Bentonite-based products are known for their extra-wide functional versatility, non-toxicity, low degree of substitutability and a capacity to be integrated with highly innovative technical decisions. In some applications, bentonite importance is paramount. For instance, bentonite is a component of a bonding material used in the preparation of moulding sand for the production of iron, steel, and non-ferrous casting. Green sand moulding continues to be the most widely-used method in the production of small to medium-sized ferrous metal castings. In such a role, bentonite is indispensable for the foundry industry.
Bentonite is a plastic clay with a complex composite structure. This structure affects the market value of the bentonite resources subject to the presence of other minerals in its content. Being an open-pit mined resource, bentonite as a commercial product is therefore very susceptible to the fluctuations in the costs of geological research and mining operations, as well as energy expenditure incurred during its processing. The increasing depletion of long-operating bentonite deposits is a big challenge too. In addition, companies like Clariant (a world leading provider of specialty products based on bentonite, with more than 100 years of history in the bentonite business) are committed to meet high standards of sustainability, which also poses a significant challenge. Clariant re-naturalizes bentonite mines by restoring the topsoil and biodiversity at its mining sites. Such re-naturalization could envelop an area of up to 400,000 sq. m. In general, environmental concerns are now an important element in the operation of many regional markets for bentonite.
Thus, mining and energy costs are two factors that can significantly increase bentonite prices under certain market conditions. For instance, in late 2018, Clariant increased its prices for all bentonite-based product grades in the EMEA region by 9%. This decision was driven by the rising costs of raw clay and energy. Clariant mines its bentonite clay at different sites. The company operates mines in Germany (at its Moosburg mine in the province of Upper Bavaria), Italy (Sardinia) and China (sites in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, and Jianping, Liaoning province). These mining sites in Zhenjiang and Jianping are extremely important for Clariant.
Main bentonite-producing countries
China is a core market, thanks to its huge bentonite resources and vast consumption potential, especially since it is one of the leading foundry markets and automotive production countries in the world. However, from the corporate and business perspective, Clariant’s bentonite facilities in Europe are equally important. The region combines a large consumption base with enormous research potential for originating highly innovative bentonite products.
A comprehensive analysis of the global bentonite market can be found in the insightful research report “Bentonite: 2019 World Market Review and Forecast to 2028”.