14 November 2005 00:01 [Source: ICB]
Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is used as a pigment to provide brightness, whiteness and opacity to paints and coatings, plastics, paper, inks, fibres, food and cosmetics. The largest consumer is paints, then plastics and paper. The rest is used in speciality applications. TiO2 is available as anatase or rutile.
Global demand has gone into decline this year after a very strong 2004. In Europe, demand is reported by producers to be down about 5% on the previous year. In addition, certain suppliers have preferred at times to chase market share over margins. Central and east European producers have also started to become more prominent at the cheaper end of the market.
World overcapacity and low pricing has forced cuts of some high-cost capacity. In 2004, Huntsman Tioxide cut capacity at Grimsby, UK, and Umbogintwini, South Africa; Kerr-McGee closed its sulphate line in Savannah, US, and Lyondell reduced output at Le Havre, France. Current world capacity is put around 4.7m tonne/year against estimated demand of 4.2m tonne/year.
Prior to the recent hurricane-induced outages in the US, world inventories were rising. The impact of the closure of DuPont’s storm-damaged DeLisle plant remains unclear, but markets could tighten in the first quarter depending on how the restart progresses. Producers say supply in Europe is quite balanced although chloride product availability is tightening. Lyondell has bought Millennium Chemicals and Kerr-McGee plans to spin off its TiO2 business, named Tronox, by year-end.
Europe still has the highest prices compared to other world regions. Gains were made in the first half but numbers have slipped since the summer. Prices are now quoted at €2000-2300/tonne. Producers have posted increases of €150-180/tonne but, with big customers enjoying 90-day price protection, it remains to be seen whether the hikes will be accepted. Margins have come under pressure this year as TiO2 price rises lag behind increasing energy and raw material costs.
TiO2 is produced from either ilmenite, rutile or titanium slag. Titanium pigment is extracted by using either sulphuric acid (sulphate process) or chlorine (chloride route). The sulphate route uses simpler technology than chloride and can use lower grade, cheaper ores. But, it generally has higher production costs and with acid treatment is more expensive to build than a chloride plant, although the latter may also need a chlor-alkali unit.
Chloride technology produces a purer product with a tighter range of particle size, but anatase pigments can only be produced by the sulphate route. Over half of world production is estimated to use the chloride process. DuPont and Kronos settled a patent dispute last month and can now cross-license each other’s patents worldwide.
Producers are hoping that markets will recover next year. Future demand growth in Europe is put at 2-3%/year. Capacity additions are not keeping pace with annual demand growth but investment in new plants is unlikely while returns remain poor. China is the world’s strongest growth region and DuPont is in talks for a plant in Dongying. Expansions are proposed in Russia, the Ukraine, Finland, Czech Republic, and Poland.?
|DeLisle, Mississippi, US||300||C|
|Edge Moor, Delaware, US||155||C|
|Kwan Yin, Taiwan||125||C|
|New Johnsonville, Tennessee, US||380||C|
|Teluk Kalung, Malaysia||60||S|
|Umbogintwini, South Africa||25||S|
|Hamilton, Mississippi, US||200||C|
|Savannah, Georgia, US||91||C|
|Varennes, Quebec, Canada||73||C|
|Varennes, Quebec, Canada||17||S|
|Louisiana Pigments*||Lake Charles, Louisiana, US||146||C|
|Ashtabula, Ohio, US
Baltimore, Maryland, US
|Le Havre, France||65||S|
|* Kronos/Huntsman Tioxide 50:50 jv|
|Process: S=sulphate, C=chlorate|
Profile last published 24 November 2003; Chemical Profile is published fortnightly.
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