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Published: April 2012
Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is the standard white pigment used principally in paints, paper and plastics. It is the most important pigment in the world, accounting for approximately 70% of total volume. Titanium dioxide is made by processing a variety of titanium-containing minerals such as ilmenite and rutile. Rutile has a titanium dioxide content of 94–96%, making it highly desirable as a feedstock. Ilmenite is much more plentiful, but has a titanium dioxide content of 50–60%, so it is usually upgraded, or beneficiated, to a titanium dioxide content of 80% (titanium slag) or 94% (synthetic rutile).
Currently, the major feedstock producing regions are Australia, southern Africa, Canada and India, with Australia being the largest. Approximately 93% is used as feedstock for titanium dioxide pigments, with the remainder used in the production of ceramics, stick- and wire-based welding electrodes, asbestos-free brake pads, ceramic glaze for roofing tiles, catalysts, ferrotitanium and titanium metal.
North American consumption has dropped noticeably during the last decade, mainly as a result of the decrease in coatings consumption caused by the poor construction and manufacturing markets. Paint and coatings remains the largest outlet, accounting for almost 60% of consumption. Western European and Japanese consumption remains stagnant. The real driver of growth is China, where the coatings and plastics industries continue to expand at high rates. In China, TiO2 consumption nearly doubled from 2004 to 2011, and is expected to grow at an average annual rate of around 7% for the near future. The potential remains high. Per capita consumption of TiO2 in China is about one kilogram per year, compared with 4 kilograms for Germany and 2.5 kilograms for the United States.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of titanium dioxide:
The major consuming industries for TiO2 pigments are surface coatings, paper and paperboard, and plastics. Consumption tends to parallel general economic trends.
As a result of increased demand starting in 2010 with industry rationalization, supplies of TiO2 feedstock and pigment became tight, especially for the higher-grade pigments used in demanding applications. The price of natural rutile (high-grade feedstock with 95% titanium content) was about $500 per metric ton in 2010 and about $2,500 per metric ton in early 2012. Titanium dioxide prices rose about 35% in 2011. The dramatic increase in TiO2 pricing has prompted many large users, especially in the coatings industry, to reduce use. All major coatings producers are looking to reduce use by 10–20% in the short term by sourcing from suppliers of lower-grade material for some applications.