With one of the briskest growth profiles of any of
India’s industrial segments, kaolin consumption
and production in India has scaled new heights in recent years.
Although the last two years have not been the strongest periods
for kaolin producers, recent trends in demand and output
indicate underlying strength in the sector.
India has some of the largest kaolin resources in Asia.
According to United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC)
figures, the country hosts around 2.7bn tonnes kaolin.
Identified reserves constitute only about 7% of the estimated
resources, at 177.2m tonnes. Of the total reserves, 70% (about
124m tonnes) are in the proven category, while the rest (about
53m tonnes) fall under the probable category.
The resources are spread over a number of states. Kerala, in
southern India, holds about 25% of the country’s
kaolin, and this is followed by West Bengal and Rajasthan,
which each host 16%, and Odisha and Karnataka, which have 10%
of the resources apiece.
Despite hosting these large resources, only a minority of
Indian material is suitable for major, high value kaolin
markets. Out of the total resources, about 22%, or 608m tonnes,
falls into the ceramic grade category, while 4%, or 111m
tonnes, is classified under chemical, paper filler and cement
grades. The remaining 73%, or 1.98bn tonnes, is considered to
be mixed grade, other or unclassified material.
India’s central government and some of the
state administrations are playing a proactive role in
developing the country’s minerals sector, which
places a special emphasis on kaolin.
Kerala hosts some of India’s highest grade and
finest quality kaolin and is home to one of the
country’s main producers, English Indian Clays
Ltd. (EICL). Recently, the government of Kerala’s
mining and geology department, launched exploration programmes
which identified two major kaolin zones in the state. A
southern zone was discovered between Thiruvananthapuram and
Kundara (Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts) and a
northern zone was delineated between Kannapuram
Madayi-Cheruthazham (Kannur district) to Nileswarm-Manjeshwaram
(Kasargod district). A combined reserve of 172m tonnes (80m
tonnes probable and 92m tonnes possible) sedimentary and
residual kaolin has been estimated for the discovery. Kerala
china clay is one of the finest quality clay available in the
Figure 1: Kaolin production, imports and
exports in India (2012-2015)
Quantity ('000 tonnes)
Quantity ('000 tonnes)
Value (m INR)
Quantity ('000 tonnes)
Quantity ('000 tonnes)
INR 1.422bn ($20.97m*)
INR 1.159bn ($17.1m)
INR 1.157bn ($17.07m)
INR 652.4m ($9.6m)
Source: Indian Ministry of
Consumption and production
With an annual domestic demand of around 2.14m tonnes
kaolin, India has emerged as one of the top consumers of the
mineral in the world. The sector is expected to register high
single digit growth in the next few years, spurred by
increasing demand from a number of different end-user
Kaolin mining in the country during the Indian financial
year 2014-15 recorded a growth rate of 3% – lower than
in previous years owing to the wider economic slowdown in
India. However, a number of domestic industry players told
IM that, in calendar year 2015, growth in
production and consumption stood at more than 8% compared to
The last financial year, 2014-15, was something of a blip
for the Indian kaolin industry. In the previous fiscal year,
2013-14, the country produced 4.75m tonnes kaolin, up by 11.6%
on the 2012-13 period.
Nearly 65% of kaolin output in 2013-14 was reported from the
state of Gujarat, followed by Rajasthan, at 17%, Kerala, at 15%
and West Bengal, at 1.9%, while the remaining 1.3% was
contributed jointly by the states of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand,
Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
Growing demand for high quality glazed
ceramic tiles in India is helping to drive
domestic demand for kaolin. (Source: McKay Savage, via
Ceramics industry to drive Indian
Record production growth in India’s ceramics
industry, which accounts for about 33% of kaolin consumed in
the country (see Figure 2), has been one of the main
drivers of the sector in recent years.
With an installed capacity to produce 700m square metres of
tiles and 15m pieces of sanitary and tableware, most of
India’s and international kaolin producers are
putting special emphasis on catering to this segment.
The expansion of ceramics is important to the health of the
Indian kaolin sector since it is needed to offset declining
consumption in other areas of the market.
The Indian paper industry has, in the past, been a
significant end use for kaolin, however, in step with trends in
the global paper market, manufacturers are increasingly
replacing kaolin with calcium carbonate, meaning that
paper’s share of kaolin’s downstream
usage is shrinking.
Major producers and processors of kaolin in
In anticipation of robust demand growth from
kaolin’s various end-use segments, most of
India’s kaolin processors have expanded their
capacities, or are planning to do so. EICL, the leading
producer of kaolin in the country, has streamlined its
operations and is capable of processing up to 240,000 tpa
kaolin across its three plants in Kerala.
