More than half the soda ash produced globally is being utilized by the glass industry. The glass industry comprises of five mains sectors, which are flat glass, container glass, continuous filament glass, domestic glass, and special glass. Flat glass is effectively used in buildings, automotive industries and also in various solar energy applications such as in solar thermal and photovoltaic solar panels. Although the glass industry has various product processes, they are characterized by the use of one common material – soda ash.
Soda ash is one of the most produced and used inorganic chemical in the entire world. There are basically three types of soda ash, namely light sodium carbonate (light soda ash), granular soda ash (heavy soda ash), and refined sodium hydrogen carbonate. Refined sodium hydrogen carbonate is produced when crude sodium hydrogen carbonate is filtered, decarbonated, and then dehydrated by heating. Soda ash commonly occurs as a crystalline heptahydrate, which readily effloresces to form a white powder, the monohydrate.
Sodium carbonate is domestically well known as a water softener. It can be extracted from the ashes of many plants. Soda ash is an important ingredient in the manufacturing of glasses, as it used as a fluxing agent to reduce the melting point of silica. Most of the glass that is manufactured today have a soda-lime component. Furthermore, the flat glass industry mainly produces glass used in the automotive industry (tempered glass), as well as in the building sector: private and public housing, after-market segment (windows and doors replacement).
Apart from glass manufacturing, soda ash is also utilized for manufacturing the number of chemicals such as sodium silicate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium percarbonate, sodium chromate. and sodium dichromate. There are also some regulations that must be kept in mind by the manufacturers of soda ash. In accordance with the regulations and rules of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs), owners or operators of facilities that manufacture soda ash must report emissions from their soda ash manufacturing units and all other source categories located at the facility.
The inventive properties of packaging glass, for instance, dark brown containers for beers and green tint color glass for wine bottles, together with its full recycling capability and its inability to react with the content makes glass a highly valued raw material. Thus, the use of soda ash in making glass has helped the chemical soda ash industry to register good growth yearly.
Moreover, glasses are also used effectively in all types of construction activities, be it for domestic or commercial purposes. Soda ash is a fundamental constituent of glass formulation, which can validate the fact that more than 50% of soda ash production is utilized for the production of various types of glasses that is consumed by the industry and for the use of the household.
More than 50% of the soda ash produced is consumed by the glass industry, which is itself a multi-billion dollar industry. APAC region has a major revenue share of up to 50%. It is the largest consumer of the world with China as the major producer and the consumer for the entire nation. The growing construction sector along with the increasing automobile sales in the emerging nations of the APAC has further boosted the market for soda ash.
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Germany in Europe is the highest producer of flat glass followed by France, Italy, and then Belgium. The global market in 2009 was approximately 52 million tones and that valued to 22 billion dollars in 2009. The highly consolidated glass market has further boosted the market of soda ash. Soda ash is, moreover, used in the first process of converting pulp into paper, wherein the market for soda ash is used for boiling the plant fibers. Thus, the pulp and paper industry also serves as an important end-use sector for propelling the market of soda ash. It is also used across the globe as a raw ingredient for cleaning powders and detergents. The entire laundry process consists of water, energy, linen replacement, chemicals, and labor. Out of which chemicals hold almost 10% in which soda ash is used.
The development of soda ash as a major commodity is intimately attached to the chemical revolution that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Strong political and economic reasons have led to the search of synthetic producers to replace the natural sources of soda ash. The key players in the market are Tata Chemicals, Solvay SA, Ciech SA, GHCL Ltd., and few others who have successfully produced soda ash and have come up with various grades of these products, suitable for various applications. APAC will foresee the highest growth owing to its increasing construction industry, thus consequently increasing the glass consumption, which will ultimately increase the consumption of soda ash among end users.
The growth in building products is fuelled by the growth in construction, magnified by an architectural and engineering trend towards the greater use of glass in building facades, for reasons involving not only design trends, but also environmental protection – exploiting the ability of glass to capture natural heat and light, and thus reducing the carbon output associated with heating and electrical power.
The industry is continuously developing new and innovative glass technologies that offer significant and desirable performance advantages over older products, which will continue to drive the trend of replacing installed glass stock with high-performance products, hence fueling the demand for soda ash. As the construction, automotive, and consumer packaged goods industries employ new technical and functional requirements for their glass products, the demand for high-quality soda ash is increasing.
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