SIC 3274

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

The lime industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing quick-lime, hydrated lime, and miscellaneous lime-related products. It is considered part of the larger concrete, gypsum, and plaster products industry.

Industry Snapshot

Lime, or quick-lime, is calcium oxide derived from naturally occurring calcium carbonate. Production of lime in the United States ranked fifth among all chemicals. In the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, lime was produced at 85 establishments, the majority of which were small operations. The value of product shipments in 2008 was $343.5 million, down significantly from $974 million in 2002. Industry employment in 2008 was 3,300, down from 3,914 in 2002.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 19.8 million metric tons of quick-lime and hydrate was produced (excluding commercial hydrators) in 2008. However, the unprecedented economic recession that began in late 2007 and continued into 2011 affected the residential and commercial construction markets and combined with a slump in steel production that further suppressed lime demand.

Demand for lime reflected a stagnant economy, declining further in 2009, with production of quick-lime and hydrate (excluding commercial hydrators) plunging to 15.8 million metric tons. As the economy began to rebound slowly, production reached 18 million metric tons, which continued to be well below the 20.2 million metric tons reported in 2007 before signs of a recession were apparent.

Background and Development

One of the oldest products of chemical reaction known to man, lime is a white or grayish-white solid with numerous applications. The first known use of lime was in ancient Egypt, where it was used in mortar and plaster. Lime was traditionally used as a construction product until the Industrial Revolution, when its use began expanding. The growth of the chemical industry at the start of the twentieth century gave lime production another boost, and an estimated 90 percent of lime produced at that time was used in some sort of chemical process. Solid lime, for example, is used extensively as a fertilizer and building material. It is also commonly utilized as a chemical neutralizer to treat solid and gaseous wastes. Quick-lime accounted for approximately 72 percent of industry revenues in the early 1990s.

When mixed with water, lime turns into calcium hydroxide, or slaked lime, which is used to make mortars, plasters, and cement. Lime is also used to make calcium carbide, which decomposes in water to form the flammable acetylene gas used in welding torches.

Lime products are used by blast furnace operators and steel manufacturers to melt and process steel. Steel production use is the traditional driving force in this industry, using about 31 percent of industry output in 1994. Chemical and industrial applications accounted for 64 percent of the lime market. For example, chemical firms use lime-related products in the production of plastic resins. Environmental uses, such as water, sewage, and smokestack emissions treatment, accounted for 26 percent of lime use in 1994, and construction industries used about 8 percent, with refractory, or heat-resistant, dolomite use at 2 percent of total U.S. lime production.

Lime is considered a commodity, and industry profit margins typically are low. However, new applications for lime allowed the industry to realize steady demand growth through the 1980s. For instance, between 1982 and 1988, sales of lime increased 35 percent, growing from $543 million to about $830 million. Growth faltered in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and lime production dropped to about 17.5 million tons in 1991.

While some core lime markets remained stagnant in the late 1990s, other segments buoyed production volume and industry earnings. Flue gas was the market segment with the fasted growth, accounting for 15 percent of all lime sales, and was poised to continue with utility deregulation. As environmental restrictions increased, lime uses related to treating wastes were also expected to increase. Companies in this industry reported increases in demand from steel markets, as well as from the general construction markets. The rise of housing starts and general building increases in the middle of the first decade of the 2000s boosted the lime industry's viability.

World production of lime began to taper off each year in the 1990s. The value of U.S. product shipments in 2000 was $1.16 billion, a decrease from $1.28 billion in 1999. Shipments in 2002 were valued at $974 million, but rose steadily to reach $1.43 billion in 2005. Employment remained steady from 2002 through 2004 at about 3,900, then rose to 4,385 in 2005.

According to industry statistics, there were an estimated 227 establishments engaged in manufacturing quick-lime, hydrated lime, and miscellaneous lime-related products in 2008 with industry-wide employment of 3,298 workers. Shipments were valued at $343.5 million. When new residential construction came to an abrupt halt, so did demand for lime products. That followed with a dismal outlook in steel production that fell to about 55 million tons in 2008 from roughly 108 million tons in 2007. Michael Miller, a mineral commodity specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey, reported "The steel market is caving" in the St. Louis Business Journal in 2008.

Mike DeCola, president and chief executive of Mississippi Lime, agreed, stating in the same article that "Approximately 37 percent of the lime industry's production goes into making steel," DeCola added that "the rapid fall in steel production has caused a drop-off in demand for lime." Meanwhile, steel producers were either consolidating operations or idling plants.

Current Conditions

In 2009 steel demand remained suppressed with consumption at 57.4 million tons, plummeting 41.6 percent according to the World Steel Association. Although steel consumption was projected to reach 72.7 million tons in 2010 and 78.1 million tons in 2011, a faltering U.S. economy was projected to keep levels well below the industry standard 100 million tons, which was bad news for the struggling lime market.

There were an estimated 18 million tons of quicklime and hydrate produced in 2010 (excluding commercial hydrators), compared to 15.8 million tons produced in 2009. Nevertheless, despite a noticeable increase in lime production, some plants that had been idled in 2009 were not reopened. More than 2 million tons of lime were produced in Alabama, Kentucky, and Missouri, and less than 1 million tons were produced in Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Industry Leaders

Two of the largest U.S. lime producers in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century were Mississippi Lime Company and United States Lime & Minerals Inc. Based in Alton, Illinois, Mississippi Lime had annual sales of $85.7 million in fiscal year 2008 and employed 750 people. Mississippi Lime Company acquired the assets of Missouri-based, Truck Transport in February 2008 before acquiring Gallatin Lime LLC, based in Verona, Kentucky in September 2008, and a Chester, South Carolina, plant from New York-based Minerals Technology Inc. United States Lime & Minerals, Inc., posted $220 million in 2008, an increase from $125.2 million in 2007, and reported 307 employees. The company had estimated revenues of $208 million in 2009. Mississippi Lime opened a new plant in late 2009 with a goal to increase revenues close to 5 percent in 2010. The company has operations in Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, where it sold pulverized limestone, quick-lime, and hydrated lime primarily in the South and Southwest. United States Lime & Minerals Inc. posted revenues of $132.5 million in 2010 with 295 employees.

Through investments and slashing costs, Mississippi Lime was able to maintain its workforce. "The economy forced us to think," Mike DeCola, president and chief executive of Mississippi Lime told the St. Louis Business Journal in March 2010, adding that "We cut back appropriately, but continued to invest in activities that could contribute to future growth."


The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the lime industry employed 5,300 workers in 2006 and 2007, reaching 5,400 workers in 2008. That growth was short-lived as the industry shed 600 workers in 2009 during the global economic recession. The number of workers increased to 5,000 in 2010 as the economy began a shaky rebound.

America and the World

China was the world lime producer in 2009 and 2010 with 185 million tons and 190 million tons, respectively. A distant second was India with lime production totaling 14 million tons in 2010, followed by Brazil with 7.7 million tons and Russia with 7.4 million tons. Japan produced 9.4 million tons of quicklime only.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

News and information about Lime

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