnesite in the presence of silica to form talc

• Represents 60-70% of world production; 

• Provides some of the whitest and purest talc;

• Sources include: Yellowstone, Montana, US; China; North Korea;  Afghanistan; and Pakistan.

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Figure 2: SEM of cryptocrystalline white talc from the Namgye deposit in North KoreaSource: Ian Wilson

Serpentinite 

• Represents 20% of world production

• Commonly called soapstone – often grey and never pure;

• Upgraded by beneficiation, particularly flotation, to increase talc content and brightness;

• Sources include: Egypt; Finland; Vermont, US; and Quebec and Ontario, Canada.

Siliceous or silico-aluminous rocks

• Represents about 10% of world
production;

• Formed by transformation of quartzite (source of silica) with silico-aluminous rocks, such as schist and gneiss; chlorite can form as well as talc;

• Best example is from Trimouns, France.

Magnesium sedimentary deposits 

• Generally impure and not much is mined;

• New resources being developed in China.

Table 1: Chemistry, mineralogy 
and brightness of Namgye grade "A"

NAMGYE TALC – GRADE "A"

Chemistry Wt.%

MgO

32.0

SiO2

63.0

Fe2O3

0.10

CaO

0.03

AI2O3

0.20

LOI

4.5

others

% Talc

>99

Ry Brightness

92-95

 

Source: Ian Wilson

Talc can show variable mineralogy with the presence of chlorite, carbonate and other minerals. This can be represented on a triangle, with the points as talc, chlorite and carbonate/others, as shown in Figure 1. Material mined from some deposits can be made purer through beneficiation to remove contaminants, such as happens with the Finnish deposits belonging to Mondo Minerals. Talc can also vary in colour, with examples of white, pink, greyish and green types found across the world.

An scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of white macrocrystalline talc from North Korea is shown in Figure 2.  Here, the talc is associated with the magnesite deposit currently being mined mainly for caustic calcined magnesia (CCM) production.Talc derived from dolomite and magnesite is generally macrocrystalline, while talc from serpentinite (ultrabasic rock) is usually microcrystalline.  

The chemistry, mineralogy and brightness of Namgye white talc are shown in Table 1.

Chlorite is associated with the magnesite deposit at Namgye and is mined underground (see Figure 3), with a typical analysis shown in Table 2.

Mineral commodity specialist Bob Virta reports that US Geological Survey (USGS) draft estimates, yet to be finalised, for global production of talc and pyrophyllite in 2014 were just over 7.458m tonnes, with 6.304m tonnes for talc and 1.154m tonnes of pyrophyllite. The estimated talc production for 34 countries in 2014 is shown in Table 3.  The USGS’ estimate for Chinese production in 2014 is 2.2m tonnes, but this has been reduced to 1.9m tonnes in line with other estimates. Afghanistan was not included in USGS estimates, so 400,000 tonnes have been added, taking overall global talc production to 6.4m tonnes.  

Global talc production

A split of world talc production in 2014 on a regional basis is shown in Figure 4, with Asia accounting for 53%; Europe, 20%; South/Central America, 12%; North America, 12%; and Africa/Middle East/Oceania, 3%. Eleven of the countries account for 92% of the 6.4m tonnes talc produced in 2014, as shown in Figure 5.

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Figure 3: Mining of chlorite at the
Namgye mine, North Korea.

A list of the world’s leading producers of talc is shown in Table 4.

Leading producers of talc

Imerys is now the leading producer of talc worldwide, following the acquisition of Talc de Luzenac from Rio Tinto in 2011, with operations in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia. The company’s mine capacity is estimated at 1.4m tpa across France (34%), the US (32%) and Australia (17%). Processing capacity is an estimated at 1.5m tpa, because plants in Austria, Italy, Japan and Spain process imported talc and the company also operates two milling plants in Belgium and Texas, US. Imerys’ present talc output is around 1m tpa and is planned to rise following the expansion of the Timmins plant in Canada, which will replace imported talc from elsewhere.

Mondo Minerals is the second largest producer of talc worldwide, with estimated production of 750,000 tonnes in 2013.   

