Published June 2014
This report covers primarily magnesium oxide (also known as magnesia), with additional data on magnesium hydroxide, magnesium chloride, magnesium sulfate (also known as Epsom salt) and precipitated magnesium carbonate included as available. Magnesium chemicals are used in many different applications, including refractories, agriculture (both as fertilizer and in feed), magnesium metal production, water treatment, deicing, pigments and paints. Magnesium oxide is the most commercially important of the magnesium chemicals.
China continues to dominate the magnesium oxide market as the largest producer and consumer, as well as the largest global exporter. In 2013 Chinese exports of magnesium oxide were substantially higher than in 2009, but still below the level in 2008. Continuing global growth in the main consuming industry—refractories for steel and cement production—had caused tightness in the global magnesium oxide market leading up to 2008. In addition, environmental applications had gained ground for caustic-calcined magnesia. In 2008, the Chinese government imposed export taxes on magnesium oxide products, which made the Chinese product more expensive. As a result, companies around the world announced plans for capacity expansions, or a return to production activities in dead-burned magnesia that had been given up years before, when inexpensive Chinese imports had made these activities unattractive. However, as the economic downturn started in late 2008, consumption started to decline, Chinese exports plummeted by more than 40% between 2008 and 2009, and projects were postponed or came under review. General recovery in steel production (about 6–7% per year between 2009 and 2013) has fueled consumption growth for magnesium oxide; overall global consumption of magnesium oxide is set to increase by an average of 5% per year over the forecast period of 2013–2018.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of magnesium oxide:
China is by far the world’s largest consumer of magnesia, because it is the world’s largest producer of steel and cement. In addition, the country has a much higher unit consumption of refractory materials per metric ton of steel or cement produced, because of its less-effective plant technology compared with European or North American producers.
The majority of the magnesium oxide produced worldwide is consumed as refractory magnesia. The primary use of refractory magnesia is in furnace linings in the iron and steel industry. This market suffered from the economic crisis, with decreases in global steel production volumes in 2008 and 2009. Raw steel production in 2009 had declined about 10% from the level in 2007. The decrease was most pronounced in North America, Japan, Europe and the CIS countries, but was moderated by continued production growth in China (where steel production increased 16% during the same period) and the Middle East. In December 2009, production started to pick up again on a global level. The World Steel Association has forecast growth for steel consumption at 3.1% in 2014 and 3.3% in 2015.
The second major market for refractory magnesia is the production of cement. World cement production in 2013 was estimated to have increased about 5% over the 2012 level. This market was impacted similarly to the world steel market during the economic downturn. However, global cement production grew during 2007–2009 with Asia—and to a lesser extent the Middle East and Africa—making up for the losses in the European, North American and CIS markets. Construction markets are expected to remain strong in Asia, the Middle East and Africa over the forecast period. In Europe, the consumption of cement in the construction industry is likely to increase by 1.5% per year during 2013–2018. In North America, it is likely to increase by about 2.5% per year over the same period.
The global consumption of magnesium hydroxide increased by about 13% from 2009 to 2013. The largest end use for magnesium hydroxide, accounting for about 62% of consumption, is in environmental uses—flue gas desulfurization and wastewater treatment. Ease of handling, increasing environmental markets and the high price of caustic soda have spurred demand in these applications. Following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, the country has shifted from nuclear power to increased use of more conventional, fossil fuel–based power plants, which has led to increased consumption of magnesium hydroxide for desulfurization. This end-use market is forecast to increase by more than 4% per year in Japan and grow globally by just over 2% per year over the forecast period.
The use of magnesium hydroxide in flame retardants is a fast-growing application (forecast at about 5% per year during 2013–2018), and accounts for about 8% of magnesium hydroxide consumption. Magnesium hydroxide is the second-most-important mineral flame retardant after alumina trihydrate (ATH).