Growing chlor-alkali industry in China to boost salt demand – Roskill

By Yoke Wong
Published: Thursday, 27 April 2017

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The growing chlor-alkali industry and rising polyvinyl chloride (PVC) demand in China will boost salt imports in the country, research consultancy Roskill told delegates at its conference in Düsseldorf, Germany, in March.

Roskill expects China salt demand for chlor-alkali production to exceed 70m tonnes by 2025, analyst Kerry Satterthwaite said during the presentation.

High-purity salt is the feedstock for producing chlorine, which is a key raw material in PVC, and makes up more than half (57%) of the polymer.  

Salt consumption for PVC accounts for 38% of global demand, according to Roskill.

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Kerry Satterthwaite takes to the stand  

  Although China is the world’s biggest salt producer, domestic production is insufficient to meet growing demand.

"China’s salt industry cannot produce enough high-purity salt to feed the chlor-alkali industry. This is why the country that produces 60m tonnes has to import salt," Satterthwaite said.

Domestic production was also less competitively priced than imports, she added.

China imported 4m tonnes of salt in 2016, according to Roskill’s data.

In 2015, India overtook Australia as the largest solar salt supplier to China. It exported just under 3m tonnes of salt, Roskill said.

Despite the "massive success story" of Indian salt exports, Australia and Mexico remained the top salt suppliers in Asia, exporting to Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia.

PVC demand to drive salt consumption

PVC demand will correlate with construction activity as up to 70% of PVC is used in construction, according to Roskill.

Pipes are the largest individual application and water infrastructure is a major driver. Electric vehicles and cabling account for the rest of the PVC demand.

China’s housing demand growth will continue to drive PVC demand, Satterthwaite said.

Elsewhere in Asia, demand is also set to increase as countries move away from using traditional materials and switched to PVC, she added.  

PVC demand in the world is estimated at 48m tonnes in 2017 and China is expected to consume 18m tonnes – or more than one-third of global consumption. By 2025, global PVC demand will exceed 60m tonnes, according to Roskill’s forecast.   

"Everything that affects PVC, will also affect salt," said Satterthwaite, and "the chlor-alkali trend suggests salt imports will increase.

"Developments in China are expected to continue to be the main driver of the chlor-alkali industry to 2025."

Salt production could move out of Europe

Salt production is moving out of Europe to countries with access to raw materials, lower energy cost and friendly government policy, engineering company Salt Partners said at the conference in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Salt is a key raw material for chlorine production and lower salt production in Europe over the decade was accompanied by falling chlorine output, Vladimir M. Sedivy, president of the Salt Partners said during his presentation.

Salt output in Germany fell more than one-third to 13.4m tonnes in 2015, down 33% compared with the volume in 2006. Germany is one of the largest salt producing countries in Europe, cited Sedivy.

Out of the seven salt-producing European countries, only Spain has increased output year-on-year by 1.4% to 4.43m tonnes in 2015, according to Sedivy. 

Total salt production in Europe between Germany, Russia, France, the Netherlands, UK, Spain and Poland fell to 49.3m tonnes in 2015, down 18% compared to 2006.  

"The same time the 18% drop [in salt production] is taking place, the chlorine output went down by more than 10% in Europe," Sedivy said. "There are changes happening in Europe, the chlorine industry is leaving Europe."

Sedivy believes that the petrochemical industry in Europe is stagnating, which could further encourage salt production and downstream chlorine industry to move to the Middle East, East Asia-Pacific and South America due to abundant raw materials and supportive government policy there.  

"It is moving to countries that has the raw materials [and] more friendly legislation that support the industry, that has the will to do it, such as the countries in the Middle East," 

This article from the May  Industrial Minerals magazine was   first published online    on 31 March 2017.