Vermiculite is a versatile industrial mineral, whose range of
applications covers everything from car brake linings to
roof-insulating concretes and a wide range of agricultural
It is this diversity of end-user applications, says
long-time vermiculite consultant Andrew Baylay, that continues
to stand the industry in good stead.
"Vermiculite holds its position well in its global market
sectors," he says. "It has so much to offer; the
industry’s in a good place."
Baylay is a member of The Vermiculite Association (TVA) - a
US-based, non-profit, trade association promoting the
vermiculite industry - which held its latest annual meeting at
the end of May in Edinburgh.
The spirit of the event in the Scottish capital was one of
optimism, confirms Michelle Keyser, a TVA spokeswoman, who
describes the current state of the global vermiculite market as
"balanced", based on a sound equilibrium between supply and
"The mines are attending to the present demand," says
"Some analysts will tell you that, overall, the industry is
shrinking in [terms of] actual tonnages produced and sold,"
adds Baylay. "However, while volumes have remained in steady
demand in recent years, more niche, and higher-value [uses]
have been added to the more traditional bulk applications."
|The US steel industry is consuming more vermiculite
grow and revitalize, according to Michael Dunlavey, PVP
One such high-value area is horticulture, especially the
subset of hydroponics – in which plants grow using
mineral nutrient solutions, as opposed to soil. Due to its
ability to retain water and moisture, vermiculite is able to
maintain a hydrated environment while preserving plant nutrient
According to recent estimates, the overall
'grow-light’ market is projected to expand at a
compound annual growth rate of 11.68% by 2022, as
green-fingered consumers with limited space aim to grow their
own plants without the need for a garden. And hydroponics is
particularly popular in cities where space is at a premium.
The growing trend for 'green’ roofing among
today’s more environmentally-friendly consumers is
also to vermiculite’s advantage, says John Rose,
manager of lightweight roof insulation systems at Siplast, who
outlined why at a seminar on the subject at the May TVA
"Green roofing and the incorporation of vegetative systems -
both extensive and intensive - into building designs is
increasing," Rose says. "Vermiculite-based products beyond just
soil-growing mediums are being used in these green roof
That said, the horticultural market is not the sole preserve
of vermiculite - or perlite, for that matter - with competition
coming from other aggregate minerals.
"More could be done within the horticulture system," Baylay
|Dark clouds on the horizon? Perlite is shown
stockpiled here, but the
Perlite Institute believes that there is growth
However, according to Ned Gumble, president of Virginia
Vermiculite in the United States, the use of vermiculite in
construction products trumps its use in horticulture.
As a result of its slight bulk density, exfoliated
vermiculite is well suited to the manufacture of lightweight
concretes and plasterboards. Such concretes can be applied to
roof and floor screeds, as well as in the fabrication of
Michael Dunlavey, vice-president of sales for Ohio, US-based
group PVP (Perlite Vermiculite Packaging) Industries, takes a
different view, believing the performance of his
country’s steel manufacturing is a key driver for
vermiculite supply. According to the World Steel Association
(Worldsteel), US crude steel output in 2018 was up 6.2%,
"We don’t actually see large growth in the
construction sector, which has been rather stagnant for some
time," he says. "Instead, we are seeing more growth in the
steel manufacturing industry [and] steel mills in the US are
consuming more and more vermiculite as their operations expand
and revitalize," Dunlavey says.
"There are also other industrial applications growing to a
smaller degree for higher-value, higher grades of vermiculite,
particularly for environmental and speciality applications
– although with the US-imposed tariffs on Chinese
imports [imposed by president Trump last March], there is some
uncertainty on the cost-value ratio for these products.
"This could and should give other countries a window of
opportunity to supply higher grades of ore to a [wider] market
base," he says.
"Overall, we see growth potential for vermiculite as
fair-to-positive over the coming years, so we are looking to
diversify our raw material supply."
The main regions of consumption for vermiculite are North
America, Asia Pacific and Europe. TVA was asked whether
'Brexit’ - the United Kingdom’s
potential exit from the European Union - has had an impact on
European consumption levels, but chose not to
"Our understanding is that there is positive growth in the
European and Asian markets, which is helping US-based
innovation, too," says Dunlavey. "Here in North America,
vermiculite is sometimes, wrongly, viewed upon as old news, but
with technology and the ability to share innovations worldwide,
people and companies are experimenting regularly."
|The rapid urbanization in Asia has meant a growth
trajectory for perlite.
TVA also lists the introduction of more stringent
fireproofing regulations in several parts of the world as
another key driver for the mineral, whose low density and
strong insulation properties make its ideal in the production
of gypsum wallboards.
"Fireproofing and manufactured building materials for fire
resistance have vast potential that could be [further] explored
and utilized," says Baylay.
In recent years, both miners and ore purchasers have ramped
up their efforts to always consumer concerns over
vermiculite’s asbestos content (a quick Google
search indicates the general misconception that vermiculite and
asbestos are from the same silicate mineral).
Consequently, in 2017, TVA launched a best practices program
for asbestos detection and control protocol for vermiculite
mining and milling. According to Keyser, the program has a gone
some way to allaying end-user fears.
"The program specifically looks at quality control systems;
management and technical training; asbestos control procedures;
analytical test procedures; microscope set-up; and pre-shipment
quality assurance," explains Keyser.
