Potassium Chemicals, Inorganic
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Published: September 2010
This report covers supply and demand for a number of industrially important potassium chemicals—potassium metal and potassium hydroxide, sulfate, nitrate, carbonate and bicarbonate. Industrial consumption of potassium chloride is also included.
Potassium metal is used as a precursor to the production of potassium superoxide, KO2, which is used in self-contained breathing apparatuses. The second major market for potassium metal is as a component in sodium-potassium (NaK) alloys.
Potassium chloride is the most commonly used and least expensive source of potassium for plant nutrition, and fertilizers constitute by far the dominant market for this chemical. This report mainly covers the nonfertilizer market for potassium chemicals, which amounts to approximately 15% of total potassium chloride consumption in the United States, 20% in Europe and 30% in Japan. The largest industrial market for potassium chloride is for potassium hydroxide production.
Most potassium sulfate production is for fertilizer use for crops that are intolerant of the chloride ion. Global demand for potassium sulfate fell by more than half in 2009 as a result of the economic crisis. Farmers opted to purchase relatively cheaper nitrogen-based fertilizers for their crops. However, overall global demand for potassium sulfate has been increasing over the past decade, and further growth is expected, particularly for specialty crops in Pacific Rim countries and for controlled-release fertilizers in the United States.
Potassium nitrate is the second-largest source of nonchloride potassium fertilizer. It is more soluble than potassium sulfate, and its use as a fully soluble fertilizer in applications such as fertigation (applying a soluble fertilizer via the irrigation system) and interior landscaping is growing. Potassium nitrate's major industrial use is as a component of specialty glasses, especially for cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) for television sets and computer monitors. The CRT market has declined dramatically in the last few years with the growing popularity of LCD and plasma screens. Potassium nitrate is also an important raw material for the production of frits for the ceramics and enamel industries. In addition, a combination of potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate is used as a thermal storage medium in solar-based electricity-generating plants. Some growth in both these applications is expected over the next five years.
Caustic potash, or potassium hydroxide, which is derived from potassium chloride, is the potassium chemical of greatest industrial importance. It is used in a wide variety of industrial applications, including the production of potassium carbonate and other potassium chemicals, soaps and detergents, and fertilizers. Potassium salts are more soluble than their sodium analogs and are used in applications where this solubility is sufficiently important to warrant the greater cost.
The major market for potassium carbonate is the manufacture of specialty glasses for cathode-ray tubes (CRTs). Demand for potassium carbonate declined dramatically in developed countries during the early 2000s, as the production of CRTs and television sets shifted to Asia because of economic factors. However, the CRT market has since been impacted by the growing popularity of liquid crystal displays and plasma screens, which use significantly less potassium carbonate. Global consumption in 2010 is expected to be less than half of that in 2006. Potassium bicarbonate, which is derived from potassium carbonate, is used primarily as a fire extinguisher chemical, leavening agent and pharmaceutical ingredient.