I have been travelling between the UK, Germany and the US to host a number of meetings in the last few weeks, so in my mind there was a perfect opportunity for someone to redecorate my house. So I found a trusted decorator, gave him the house keys, and returned after my first trip to a sparkling white new interior. My decorator's comment? "I can't believe how expensive of white paint is at the moment." This caught my attention: time to investigate the chemical properties of paint and to explore why the price has increased.
Paint -- what is it?
Paint usually has three main components: a pigment, a binder, and the solvent. The pigment is responsible for the colour, and normally derived from a number of metal oxides. For red pigments we look toward iron oxides, for green we have chromium oxides and finally the most popular colour, white, is linked to Titanium dioxide. The binding agents and solvents are the carrying agent for pigments (water and oils).
As an interesting fact: on average, raw materials constitute around 56% of the total expenditure in paint companies.
Titanium dioxide production
Titanium dioxide is a white powder with high opacity and brilliant whiteness. Approximately 4-5 million tons of pigmentary titanium dioxide are consumed annually worldwide and it is used in a broad range of applications: in paints, for coating plastic and papermaking (ink), ceramics and limited food additives. The global market for these coatings is currently worth around $95 billion per annum and is forecast to increase modestly by some 10% in the next five years.
Titanium dioxide pigment is manufactured by processing titanium-containing rutile or ilmenite minerals. Though common throughout the world, they are most readily exploited in Australia, USA, India and South Africa.
Australia is a key player and nearly all titanium dioxide is produced from ilmenite. Australia supplies about 40% of the world's ilmenite and about 25% of its rutile. In contrast to its dominance in titanium minerals, Australia supplies only about a 3% share of the world's titanium dioxide pigment production. Titanium dioxide pigment in the last 10 years has been moving away from European and American regions to the lower cost nations in the developing world.
There are two commercial processes to create titanium dioxide: the chloride process and the sulfate process. In essence, the impure titanium dioxide ore is converted into another chemical and then the impurities are separated out. It is then converted back to pure titanium dioxide.
The current tendency is to switch away from the chloride method (60% of the market) and some interest has been renewed in the sulfate process.
Titanium dioxide market movements
After about 15 years of low market prices and limited investment we have seen titanium dioxide market prices shoot upward. The ceiling for the market may be reached later in the year as the demand for the pigment in a slowing economy is reducing. There has been little or no investment in mining facilities of titanium dioxide minerals, but some new process capacity is expected to come online in 2014.
There has also been a trend in the market place for paint producers to aim to reduce their need for titanium dioxide pigment by around 5%, and in some cases, manufacturers are looking to substitute their requirements by using diatomaceous earth combined with talc, of which there are abundant sources around the world. These materials could replace 40% of paint producers titanium dioxide requirements.
Chloride process feedstock facts:
- 1.06 tons of synthetic rutile is required for each ton of pigment
- One ton of chlorine is required to produce 5 to 6 tons of titanium dioxide pigment
- Chlorination is carried out at a temperature of around 1000 degrees C in a fluid bed reactor in the presence of coke
- Metal chloride impurities that are removed by the processing through neutralizing with lime or limestone and then sent for disposal via landfill