Table 2: Chemistry, mineralogy 
and brightness of Namgye chlorite

NAMGYE CHORITE

Chemistry (Wt.%)

MgO

34.5

SiO2

32.9

Fe2O3

0.4

CaO

<0.05

Al2O3

20.8

LOI

12

Others

% Chlorite

85-99

% Talc

1-15

Ry Brightness

85-88

 
Source: Ian Wilson 

The company, which was originally acquired from Omya AG in 2007 by private equity firm HgCapital, was sold to US-based Advent International in October 2011. Its talc mining operations are located in Finland and Liaoning province in China, through a joint venture (JV) with Beihai Talc. Mondo Minerals also operates a talc milling plant in Amsterdam and a slurry makedown plant in Katwijk, both in the Netherlands. The Riwon plant in North Korea was sold to a Hong Kong-based company in 2011.

Talc production by IMI Fabi of Italy is estimated at 300,000 tpa. The company mines talc in Australia, Italy and through JVs with OMR and Aihai Talc, respectively, in Pakistan and China. IMI Fabi acquired a 50% stake in the Mount Seabrook mine in Western Australia in 1996 and the remaining 50% from Unimin in 2011. Three milling plants at Benwood and Diana in the US and at Postalesio in Italy treat imported talc.  

With the exception of a small plant operated by Udaipur Mineral Development in Thailand, all other leading talc producers operate solely in one country. Seven Chinese companies rank among the sixteen largest producers worldwide. The most recent entry into the market is Mianning Xicheng Talc, established in 2010. The company has capacity to produce 300,000 tpa talc in Liangshan prefecture in Sichuan province and could double capacity in future.

The recent increase in the supply of talc from Afghanistan and Pakistan onto world markets is illustrated by the inclusion of Amin Karimzai of Afghanistan and HZM Marmie Pietre of Pakistan among the leading talc producers worldwide. The two companies have combined capacity of 640,000 tpa and entered a JV agreement in 2013 for the production and distribution of talc. 

Table 3: Global production of talc in 2014 of
6.4m tonnes

Country

2014 USGS estimate (tonnes)

Afghanistan**

400,000

Argentina

25,000

Australia

120,000

Austria

135,000

Bhutan

10,000

Brazil

700,000

Canada

81,000

China

1,900,000

Egypt

20,000

Finland

380,821

France

450,000

Guatemala

7,000

India

940,000

Iran

60,000

Italy

110,000

Japan

25,000

Korea, North

50,000

Korea, Republic of

3,000

Mexico

50,000

Morocco

10,000

Nepal

4,500

Norway

8,000

Pakistan

74,855

Peru

28,847

Portugal

11,300

Russia

160,000

South Africa

5,000

Spain

9,000

Taiwan

3,000

Thailand

8,000

Turkey

1,100

UK

3,000

US

609,987

Uruguay

800

World Total

6,404,210

 

**Afghanistan not included in USGS figures
Source: Bob Virta, USGS, Ian Wilson 

China

China accounts for 30% of world talc output, at around 1.9m tonnes last year. An export quota system remains in place and a total of 524,998 tonnes covering 41 companies was granted for the first half of 2015.   

Ten leading companies account for 65% of the total, with three companies, Guilin Guiguang Talc Development Co. Ltd, Liaoning Jiayi Metals & Minerals Co. Ltd and Guangxi Longguang Talc Development Co., accounting for 28% of the total. In 2014, there were still adequate export quotas, so some companies did not apply for full quota in the second six-monthly bid. Importers currently have more influence in price negotiations and have demanded that Chinese companies lower their export prices. New sources of talc from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and elsewhere are 20-30% lower in price than Chinese talc.

China mines talc in three main areas of Liaoning, Shandong and Guangxi provinces, associated with dolomitic and magnesite host rocks, with new developments in Sichuan associated with ultramafic host rock, as shown in Figure 6.

In 2012, the production of talc was dominated by Liaoning province with 45% of the total output, followed by Guangxi with 28%, Shandong with 17%, Jiangxi with 5% and others with 5%, as shown in Table 5.

In 2014, China exported 676,000 tonnes talc, up by 2.1% from previous year, at an average price of $249/tonne. The leading five export destinations were Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the US and Indonesia, with details of volume, value and average price shown in Table 6.

A total of 244,000 tonnes was exported to Southeast Asia, accounting for 36% of China’s total exports, although shipment volumes were down last year compared to 2013. Exports to Thailand were down by 9.8%, Indonesia’s fell by 23.1% and Taiwan’s dropped by 25.2%. Exports to the US were down 14.6% last year, while Europe imported 41,000 tonnes, up by 6.1% on 2013, at an average unit price of $262/tonne.

