Industrial Sand

SIC 1446

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in operating sand pits and dredges, and in washing, screening, and otherwise preparing sand for uses other than construction, such as glass making, molding, and abrasives.

Industry Snapshot

While industrial sand had a variety of uses, including molding, fracturing, abrasives, and miscellaneous applications, most of the production in this industry category was destined for glass making. In 2009, domestic production of industrial sand and gravel totaled 24.7 million tons and was valued at an estimated $827 million. Industrial sand made up about 96 percent of product by tonnage; gravel accounted for the other four percent. The industry was made up of about 70 companies with 144 operations in 35 states. By tonnage produced, the leading states were Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma, California, North Carolina, and Michigan. These eight states combined to produce about 61 percent of the domestic supply of industrial sand and gravel in 2009.

Glassmaking sand accounted for about 31 percent of industrial sand, followed by hydraulic fracturing sand and well-packing and cementing sand, 27 percent; foundry sand, 14 percent; whole-grain fillers and building products, seven percent; whole-grain silica, four percent; golf course sand, three percent; and ground and unground silica for chemical applications, three percent. Other uses accounted for the remaining 11 percent.

Organization and Structure

Glass Sand.
The single most common use of industrial sand is for glass making, where glass or quartz sand constitutes 52 to 65 percent of the weight of finished glass. Glass sand requires a high percentage of silica--the principal ingredient of sand--because the presence of other elements like iron oxide and clay introduces visible impurities that mar the glass' transparency. Few sandstones or natural sands (e.g., beach or dune sand) are pure enough to yield glass without "beneficiation," or the removal of impurities through processing. Glass sands are graded according to average grain size, which is determined by passing them through sieves of varying calibers.

The container glass industry was made up of approximately 50 glass container manufacturing plants in 23 states. An additional four plants were located in Canada, and 15 plants operated in Mexico. According to the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), these 69 firms supplied approximately 75 percent of domestic demand for glass containers in the late 2000s (approximately 35 billion containers) and 35 percent of global demand (estimated 288 billion containers). At the end of 2008, GPI member companies agreed to a goal of using 50 percent recycled glass in all new glass containers by 2013.

Molding Sand.
Molding, or foundry, sand is used to make molds into which molten metal is poured, creating a metal casting, and the "core" sand produces hollow areas in the final casted product. Sand needs to contain several properties to be used in foundry or molding applications. Internal cohesiveness and heat resistance--or refractoriness--enable the mold to withstand the high temperatures of the metal casting process, which reaches between 1,340 and 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit in steel applications. The sand's moisture content is the second requirement, along with the type and amount of bonding agent (such as clay) within it, governing its ability to withstand the pressure exerted by the casted metal during heating. A third requirement is the sand's permeability, which allows water vapor and gases from the molten metal to escape during the casting process for cooling. Finally, the sand's composition and texture determine whether it will react chemically with the casted metal and whether it will create a smooth surface on the metal when it is cooled.

While so-called naturally bonded molding sand contains enough clay and other bonding material to be used in metal casting without the addition of other bonding ingredients, synthetic molding sand consists of silica sand to which a specific amount (between five and 10 percent) of fire clay, bentonite, or other bonding material is added artificially. The use of synthetic molding sand was increasing, as was the use of recycled or reclaimed foundry sand, spurred by government regulations for the disposal of used industrial sand.

Fracturing Sand.
Fracturing or hydraulic "frac" sand, also known as "proppant" sand, is composed of washed and graded high silica-content quartz sand with a grain size between 0.84 and 0.42 millimeters. Fracturing sand is used in high-pressure fluids pumped into oil and gas wells to enlarge or scour out openings in oil- or gas-bearing rock or to create new fractures from which oil or gas can be recovered. Traditionally, the "fracture treatment" at an average well uses 26,000 pounds of fracture sand. Annual demand for fracture sand increases or decreases with the level of activity in the oil and gas industry.

Abrasive Sand.
Abrasive sand and blast sand include quartz-based silica sand used in sandpaper, glass grinding, stone sawing (as in dimension stone manufacturing), metal polishing and metal casting cleaning, and in sandblasting to remove paint, stain, and rust. While sands with angular-shaped grains are often used because they cut faster, sands with rounded grains last longer and yield a smoother finish.

Other Uses.
Other traditional applications of industrial sand include engine sand, fire or furnace sand, and filtration sand. Engine sand is laid on railroad tracks to provide traction for train engines in wet or slippery conditions. Fire, or furnace, sand is generally coarser than the sand used in metal molding. It is used in building floors for acid open-hearth furnaces and in lining the cupolas and ladles that contain molten metal in the foundry industries.

Filtration sand is used by municipal water departments to remove bacteria and sediment from water supplies. Although filtration sand is generally mined from the same quarries as molding and glass sands, it must be free of clay, lime, and organic matter, as well as insoluble in hydrochloric acid. Other industrial uses include enamel manufacture, various metallurgical applications, and the production of phosphoric acid for the fertilizer industry.

