Clay, Ceramic, and Refractory Minerals, NEC

SIC 1459

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in mining, milling, or otherwise preparing clay, ceramic, or refractory (heat-resistant) minerals, not elsewhere classified. Establishments producing clay in conjunction with the manufacture of refractory or structural clay and pottery products are classified in manufacturing in the major group for stone, clay, glass, and concrete products.

Industry Snapshot

Firms in this industry extract raw minerals used in a wide variety of industrial and consumer applications with the most common end use being refractory materials for the manufacture of glass, ceramics, and industrial uses. In 2009, total production of all clay types, including kaolin and ball clay (see SIC 1455: Kaolin and Ball Clay), was 25.3 million metric tons valued at $1.4 billion. After a significant drop in the industry in the late 2000s and a general weakening of the conomy, the overall industry was improving by 2010.

Organization and Structure

Common Clay and Shale.
Industry firms in this segment produced approximately 12.5 million metric tons of common clay and shale in 2009, valued at an estimated $137.5 million. In 2009, common clay and shale accounted for 49.4 percent of the total output of all clay minerals (including those produced by firms not classified in this industry) sold or used in the United States. Clay was produced in 41 states by about 190 companies operating approximately 830 clay or quarries. The top 20 firms in the industry accounted for about 50 percent of tonnage and 80 percent of revenues.

Common clay alone was used to manufacture bricks (57 percent of output), lightweight aggregate (19 percent), and cement (14 percent). Other uses for common clay alone included such heavy clay products as building brick, flue linings, sewer pipe, drain tile, structural tile, terra cotta, and Portland cement clinker (slag). In descending order of output, the leading producers of common clay were Georgia, Wyoming, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Shale is one of the most common sedimentary rocks and thus usually has a lower unit price than less common clays like kaolin and ball clay. Shale's industrial applications include heavy ceramic ware, Portland cement manufacture, and lightweight construction aggregate. The choice of shale as an ingredient in these applications is governed by several factors, including its suitability compared with other industrial minerals and its economic viability with respect to other competing minerals, such as clay. The presence of other useful minerals in the market for which it is to be produced, such as pumice, sand and gravel, slag, and crushed stone in the lightweight aggregate industry, are also considered.

Bentonite.
The United States was, by far, the world leader in the production of bentonite in the late 2000s. Production in 2009 totaled 4.1 million tons, valued at approximately $225 million. About 20 companies produced bentonite in 11 states. Bentonite's major end uses are as absorbents, drilling mud, clumping agents in pet waste litter, foundry sand bond, and iron ore pelletizing. Bentonite was also used to manufacture decolorizing oils; as a catalyst for the production of polymers, plastics, and resins in the petrochemical industry; in absorbent materials for industrial plants; for cattle feeds; and as a thickening agent for the production of paints, hand lotions, and pencil lead.

As ingredients in the drilling mud used in the oil-well drilling industry, bentonite-based products aid in the removal of drill cuttings, thickening drilling fluids, stabilization of well walls, and reduction of friction. Bentonite is also used as an ingredient and preblend in the production of metal casting products for automobiles, kitchen appliances, and other products; as a binding agent in iron ore pelletizing processes in the steel industry; and as a water-absorbing sealant or liner in underground or waterproofed structures.

Fuller's Earth.
As with bentonite, the United States was also the world leader in fuller's earth production in the late 2000s, producing a total of 2.36 million tons valued at an estimated $203 million in 2009. Approximately 15 companies produced fuller's earth in 10 states in the late 2000s. Fuller's earth derived its name from the ancient practice of using earth to clean wool--a process known as "fulling." Fuller's earth became a generic name for clay- and earth-based minerals that had the property of chemically colorizing vegetable oils and minerals. The product is used to decolorize soy oils, petroleum products, tallow, and cottonseed oil, as well as in such applications as insecticide production, oil well drilling, mud, manufacture, and fillers. Fuller's earth is also used in the manufacture of traditional or nonclumping cat litter products. The majority of all fuller's earth mined in the United States is used as an absorbent, although a minor amount of total output served as a dispersant in insecticide.

Feldspar.
Feldspar is the most common igneous rock mineral and the most plentiful mineral in the earth's crust. The United States produced an estimated 530,000 tons of feldspar in 2009, valued at $36 million. Eight companies produced feldspar; the top states by tonnage were (in descending order) North Carolina, Virginia, California, Oklahoma, Idaho, Georgia, and South Dakota. Roughly 70 percent of all feldspar, including aplite, sold or consumed in the United States was in the glass-making industry, which included the manufacture of glass fibers and glass containers to enhance glass's durability, hardness, and resistance to erosion. Feldspar is also commonly used as a flux in the manufacture of ceramics as well as in the manufacture of pottery, plumbing fixtures, electrical porcelain, ceramic wall and floor tiles, glass, dinnerware, television picture tubes, and glass fiber insulation.