Another major industry player, Ashapura Group, has expressed
its intention to set up an additional kaolin processing plant.
Rajasthan-based Popular Minerals invested in a state-of-the-art
130,000 tpa processing plant, which it commissioned in
Gujarat-based 20 Microns Ltd. has expanded production at its
Bhuj plant, meanwhile, to 65,000 tpa calcined kaolin, up from
40,000 tpa. According to 20 Microns, the company exports more
than 30% of its kaolin output to the Asia Pacific region, the
Middle East and Western Europe.
One of the largest miners and processors of kaolin in India,
Ashapura has been mining and processing kaolin products from
its reserves in Gujarat for several decades. Having recognised
the high demand and coinciding shortage of high quality kaolin
in India, the company acquired mines containing reserves of
2.5-3m tonnes kaolin in Kerala. Ashapura claims that the ore
extracted from these mines has a kaolinite content of 96%,
meaning it can supply superior quality material in terms of
whiteness and other properties.
The company also operates a kaolin processing plant in
Kerala, with a capacity of 180,000 tpa. At present, this plant
is only producing around 100,000 tpa, however.
Kaolin consumption in India by end
Speaking to IM, Geetha Nerurkar, CEO of
bentonite, kaolin and allied products at Ashapura Minechem,
said that even though its processing plant is only operating at
56% of its design capacity, its 500,000 tpa mining rate coupled
with its 100,000 tpa processed output makes Ashapura one of the
largest players in the Indian kaolin industry, with a
substantial international sales network. "Besides supplying
domestic demand, we also export a sizable part of our
production to countries including Japan, Norway, Latvia, Spain,
Italy, Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Taiwan, China, Sri
Lanka and Mexico," Nerurkar said.
She conceded that India still imports a large proportion of
its high grade kaolin requirements, but said that this
represented an opportunity for domestic businesses to squeeze
out foreign competition. "It is true that a significant portion
of Indian demand is imported, particularly in premium and
higher quality kaolin. Our organisation is trying to develop
value-added products to counter such imports."
Nerurkar dismisses the idea that the state should step in to
protect India’s domestic kaolin suppliers. "The
government should not intervene in kaolin imports, since there
is a gap between the supply and demand of high quality and
ultra-fine kaolin in India," she said.
A few years ago, Ashapura Minchem’s subsidiary,
Ashapura International, announced plans to establish a kaolin
powder manufacturing plant in Gujarat. The project was expected
to be established close to mineral reserves in Kutch, in
northwest Gujarat, from where the company already mines and
processes kaolin products. However, the company has since
deferred this plan and has not given a date for resuming the
Rajasthan-headquartered Popular Minerals has emerged as one
of India’s most significant miners and processors
of kaolin in a relatively short span of time. The company owns
26 mining leases over 20km2 at Sawa, in the
Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan.
Popular Minerals operates five kaolin processing units at
Sawa and can process between 10,000 and 12,000 tpa washed
kaolin from each of its five washing plants, which are located
within 10km of its kaolin mines. Last year, the company
established a new plant – under the name MS Sawa Clay
and Minerals Pvt Ltd – with an installed capacity of
400 tpd processed kaolin. The company also produces 650 tpd
high purity, glass grade silica.
With the new plant, Popular Minerals has become the second
largest kaolin processing company in India, behind the current
market leader, EICL, which has a capacity of 240,000 tpa
Jayesh Dave, general manager of Popular Minerals, told
IM: "Our new plant is the single largest
facility to produce kaolin for the ceramics, paint and paper
industries." Equipped with a state of the art R&D centre,
the plant utilises ore from Popular Minerals’ own
mines, which, according to Dave, have high recovery rates and
high after-fired whiteness and low yellowness.
"With our new kaolin processing plant, we are able to
process premium grades of kaolin, which are used in high end
ceramics, paper and paint industries," Dave said. "The Indian
ceramic industry, particularly Gujarat-based producers, has
added huge capacity for ceramic products in recent years. This
has resulted in high demand from this sub-segment. Hitherto,
most of the kaolin required for these ceramics production units
came from the southern part of the country, which entailed high
transportation costs. With our plant, we have been able to
reduce this expense, as well as the delivery time to the
ceramics manufacturing clusters of Gujarat."
Dave believes that kaolin mining Rajasthan has a better
future than it does in other areas. "Kaolin miners in the
southern states are facing various problems, including climatic
issues, while the recovery of kaolin from deposits in Gujarat
is very low," he said.
India has several large kaolin mining
areas, with companies operating in the
states of Gujarat, Rajasthan (pictured) and Kerala.
