Feedstock production levels will be slightly higher in 2016, over the 2015 total of 7.56Mt worldwide. Overall, feedstock production has increased by an average of 3% py since 2005, but within this figure synrutile and slag production has fallen, while rutile and ilmenite for direct use have grown faster.
China drives ilmenite demand
One of the key trends over the last ten years has been the influence of China, especially on ilmenite production levels. Consumption of ilmenite for sulphate-route TiO2 pigment manufacture has increased by 80% between 2005 and 2015, largely attributable to the rapid expansion of China’s TiO2 manufacturing industry. Most of the expansion has been based on indigenous ilmenite production, but China has also been a major importer of ilmenite over the last ten years. Imports reached a peak in 2012 of nearly 1.6Mt (TiO2 units) but have subsequently fallen back to just over 1Mt in 2015. Imports are mainly sourced from Australia, Kenya, Mozambique, India and until 2013, Vietnam.
Roskill estimates that rutile accounted for 9% of titanium feedstock production in 2015 with leading producing companies including Iluka, Cristal and Sierra Rutile. The dominant force in slag production is Rio Tinto, through its wholly-owned RTFT subsidiary in Canada and 74%-owned subsidiary RBM in South Africa, together accounting for 57% of global output last year.
Looking forward, there will be a change in the demand mix for feedstocks as the TiO2 pigment process capacity evolves. In 2015, chloride-route pigment plants accounted for 39% of total feedstock demand, while sulphate-route pigment plants accounted for 44%, compared with 46% and 41% respectively in 2005. Between now and 2025, nearly all the net growth in TiO2 pigment demand will be from chloride-route pigment plants, which will account for just under 50% of total feedstock demand, while sulphate route pigment plants will account for just over 30%.
Average pricing of TiO2 feedstocks saw little change prior to 2010; then there were a series of price spikes cumulating in historic peaks in 2012. Average prices have subsequently dropped to higher levels than historic norms up until 2015. Following the commissioning of new projects in 2013 and 2014, the position has reverted to a supply surplus for feedstocks in 2016. From 2017, Roskill expects prices in real terms to rise gently for rutile, synrutile and chlorinatable slag. For ilmenite, however, it is a longer waiting game as sulphate ilmenite prices are anticipated to level off in 2017 and price rises (in real terms) are forecast further out.
TiO2 pigment industry reshapes
In the ten years up to 2015 there were a significant number of mergers and acquisitions in the TiO2 pigment industry, capacity expansions in China and latterly rationalization elsewhere in terms of plant closures. Today there are 60 different companies manufacturing TiO2 pigment, 42 of which are based in China. China is the world’s largest producer of TiO2 pigment and in 2015 accounted for 40% of the world’s effective production capacity.
In recent years there has been overproduction of TiO2 pigment, with an average capacity utilization of within the industry of just under 80%. As a consequence none of the existing pigment producers outside China are planning to build any new plants. However, several of the larger Chinese pigment producers have plans to install new chloride-route plants with the aim of replacing existing sulphate-route plants. Elsewhere, there may be two or three greenfield plants employing technology that can not be categorized as either sulphate-route or chloride-route. Three such projects are envisaged: the WhiteRock Pigments plant near Buffalo, NY (USA), the Argex plant near Montreal (Canada) and the TNG plant at Darwin (northern Australia).
In terms of demand, nearly all TiO2 is used as a pigment, but there are some interesting non-pigment applications that account for less than 5% of total world consumption. Total global consumption was estimated at just under 6Mt in 2015.
The paint industry is the most important end-use sector and accounts for some 55% of global consumption. The plastics industry has consistently shown faster growth as a TiO2 end use sector, with a CAGR of 3% between 2005 and 2015, with TiO2 pigment used in most polymer systems.
The paper industry has seen structural changes in terms of TiO2 demand, as consumption has fallen for printing and writing papers, and for folding boxboard, particularly in North America. On the other hand, demand has been rising for TiO2 pigment in the specialty décor paper sector. The packaging sector has boosted demand for TiO2 in printing inks, offsetting a decline in the use of printing inks in the publishing sector.
Looking ahead, higher economic growth rates in North America and Japan could result in increased levels of TiO2 pigment consumption. Lower inflation rates in China could lead to a relaxation of the Chinese government’s restraint on infrastructure investment, including construction which could lead to increased demand for TiO2 pigment. Roskill forecasts that global TiO2 demand will increase by just over 4%py, outpacing world economic growth, ensuring that longer term prospects for the TiO2 pigment industry are positive.