China exported 477,318 tonnes of powder in 2014, up by 1.7% on the previous year, although the average price of $249/tonne, was down by 1.3%. For lump talc, China exported 198,120 tonnes, up by 3.1% at an average price of $218.50/tonne, 5.3% higher than the previous year. Talc exported from Guangxi was the most expensive at above $300/tonne; Liaoning material fetched prices of around $220/tonne and Shandong talc cost the least, at no more than $200/tonne.

Liu Xiangong of the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals and Chemicals, Importers and Exporters (CCCMC), said in article published in March 2015 that the talc market is set to change, with companies paying more attention to the protection and comprehensive utilisaiton of resources, as well as energy conservation and improving efficiency. Neither powder nor lump talc is expected to see an increase in demand and prices could remain steady or possibly move down.

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Figure 4: Global regional split of talc production of 6.4m tonnes   in 2014 (%)Source: Bob Virta, USGS, Ian Wilson
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Figure 5: 11 countries account for 92% of 2014 global talc production of 6.4m tonnes  Source: Bob Virta, USGS, Ian Wilson 

US

Table 4: Leading producers of talc minerals in 2014 ('000 tpa)

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Source: Roskill Information Service, "Talc and Pyrophyllite: 
Global Industry Markets and Outlook, 10th edition 2015".

Statistics prepared by the USGS’ Bob Virta for the US talc industry in 2014 show that domestic mine production reached 535,000 tonnes last year. The volume sold by producers was 554,000 tonnes; imports for consumption were 260,000 tonnes; exports stood at 190,000 tonnes; and apparent consumption is estimated at 605,000 tonnes, with an average processed price of $163/tonne.    

Four companies operate six talc-producing mines in the states of Virginia, Texas, Montana and Vermont, while one company in California shipped from stocks last year. Montana was the leading producer state in 2014, followed, in descending order, by Texas, Vermont and Virginia. Sales of talc were estimated to be 554,000 tonnes valued at $90m. The various end uses of the 554,000 tonnes talc sold and produced in the US last year are shown in Figure 7.     

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Figure 6: Location of some talc deposits in China (Source: Ian Wilson)

Of the 260,000 tonnes talc imported into the US, more than 75% was used in cosmetics, paint and plastic markets. Import sources from 2010-2013 were reported by the USGS to be China (30%), Canada (29%), Pakistan (23%) and other countries (10%). The end use ranking in the US last year, when including imported talc and in decreasing order by tonnage, was plastics, ceramics, paint, paper, roofing, cosmetics, rubber and other markets.   

Imports of talc into the US were 242,000 tonnes in 2010, 285,000 tonnes in 2011, 350,000 tonnes in 2012, 269,000 tonnes in 2013 and 260,000 tonnes in 2014. The peak of 350,000 tonnes came in 2012 and although exact sources are not known for this year, if it is assumed that sources and proportions were the same as in 2014, the import tonnages would have been 105,000 tonnes from China, 101,500 tonnes from Canada, 80,500 tonnes from Pakistan and 63,000 tonnes from other countries.

The US is heavily reliant on imports for high quality white talc for its plastics and polymers manufacturing, particularly for the automotive industry.

Table 5: Main areas of talc production in China (based on 2012 figures)

Province

Main Areas

Production (Tonnes)

%

Liaoning

Haicheng, Dashiqiao, Dandong, Xiuyan

900,000

45

Guangxi

Longsheng, Shanglin, Huanjiang

550,000

28

Shandong

Pingdu, Laizhou, Qixia

350,000

17

Jiangxi

Guangfeng

100,000

5

Others

Sichuan, Hubei, Shanxi, Henan

100,000

5

Total

200,000

100%

 

Source: Jia Xiu Zhuang, Haichen Minchem, China

The four main US talc producers in 2014 were Alberene Soapstone in Virginia, American Talc in Texas, Imerys Talc America in Montana and Vermont and Speciality Minerals in Montana.

Other companies import talc and process it into range of products. Cimbar Performance Minerals imports Chinese talc and processes the material at its Mount Vernon plant in Indiana, acquired from Barretts Minerals, a subsidiary of Minerals Technologies Inc. in October 2009. The company bought the Wellsville plant in Ohio in June 2011 from Astra Minerals and has a third plant in Houston, Texas. It makes a wide range of processed talc products, including high-aspect purity, ultra-fine high-aspect ratio products for plastics, food and pharmaceutical applications. 

