Published December 2015
Sodium carbonate is a white crystalline solid that is also known as disodium carbonate or soda ash. It is a member of the chlor-alkali chemical family and competes with caustic soda as a source of alkali (sodium oxide) in many processes. Commercial soda ash is highly purified and is sold in various grades that differ primarily in bulk density.
China is the world's largest producer of sodium carbonate, accounting for 46% of world production; the United States is the second-largest producer, accounting for about 22% of production in 2015.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of sodium carbonate:
During the last five years, Chinese sodium carbonate consumption has been growing at an average rate of almost 5% per year. The majority of growth occurred in 2010–12; consumption has been relatively stable during 2013–15 because of the slowdown in the construction and automotive industries.
Almost half of sodium carbonate consumption is driven by the glass industry. The Chinese glass market has grown significantly, as a result of demand for new housing, industrial expansion, and rising motor vehicle production. Of the three main glass categories, flat glass is the largest consumer, accounting for about 32% of total consumption in 2015. Almost 51% of global flat glass consumption in 2015 is in China. Chinese soda ash consumption for flat glass has been growing at 3.8% per year over the last five years, driven by rapid growth in float glass market. Float glass capacity has increased substantially from 2010 to 2015. Consequently, China has become the largest float glass producer—about 59% of global float glass capacity is located in China. Sodium carbonate consumption for flat glass will stay relatively stable over the next five years.
Developed countries have higher per capita consumption of soda ash but lower growth rates than developing countries. However, the end-use patterns are basically the same for both. Glass production accounts for about 55% of global soda ash consumption, with commercial and residential construction driving flat glass demand, whereas consumer packaging trends, recycling and competition from other packaging materials dictate use in container glass. The second major use for soda ash (about 14%) is in formulated detergents and cleaners as a builder.The third-largest market for soda ash is the chemicals sector, where it is used as an alkali source in numerous chemical processes and as a feedstock in the production of sodium chemicals.
Projected regional average annual growth rates are highest in India (6%), followed by Africa and the Middle East (just over 4%), Southeast Asia (4%), and South America (3.6%). Europe, North America, and most of the rest of Asia are expected to grow much slower at around 1.5–2.0% annually, while consumption in Japan is expected to decline.