"These protocols help miners establish credibility with
vermiculite ore purchasers. Ultimately, end users of
vermiculite can be confident that the ore purchased from mines,
following TVA’s best practices protocol, has been
properly processed and tested," he adds.
Baylay agrees that it is up to the miners to demonstrate
"It is beholden of miners that they raise their quality game
to meet new market demands. End users have become more
discerning regarding the qualities, types and sources of
vermiculite," he says.
"Technical developments and higher end-user specifications -
often driven by new legislation – will… hasten
the demand for higher-specification ores."
The global vermiculite industry is forecast to grow in the
coming years, but it has not all been plain sailing. While
broadly optimistic about "an exciting future", Baylay really
wants to see "greater market awareness".
|The booming medical marijuana market has also
provided a growth
opportunity for perlite.
According to Dunlavey, North America - which holds a large
regional share of vermiculite consumption - has also been hit
by minor supply chain interruptions of late.
Transportation has been "an issue", he says, because of
changes to the US National Motor Freight Classification system
- the standard that provides a comparison of commodities moving
in commerce - as well as a hike in fuel taxes in certain US
states. Lawmakers in Dunlavey’s home state of
Ohio, for instance, recently approved a 147% increase in the
diesel fuel levy, which increased from 19 cents to 47 cents per
Dunlavey believes that such developments have had a bigger
impact on prices than any increases in manufacturing and raw
"It’s been nothing in the sense of not being
able to fulfil orders, but I would say that extended lead times
and increased costs are imminent," he says. "With the overall
cost of vermiculite being higher than some of its competitive
products already, any increased costs could undermine the
"We will stay positive and continue to market these products,
holding our prices until the effects of transportation and
duties exceed their value at current market rates."
As for perlite, according to a report by research provider
MarketsandMarkets, its global market size is expected to hit
$2.20 billion by 2022 and growth will be mainly driven by the
construction sector, due to increasing rates of urbanization
and industrialization – particularly in the Asia
"Asia Pacific contributes a major market share in the global
perlite market," the report says.
"Due to the increasing industrialization as well as the
large population in China, Japan, and India, these countries
are experiencing high demand for building and construction. The
rapid urbanization in these countries demands faster and
cheaper construction of buildings and facilities without
compromising on quality.
"Additionally, the increasing government investments in
infrastructural constructions provide the potential for the
growth of the perlite market in these countries."
Dunlavey also cites an increase in the number of new
discoveries for ore sources, as well greater momentum in
research & development, as evidence of a market in rude
This bullishness comes in spite of recent fluctuations in
the commercial horticultural market, in which perlite - similar
to vermiculite - is commonly found.
"Traditionally, stateside perlite, manufactured by some of
the smaller US companies primarily went into the horticultural
market," Dunlavey says. "But, with competitive products
establishing a hold on some of this market share, there has
been less volume going in."
Instead, Dunlavey - who also sits on the board of directors
of the Perlite Institute - believes more potential can be found
in the construction industry, in which perlite is widely used
due to its high insulating properties.
Perlite is also castable, making it ideal for use in
high-temperature applications in steel and foundry
"There are more opportunities in the construction,
environmental and industrial sectors - in which,
coincidentally, many of us involved in the perlite industry
started out," says Dunlavey.
"It’s a case of history repeating itself. With
more regional sources of the raw material, compared to
vermiculite, perlite can compete better in all of the markets,
with no issues of supply and demand in sight."
North America’s burgeoning legalized cannabis
industry is also playing into the hands of perlite
As boutique investment banking firm Northland Capital
Partners said in a research note from last November: "The
perlite market in North America continues to be strong as
industrial-scale cannabis growers build-out major new capacity
following Canadian legalization and the relaxation of
legislation within a growing number of US states."
Earlier this year, Sunrise Resources, a UK-based company
operating out of the US state of Nevada, revealed it had been
given the green light by the US Bureau of Land Management to
expand its exploration of the mineral in the state.
The new permits allow Sunrise to drill up to eight holes, as
well as bulk sampling of up to 1,000 tonnes, for the project,
known as NewPerl.
"Based on these future projections for perlite,
manufacturers are building new facilities and updating their
equipment and technology," says Dunlavey.
"At PVP we even recently replaced our vintage 1984 furnace
with a new Incon. For a small company like us,
that’s a really big deal. There’s a
new generation of manufacturers who are actively involved from
production to operations. It has its challenges, but this is an
Turkey’s Bergama Mining Perlite, another of the
industry’s main players, is also believed to be
lining up new investments. Two new production plants,
"equipped with the latest technologies" are scheduled to open
in Izmir and Aliağa on the country’s Aegean
coast, the company says.
However, Bergama alludes to no timeline as to when the
facilities are expected to open.
The group could not be reached for further comment.
Others are less equivocal. In April, EP Minerals, a US-based
group that produces perlite for filtration, announced a price
increase across its minerals range to offset "inflationary
pressure with the raise in costs related to ore, packaging,
labour and energy".
The perlite increase was part of "our standard yearly
increase," spokeswoman Julie Brown told Industrial Minerals.
"It’s nothing out of the ordinary, although I
would say perlite trends are staying flat for us at this
current time. Growth markets are in our other minerals, such
as clays and diatomaceous earth."