Silica flour is a finely ground silica sand that offers superior purity and very high silica content of around 98.0% or above. Silica sand mined from reserves is processed to obtain silica flour. Mined silica sand is washed, attritioned, scrubbed, hydraulically sized using mills with sieves of various mesh sizes, and dried to obtain different sizes of silica flour. A commonly used mesh size range for grinding silica sand is 50 mesh to 550 mesh. Silica flour ground using mesh size ranges of 100–200 mesh and 200–325 mesh are highly preferred for applications such as fiberglass, oil well cementing operations, sodium silicate, etc. These are among the major application segments of silica flour. There is comparatively high demand for silica flour produced using a mesh size of 100–325. The global silica flour market is likely to expand at a significant rate during the forecast period, owing to growth in end-user industries such as fiberglass, oil & gas, etc.
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Oil well cementing is a major application of silica flour. Silica flour is added to the cement used for oil well cementing operations in order to maintain its permeability and physical strength. Silica flour constitutes around 30% of the cement used for oil well cementing operations. Price of crude oil has started rising since December 2017 and has surged to an average of more than US$ 70 per barrel for the third consecutive month in June 2018 from an all-time low of US$ 30 per barrel in early 2016. This is likely to fuel oil and gas production, thereby driving the growth of the oil & gas industry. Most countries in the Middle East, which are oil-based economies, are anticipated to benefit from the increase in oil prices. The countries, which are facing a downturn as a result of a lull in the oil & gas industry, are expected to witness a revival in their economies due to the increasing crude oil prices. This is anticipated to boost the number of wells drilled, resulting in higher crude oil production. This is likely to fuel demand for silica flour in oil well cementing operations. Also, in North America, there is an increase in activity in the oil & gas sector. This is resulting in the drilling of more oil and gas wells, leading to increased use of silica flour for oil well cementing operations. The oil & gas industry is expected to expand at a steady rate in the near future, thereby driving the silica flour market during the forecast period.
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Inhalation of very fine silica particles, also known as ‘respirable crystalline silica,’ leads to silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to permanent disability and death. Inhalation of silica flour also leads to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and kidney diseases. Inhalation of silica flour is inevitable in case of workers involved in production processes employing silica flour. The general population comes in contact with silica flour through the products manufactured using silica flour. Around 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica flour and other forms of very fine particles of crystalline silica worldwide. Operations such as cutting; sawing; grinding; drilling; and crushing stone, rock, concrete, block, etc. create respirable dust, which is released into the air. This leads to inhalation of respirable crystalline silica, causing serious health hazards. These health hazards are likely to restrain the silica flour market in the near future until a safe and secure way of handling silica flour is developed that can avoid the chances of respirable silica.
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In terms of region, the silica flour market has been classified into Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, and Latin America. Asia Pacific dominated the silica flour market in 2017. This trend is estimated to continue during the forecast period. The region is projected to create lucrative opportunities for the silica flour market in the near future. China is likely to dominate the market in Asia Pacific, led by an expansion in end-user industries, particularly the oil & gas and fiberglass industries in the country. China is a leading country of the fiberglass market. It tops the list of major fiberglass producing as well as exporting countries across the globe. However, fiberglass manufacturers in China are looking to shift their production facilities to countries in Middle East & Africa, Latin America, and North America, owing to the anti-dumping duties imposed by the European Union on the import of fiberglass and related products from China. Expansion in the silica flour market in Asia Pacific can also be ascribed to the high growth potential of the market in India, Japan, and ASEAN countries. The fiberglass industry is a major consumer of silica flour in Asia Pacific.
The silica flour market is moderately fragmented as most suppliers have adopted forward integration for the manufacture of silica flour from silica sand. Key players operating in the silica flour market include SCR-Sibelco N.V., International Silica Industries Company Plc., U.S. Silica Holdings Inc., Adwan Chemical Industries Co. Ltd., and AGSCO Corporation.
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