Producing Regions.
The sand used in industrial applications is mined from silica sand and sandstone deposits in 35 states. Approximately 75 percent of the sand obtained from dunes and glacial lakebeds is sandstone. Silica sand is composed almost exclusively of grains of quartz and includes between 95 and 99 percent (or more) silicate.

Industry firms in New Jersey traditionally supply special-purpose industrial sand, such as abrasives and fire sand, while silica miners in Pennsylvania provide sand for refractory bricks. Deposits in eastern Ohio are a source of sandstone sand that when finished and sized is used for clay-free molding sand and high-purity glass sand. Sandstone pebbles from the same region are often crushed and used in the production of ferrosilicon and silica brick. Industry mines in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan historically produce very pure quartz sandstone for high-quality glass sand, and industrial sand mines in California have provided materials for super-duty silica brick and glass-making applications since the mid-1950s.

Background and Development

Mining Methods.
The method by which industrial sand deposits are mined depends on the solidity or degree of "cementation" of the mineral. Natural sand deposits, such as dunes and coastal beaches, can be worked simply by using loading and hauling equipment. However, in deposits where the "overburden," or covering deposits, are unusually deep--as in some locations in Missouri--underground mining uses the traditional "room-and-pillar" method, mining sections of the deposit around supporting "pillars" of the mineral.

The most common means of extraction, however, is the mining of open pits or quarries. The term quarry traditionally has been assigned to hard mineral deposits, such as the harder varieties of sandstone, requiring blasting or crushing, while pit refers to softer mineral deposits that can be mined using digging techniques.

Firms involved in quarrying operations use drills to make "shotholes" that are spaced at calculated intervals parallel to the rock face with a diameter, depth, and angle sufficient to dislodge a specific volume of rock when explosive charges are detonated in them. The explosives are the quantity and type required to shatter the rock face and break the sand deposit into sizes convenient for loading.

Deep sand deposits are mined in dry pits in progressive steps or terraces connected by ramps using light blasting, mechanical excavators, or high-pressure jets of water to dislodge the lighter earthy material and expose the heavy sand rock for mining. In some low-lying sand deposits, water naturally seeps into the pit as material is removed, so sand can be extracted as in riverbeds using "drag lines," chain buckets, "grab dredgers," or suction pumps. In pits with sufficiently deep water levels, floating grab dredgers and drag lines can be used to haul the sand to the surface.

While molding or foundry sand may be marketed without preparation other than crushing, glass sand is washed, dried, and screened, and may also be treated by electromagnetic, electrostatic, flotation, or other techniques to remove heavy mineral impurities like clay. Blast sand may be processed by breaking large sand grains into marketable grades using a high-speed rotary impact mill. Quartzite sandstone used to make silica bricks is crushed and screened into particle sizes of about 0.132 inches.

The Late 1990s.
In 1995, the U.S. industrial sand industry experienced several facility closures as well as a few major mergers and acquisitions, including Fairmount Minerals' purchase of two Ohio companies to fortify its third-place position in the industry. U.S. Borax announced that it planned to divest itself of its subsidiary, U.S. Silica, which was the industry's largest producer.

Major changes in end uses for industrial sand continued to affect the demand for the industrial sand mining industry's products. The greatest product advances in 1995 occurred in the silica chemicals and glass and advanced materials industries. For example, Rhôone-Poulenc Basic Chemicals and PPG Industries announced plans to open precipitated silica plants in Illinois and Louisiana, respectively. In addition, Dow Corning launched a line of "resin modifiers" based on silicone powder for use in flame-retardant thermoplastics, and Ford Motor Company announced the development of an all-fiber, glass-reinforced composite car body design that would increase the demand for the industrial sand industry's glass sand products if adopted by the auto industry. By using silica as an ingredient in the ceramic portion of such aluminum-and-ceramic composites, manufacturers could produce industrial materials with the strength of steel with a fraction of its weight and cost. Sales in the silica sand industry were anticipated to expand as the semiconductor industry became increasingly important, and Samsung Electronics and Intel Corporation announced major new plants in Texas and Arizona, respectively.

In 2004, the United States remained the world's largest producer and consumer of industrial sand and gravel due to the wide range and high quality of its deposits and the advanced processing techniques used to mine them. After the United States, which accounted for 28.3 million metric tons of the 94 million metric tons of industrial sand and gravel produced worldwide, the leading producers were Germany, Austria, France, and Spain.

After increasing for several consecutive years to meet growing demand, production of industrial sand declined 3.7 percent from 2001 and 2002. Analysts blamed recessionary economic conditions in the United States for the decrease in demand. Combined production of industrial sand and gravel grew from 27.3 million metric tons in 2002 to 28.3 million metric tons in 2003, but production levels remained below those of the late 1990s.

Health and environmental issues continued to have a major impact on the industrial sand mining industry in 2004. In 1992, the International Agency for Research on Cancer had identified crystalline silica as a probable human carcinogen, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) therefore required that industrial sites using or receiving more than 0.1 percent of crystalline silica notify workers of its potential health dangers. Industry firms began labeling bags and filing Material Safety Data Sheets to comply with federal, state, and local regulations regarding crystalline silica content, and garnet and granular slag were investigated as alternative sources of blasting and filtration sand. Establishments were expected to continue moving into lower-population zones in the early 2000s.

