Non-metallurgical Bauxite & Alumina

Global Industry, Markets & Outlook

The very latest Non-Metallurgical Bauxite & Alumina report from Roskill.

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Production of refractories accounted for over 20% of non-metallurgical bauxite and 60% of speciality calcined alumina use in 2015, including material used both directly and indirectly via an intermediate product (such as brown fused alumina). World refractory production was just over 35Mt in 2015, a reduction of nearly 4% compared to the prior year. The main driver behind lower refractories output and use has been longer refractory product lifetimes combined with lower demand from end markets – namely iron and crude steel.

In 2015, Chinese crude steel production fell for the first time in modern memory, from 822Mt in 2014 to a projected 812Mt. While Chinese steel output is expected to contract further in the period out to 2021—causing a similar decline in refractory use—refractory bauxite and alumina demand is forecast to buck the trend as end users call for higher quality products.

The use of ceramic proppants for hydraulic fracturing has emerged quickly in the last five years and this sector now represents the second largest market for non-metallurgical bauxite, having grown by nearly 40%py since 2011. The sudden drop in oil prices, from US$105/bbl in June 2014 to below US$45/bbl in January 2015, caused a sharp fall in ceramic proppant use and led to a large build-up of Chinese stocks. Nevertheless, ceramic proppant demand is expected to recover during the forecast period as new unconventional hydrocarbon fields are developed.

Elsewhere, speciality calcined alumina has benefitted from the rise of technical ceramics and aluminosilicate glass. Aluminosilicate glass is expected to represent the highest growth market for calcined alumina out to 2021, because of its use as the substrate for thin film transistors (TFT) used in liquid crystal display (LCD) panels

Aluminium chemicals continue to be the largest market for commodity aluminium trihydrate (ATH), and in particular aluminium fluoride – which has profited from a strong primary aluminium market in China. Flame retardants are forecast to be the fastest growing sector for ATH, where tighter safety regulations are spurring demand for the speciality mineral filler.

Demand for both calcined alumina and ATH is projected to grow in excess of global GDP in the period out to 2021. Non-metallurgical bauxite demand is likely to grow at slightly under GDP as its use in some applications—such as Portland cement, slag adjusters and chemicals—could remain stable or contract slightly. The main highlights are likely to be the ceramic proppants and mineral wool sectors.