Industrial silica sand is high purity silica sand with almost similar sizing of particles. Silica sand is a low priced product but acts as the primary ingredient for a wide range of products. Industrial silica sand is found mostly in the crystalline form although amorphous forms are also available. Deposits of silica yielding substances with at least 95% silicon dioxide (SiO2) content is preferred for industrial and manufacturing applications.
Industrial silica sand finds application in a wide range of industries. These include glass making, metal casting, metal production, chemical production, construction, paints & coatings, ceramics and refractories, oil & gas recovery, and recreational products. Initially, foundry casting was an important market for industrial silica sand. However, as heavy manufacturing in various regions started declining, demand for foundry sand too declined gradually. This demand is slowly stabilizing due to certain typical applications served by foundries in military, aerospace, and precision automotive parts.
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A relatively recent end use of industrial silica sand is in the hydraulic fracturing process employed in North American shale plays. The growth of the shale gas recovery industry is a key driver for the industrial silica sands market. According to the US Geological Survey, from a mere market share of around 5% in 2000, demand for industrial silica sand in hydraulic fracturing operations increased to around 40% of the US silica sand production by volume, making it the major market for the material in the U.S. In the UK, glass production is the major end use for industrial silica sand followed by foundry and other industrial uses.
A major market opportunity for industrial silica sand exists in the utilization of new shale plays for natural gas recovery via the hydraulic fracturing process in countries other than the U.S. Some of the upcoming shale plays identified are found in countries such as Australia, China, India, Mexico, and a few Middle Eastern countries.
The fall in crude oil prices acts as a restraint for the growth of the industrial silica sands market. Due to this scenario, oil producers have started to source low cost sand over high quality material due to cost competitiveness. As a result, low cost brown sand is increasingly preferred over high quality uniform and round industrial silica sand, leading to high rate of inventory of industrial silica sand with producers.
North America is the largest consumption market for industrial silica sand. The U.S. and Canada contribute a very large chunk of the market in North America. Europe and Asia Pacific follow North America, with considerably lower market shares. Unimin Corp., U.S. Silica Co., Fairmount Minerals Ltd., Oglebay Norton Co., Sibelco UK Ltd, Hanson Aggregates, and Surrey and Kent Tarmac Group are some of the major producers of industrial silica sand.
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