Nepheline syenite is a feldspathic mineral that provides alumina and alkali used in glass making and serves as a flux in ceramic product manufacturing to lower melting temperature. Feldspar is the most plentiful mineral present in pegmatites, which are the minerals from which feldspar is mined.

Fire Clay.
Six businesses produced 336,000 metric tons of fire clay in 2009. Fifty-eight percent was used for heavy clay products, and 42 percent was used in refractory products such as calcines (metal oxides produced by roasting or calcination), firebrick, grogs (crushed material used to make refractory products, such as crucibles, to limit shrinkage), high-alumina brick, saggers (fireclay boxes for firing more delicate ceramics), refractory mortars and mixes, and ramming and gunning mixes. Other uses include lightweight aggregates and pottery. Roughly 12 percent of fire clay production is used as a dispersant in insecticides. In the late 2000s, Missouri produced the most fire clay for the United States, followed by Ohio and South Carolina.

Magnesite.
The United States was the world's largest producer of metallic magnesium since World War II through the 2000s. Magnesium is the third most abundant element in seawater and the eighth most abundant element in the earth's crust. Magnesium and its compounds are recovered from seawater and from mineral deposits of magnesite, dolomite, and olivine. Magnesium is used primarily as an alloy in the aluminum used to make everything from beverage cans to aircraft and automobiles to machinery. It has also been used to desulfurize iron and steel and in the chemical, agricultural, and construction industries. In 2009, the magnesite mining segment of the industry was negatively affected by economic trends in the aluminum industry, due to the deep decline in the auto industry during the late 2000s. Magnesium compounds are also used in agricultural, chemical, environmental, and industrial capacities. Only a handful of companies were involved in producing magnesium metals and compounds in the United States in the late 2000s.

Kyanite.
Kyanite and its two related minerals, andalusite and sillimanite, are used primarily in the glass-making, metallurgy, refractory, and ceramic industries. The U.S. kyanite mining segment was the world's second largest producer. South Africa ranks first with more than half of the world total. About 90 percent of kyanite is used in refractories, so the industry was negatively affected by the decline in the steel industry during the late 2000s due to the economic recession. Two mines were active in 2009, one in Virginia and one in Georgia.

Current Conditions

The clay industry overall was quite depressed at the end of the 2000s following several years of an economic recession that had deeply affected some of its core customer bases, including the steel, auto industry, and housing industries, as well as consumer spending in general. Total clay production fell from 41.2 million tons in 2005 to 25.3 million tons in 2009. Although all sectors of clay experiences some shrinkage, common clay production fell drastically--dropping by nearly half, from 24.3 million tons to 12.5 million tons. Over the same period, fuller's earth fell from 2.73 million tons to 2.63 million tons; bentonite, from 4.71 million tons to 4.10 million tons; and ball clay, from 1.21 million tons to 820,000 tons. Fire clay, which had jumped from 353,000 tons in 2005 to 848,000 tons in 2006, fell to the pre-2005 level of 336,000 tons in 2009. Apparent consumption of clays was 35.9 million tons and 21.7 million tons in 2005 and 2009, respectively.

Exports also fell across the board. Particularly affected were the United States' two main clay exports: common clay and bentonites. Common clay exports declined from 2.96 million tons in 2008 to 2.15 million in 2009. Bentonite exports fell over the same period from 1.07 million tons to 670,000 tons. The United States relied very little on other countries to provide clay for domestic consumption; however, what imports that did come into the country primarily came from Brazil (84 percent in 2009). Other imports came from the United Kingdom (four percent), Mexico (three percent), and Canada (two percent).

By the second quarter of 2010, the U.S. economy was showing some signs of recovery, and some production facilities that had been taken off line were slowly being reintroduced. In addition, certain segments of the industry were less affected than others. For example, sales of bentonite, although down, were stabilized by the ongoing demand for pet litter. Conversely, magnesia strongly depended on the auto industry, causing apparent consumption of magnesium compounds to fall from 591,000 tons in 2008 to 352,000 tons in 2009. Although the auto industry was not fully recovered in 2010, some suppliers had begun to replace severely depleted inventories in anticipation of increased consumer activity. Also, the ceramics market remained slow but was improving.

Industry Leaders

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, some of the top clay producing companies in the late 2000s were as follows. American Colloid Co., headquartered in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, was one of the world's top producers of bentonite. BASF became a leading producer of bentonite, fuller's earth, and kaolin when it purchased Engelhard Corp., located in Iselin, New Jersey, for $6 billion in a hostile takeover. Headquartered in Johnson City, Tennessee, General Shale Products Corp. (common clay and shale), produced an estimated one billion bricks annually. Other leading companies included Glen Gery Corp. (common clay and shale); Imerys SA (ball clay and kaolin); Nestle Purina Petcare Co. (fuller's earth); and Oil-Dri Corp. (fuller's earth).

© 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.

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