In 2003, 67 U.S. companies in 34 states produced an estimated 28.3 million metric tons of industrial sand and gravel with a total value of $566 million. Illinois, Michigan, California, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Oklahoma accounted for 59 percent of the national industrial sand and gravel total that year. U.S. consumption of industrial sand and gravel declined from 26.1 million metric tons in 2002 to 25.3 million metric tons in 2003.

Valued at $767 million, production of industrial sand and gravel totaled 31.7 million metric tons in 2006, reflecting a 3.7 percent increase in industrial sand and a slight decrease in gravel from 2005. The majority of the 60 companies producing industrial sand and gravel from 138 locations in 2008 were in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Minnesota, North Carolina, California, and Michigan. These eight states accounted for an estimated 61 percent of U.S. industrial sand and gravel production and were the highest production levels recorded to that time.

In 2007, 68 companies in 34 states produced 35 million metric tons of industrial sand and gravel valued at $883 million. Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Texas, California, Oklahoma, and Minnesota were responsible for 61 percent of U.S. tonnage produced in 2007. U.S. consumption of industrial sand and gravel increased from 28.4 million metric tons in 2005 to 31.8 million metric tons in 2007.

In 2008, of U.S. imports of industrial sand and gravel, 53 percent came from Mexico, and 41 percent from Canada. Exports increased from 2,620 metric tons to 3,800 metric tons between 2003 and 2007. U.S. production continued to increase between 2003 and 2007, growing from 27.5 million metric tons to an historic 35 million metric tons with a value of $883 million. In 2008, revenues for the 68 companies in the industry had dropped to $832 million, and tonnage had dropped to 30 million metric tons. Worldwide production of industrial sand and gravel was about 117 million metric tons with the United States responsible for the majority. Other major producers were Slovenia, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Japan.

Current Conditions

Overall, production and consumption of industrial sand and gravel was down in 2009 due to a recession that slowed economic activity beginning in 2008. Production of sand and gravel decreased from 30.4 million tons in 2008 and 30.1 million tons in 2007 to 27.4 million tons in 2009. Apparent consumption was also down. Nonetheless, in 2009, the United States remained the world's largest producer of industrial sand and gravel. Italy, the next largest producer, recorded 14 million tons in 2009--just over one-half of the U.S. total--followed by Germany with 6.5 million tons.

Total consumption dropped from 27.6 million tons and 27.7 million tons in 2007 and 2008, respectively, to 24.7 million tons in 2009. Average price per ton, which had increased steadily during the second half of the 2000s from $24.57 per ton in 2005 to $30.82 per ton in 2008, declined to an average of $30.19 per ton in 2009. Thus, industry revenues, which had risen from $752 million in 2005 to $937 million in 2008, fell to $827 million in 2008. Imports, as much as 855,000 metric tons in 2006, were just 83,000 metric tons in 2009, owing to lack of demand. Exports were also off due to the economic downturn, from 3.1 million tons in 2008 to 2.8 million tons in 2009.

The outlook for the sand and gravel industry was dependent on numerous factors including the economy, the price of energy and transportation costs, and any new environmental regulations that may affect production. By the second quarter of 2010, there was some indication that prospects for the sand and gravel industry had begun to brighten after two very difficult years of low demand. For example, in August 2010, Vulcan Materials, the nation's largest supplier of construction aggregate, announced a year-on-year increase of 6 percent in shipments for the quarter. However, diesel costs were 38 percent higher for the same period. The U.S. Geological Survey also noted that although the United States contained rich resources of sand and gravel, environmental concerns related to mining and encroaching development were pushing operations farther away from populated areas.

Industry Leaders

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the top producers of industrial sand and gravel in 2008 were, in descending order, Unimin Corp.; U.S. Silica Co.; Carmeuse Lime and Stone; Badger Mining Corp.; Fairmount Minerals, Ltd.; Wisconsin Industrial Sand Co. (a division of Fairmount Minerals, Ltd.); Sand Products Corp.; Little Six, Inc.; Manley Bros. of Indiana, Inc.; and Kinder Sand Co. Inc. The combined total of these 10 firms accounted for 81 percent of the domestic production of the industrial sand and gravel.

The largest company in the industry was Unimin Corporation, a privately held company headquartered in New Canaan, Connecticut, which produced the broadest range of ceramic grade silica, nepheline syenite (see SIC 1459: Clay, Ceramic, and Refractory Minerals, Not Elsewhere Classified), feldspar(see SIC 1459: Clay, Ceramic, and Refractory Minerals, Not Elsewhere Classified), and micron-sized silica.
J.M. Huber Corporation of Edison, New Jersey, was one of the largest family-owned companies in the United States. Within this highly diversified company, Huber Engineered Materials (HEM) develops specialty products for industrial, paper, and consumer-based applications. HEM operates in inorganic powders developed from specialty silica and silicates, alumina trihydrate, magnesium hydroxide, barium sulfate, and calcium carbonate.

© 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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