Chromium Compounds, Inorganic
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Published: March 2012
Global consumption of chromium chemicals, which had been slowly eroding for the past twenty years primarily as a result of environmental concerns, has begun to rebound. Future growth in consumption of sodium dichromate and its derivatives is expected to be modest and fluctuate with GDP, driven largely by growth in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Central and South America. New market entrants are unlikely and would encounter highly competitive process technology, high capital costs, substantial environmental risks, increasing economies of scale, earnings cyclicality and advanced market maturity. China is the fastest-growing region, but even the Chinese government is attempting to reduce the number of small plants, replacing them with larger, more modern facilities, with improved environmental protection.
Sodium dichromate is the starting material, either directly or indirectly through intermediate steps, for all chromium compounds. Consequently, it is the most important of all industrial chromium chemicals. Sodium chromate also has industrial applications, although on a much smaller scale. Most sodium chromate produced is converted directly to sodium dichromate.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of sodium dichromate:
Chromium chemical production begins with chromite ore production. Four countries dominate chromite ore production. In 2011, South Africa accounted for almost 46%, Kazakhstan for 16%, India for almost 16%, and Turkey for about 7.5%. Combined, they accounted for approximately 85% of the total world production of chromite ore. Mine production in both India and Turkey has been growing in recent years. Production declined 20% in 2009 because of the economy, but rebounded by almost 23% in 2010 and an additional 1.3% in 2011.
There have not been any new players in the chromium chemicals industry for the past 25 years and it is unlikely any will appear because:
- It is a mature market, with established players and less than 2,000 customers worldwide
- The industry has limited growth rates, with the exception of Asia
- The plants need to be large scale to be economical
- Chromium is under heavy scrutiny by environmental regulators
- Consolidation among Western producers has impacted the rest of the world
Global pricing of chromium chemicals in the past eight years has varied considerably from region to region, by industry, and by producer strategy. With consolidation of chromite ore production to a few companies, prices have increased dramatically.