Table 6: Leading countries for export of talc from China 

Rank

Destination

Volume (Tonnes)

Value ($M)

Average Price 
($/Tonne)

1

Japan

170,169

49.12

288.7

2

South Korea

96,859

16.00

165.3

3

Thailand

94,555

29.39

310.9

4

USA

62,738

19.09

304.3

5

Indonesia

62,328

12.25

196.5

 

Source: Liu Xiangong, Minerals Department of CCCMC, March 2015 

Afghanistan 

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Figure 7: Markets for 554,000 tonnes US talc sold and produced  in 2014  Source: Bob Virta, USGS, 2015.

Afghanistan and Pakistan-sourced talc has grown significantly over the last five years as a major supplier for high quality talc markets. Amin Karimzai, part of Karimzai Group of Jalalabad, is the largest talc producer in Afghanistan and owns the majority of the high-quality talc mining areas in Nangarhar province, with reported production of 400,000 tpa in 2013 from Khogyani district (see Figure 8). The talc from Khogyani (see Figure 9) is associated with dolomite.

Khogyani talc is white, with >99% talc and has a brightness Ry/C of >94, with 31.89% MgO, 63.03% SiO2, 0.07% Fe2O3, 0.03% CaO, 0.20% Al2O3 and 4.73% LOI.  The particularly low level of calcium oxide (CaO) is ideal for use in technical ceramics, polymers and other applications.

Much of the talc from Afghanistan is exported to Pakistan and Amin Karimzai has a JV with HZM Marmi e Pietre of Pakistan to produce, process and distribute the material overseas. HZM Marmi e Pietre also owns talc mining leases in Pakistan.

Pakistan has deposits of high-grade talc in the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province in areas bordering Afghanistan.  Exports are made to the US, Europe and other parts of the world. A leading export company of talc is Omar Associates Pvt Ltd Pakistan, based in Karachi. Omar Group has a JV with IMI Fabi of Italy (OMAR-IMI) for the exploration, processing and export of talc, with some destined for IMI Fabi’s processing plants in the US.    

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Figure 8: Location of Khogyani talc in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan (Source: USGS)

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Figure 9: View of Khogyani talc (Source:  Waqar Mahmood, Capri Corn Minerals)

Global consumption end-uses

Global consumption figures for 2014 are not yet available, so estimated consumption of talc by end uses of 6.1m tonnes for 2013 shows that paper accounted for 29%, followed by plastics at 28%, ceramics (including technical ceramics) at 14%, paint at 14%, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals at 5%, agriculture at 5% and others for 5%, as shown in Figure 10.

Talc is a key component in the honeycomb structure of technical ceramics used in catalytic converters and diesel particulate filters that contain up to 35% talc. With increased emission controls, this sector is showing good growth. The talc required should be <0.20 CaO by weight, as low CaO is critical to the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE). Customers developing ultra-thin wall substrates require macrocrystalline talc to control porosity of the cell walls.   

Growth in the use of talc in polypropylene will increase the requirement to improve performance and reduce fuel consumption and emission levels through vehicle weight reduction. New finer grades used in polypropylene are increasing, as talc imparts the stiffness, strength and mechanical properties needed to meet light weighting requirements. Automotive under-the-hood/bonnet parts require high-aspect ratio talc to enable these parts (heating, ventilation and air conditioning units) to perform over a wide temperature range.   

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Figure 10: Estimated global consumption of talc by end uses in 2013 (%)Source: Roskill Information Service, "Talc and Pyrophyllite: Global Industry Markets and Outlook, 10th Edition 2015".

In polymer applications, around 75% talc is used in the automotive industry, primarily in polypropylene. The talc imparts stiffness to polypropylene, with a 20% loading increasing stiffness by up to 80%.  A shift to this material was driven by Japanese automakers, which reduced number of parts and total cost of their cars.  Polymer compounders tend to use the finest particle size.

Reference: Roskill Information Service, "Talc and Pyrophyllite: Global Industry Markets and Outlook", 10th Edition 2015

Acknowledgements

Bob Virta, talc specialist USGS 

Professor Wen Lu, Chengdu, China 

Waqar Mahmood, Capri Corn Minerals, Pakistan 

*Ian Wilson is a consultant based in the UK