(Source: Popular Minerals)
The oldest company in the Indian kaolin industry,
state-controlled Kerala Ceramics was established in 1937 as a
private business. Acquired by the state government in 1963, the
company produces about 30,000 tpa processed kaolin. Located in
Kollam, Kerala, it exploits the vast kaolin resources within
the state. As well as supplying the domestic market, Kerala
Ceramics also exports kaolin to Malaysia, Australia and a few
Middle Eastern countries.
The company’s commercial manager, Harinder
Krishnan, told IM that Indian kaolin is
suitable for only a few market segments. "Most of the paper
producers are dependent on imports, as higher quality kaolin is
required for this industry," he explained.
"During the last three years, imports of kaolin into India
have increased. Shipments, particularly from China, have
skyrocketed. Other countries’ exports to India,
such as the US, Ukraine and some other European countries, have
dropped as Chinese producers have started supplying material at
comparatively low prices," he said.
English India Clays Ltd (EICL)
Incorporated in 1963 in collaboration with UK-based English
China Clay (ECC) (now part of France’s Imerys SA),
EICL is the leading miner and processor of kaolin in India.
EICL’s relationship with ECC ended in 1992, after
which the company formally changed its name from English India
Clays Ltd. to EICL.
EICL’s clay division has three manufacturing
locations in Kerala, at Veli, Thonnakkal and Kollam, in
Thiruvananthapuram district. It specialises in mining and
processing high grade kaolin and operates one of the largest
integrated clay facilities in India.
The company is expanding its operations to other countries
with high grade kaolin resources. In 2015, it entered a joint
venture (JV) with Tanzania-based MAC Group for mineral
prospecting in the east African country. The main object of JV
is to assess the feasibility of setting up a kaolin mining and
processing project in Tanzania. EICL holds 70% of the shares in
the JV, while MAC Group holds the remaining 30%.
Despite having vast resources of kaolin, India is still
dependent on imports of the clay to serve its domestic needs.
Industry participants disagree over the proportion of Indian
kaolin consumption supplied by imports and official figures are
Popular Minerals’ Dave estimates that 6-8 % of
total Indian kaolin demand is imported, mainly to serve the
ceramic glazing industry and some segments of paper and paint
markets. He said that the main exporters of kaolin to India are
Ukraine, the UK, Germany, China and Iran.
Kerala Ceramics believes that the import figure is higher,
however, at around 15 % of overall Indian consumption.
Ivan Tokarev, sales manager at Ukrainian kaolin supplier
Prosco Resources Ltd, told IM that India was
an "exciting" kaolin market. "We have just started to develop
[our share of the] Indian market. We are selling kaolin for
glazes and engobes for ceramics to a very big ceramic tile
cluster at Morbi in Gujarat."
Prosco is a leading Ukrainian mining enterprise and its
business includes mining and marketing refined kaolin and
silica sand products. Ukraine is estimated to hold 7% of world
reserves of some of the highest quality kaolin available
– material which it seeks mainly to ship abroad.
"With end using industries [in India] growing at a very
healthy pace, you will see a huge jump in imports of kaolin in
the country in coming years," Tokarev said.
If India is to compete with hungry international suppliers,
it will need to boost its value-added processing capacity and
invest in developing more, high grade deposits. A growing
middle class in India is spurring demand for better quality
ceramic products, but ceramic manufacturers are eager to
maintain margins, so Indian suppliers will also need to ensure
that they are cost competitive with imports.
Given that the country is one of a few with reasonably
robust economic growth, many foreign companies are eager to
take advantage of Indian custom, and it will be a race against
time for India to increase its share of higher value markets
before its GDP decelerates and kaolin demand begins to slow
*Conversions made January 2016
Chinese kaolin is a significant competitor to Indian
material in India’s domestic market. However,
given that high quality kaolin resources are scarce in China,
with most material containing impurities such as feldspar,
quartz, brucite, iron and titanium, a lot of Chinese imported
material competes with low to mid-value Indian kaolin for
The dissemination particle size of iron in Chinese kaolin is
very fine, making de-ironing difficult. Magnetic de-ironing is
important for producing pure material.
Kaolin from Huaibei, in China’s Anhui province,
is a major supply source, but the material is coal-series
kaolin, with high iron content and a grey-black colour, giving
it a low market value. But Chinese companies are investing in
upgrading their processing capabilities to produce better
quality material and could present more competition on
international markets. Huaibei-based Jinyan Kaolin Co. recently
established a 10,000 tpa kaolin production line using magnetic
separator technology, which has successfully reduced the
material’s Fe2O3 content to
below 0.5% and increased its whiteness to 93%.