The market for boron continues to evolve because of both changes in its pattern of use and consumption of products.
The main drivers of consumption are construction (insulation grade fibreglass) and electronic devices (borosilicate glass and textile-grade fibreglass). Smaller but still important sectors are ceramics (mostly tiles) and agriculture.
Fibreglass used to account for over half of all boron consumption but this has fallen to just over 40%. The proportion of global consumption accounted for borosilicate glass has by contrast risen to over 15%. In recent years, consumption by the agricultural sector has also grown noticeably.
Use in textile-grade fibreglass (TGFG) is under threat following the development of boron-free grades and the expiration of patents for their production. Insulation-grade fibreglass (IGFG) remains an important market but is facing competition from lower cost alternatives. Greater use of boron capture equipment at fibreglass plants has reduced the amount of borates required.
Consumption in borosilicate glass is expanding following the development of thin film transistor glass (TFT) for LCD displays and rising production of solar thermal and pharmaceutical glass.
In agriculture, boron is a vital micronutrient but is easily removed from soils because of its solubility. The development of the palm oil industry, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia but also Brazil has been the main driver of rising consumption.
In terms of products, there is a trend away from the use of high cost refined borates such as boric acid towards natural mineral concentrates. In part this has been driven by advances in processing that have reduced impurity levels in natural mineral concentrates. Refined borates are still the main form used in some markets, notably borosilicate glass, but their use in fibreglass has declined.
Demand is forecast to grow by an average of 2.2% to 2018 and reach almost 2.23Mt B2O3. Around 75% of the rise is expected to be in Asia, largely in China. Main areas of growth are expected to be in ceramics, agriculture and borosilicate glass. Demand in fibreglass is not expected to show significant growth as increases in output of IGFG are expected to be offset by the switch to boron-free TGFG.