The main markets for ultralightweight aggregates (perlite, vermiculite and pumice) are in construction, insulation and horticulture. These industries take advantage of their low density, good insulation, inertness and fire resistance. Total consumption of ultralightweight aggregates was estimated at almost 14.5Mt in 2009, split between perlite (3.5Mt), vermiculite (0.6Mt) and pumice (10.3Mt). Growth in consumption of perlite and vermiculite has been dominated by Asia over the last five years, as construction levels in the more mature economies of Europe and North America have fallen. Pumice consumption is more heavily influenced by local availability; Europe and the Middle East account for more than 50% of demand.
China, Greece, Turkey and the USA together accounted for 80% of world perlite output in 2009. S&B Industrial Minerals is the largest producing company, with operations in Europe and China; World Minerals in the USA and IPM Iperlit in Turkey are also major producers. Production in China comprises many small producers. Vermiculite production is concentrated in South Africa (41% of world output in 2009), the USA (21%) and China (21%). Palabora Mining Company in South Africa is the largest vermiculite supplier worldwide. W.R. Grace and Virginia Vermiculite in the USA and Xinjian Yuli Xinlong in China are also major producers. Production of pumice is concentrated in Turkey, Germany, Greece, Chile and the USA.
Prices for expanded perlite vary from US$200-560/t and are driven mainly by the costs of expanding the mineral. Pumice prices were US$40/t FOB Turkey in 2009 but are probably much lower in domestic markets. The price of unexpanded vermiculite concentrate has almost doubled since 2008, reaching US$400-850/t FOB Antwerp in mid-2011. Prices for coarse grade material, which is in short supply due to declining output from Palabora in South Africa, have risen most sharply. However, vermiculite supply from new producers could offset future declines, thereby limiting further price rises in the medium- to long- term.