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The Position of Refractory Products in the Industry Context

Refractory products are ceramic materials, which, by definition, have a high refractoriness at 1500°C. They are composed of oxides (SiO2, Al2O3, CaO, MgO, Cr2O3 and ZrO2) and/or non oxides (SiC, Si3N4, BN, …) with or without addition of carbon.

In the industrial context they fulfil essential functions usually associated with operation at high temperatures and in extreme environments (erosion, corrosion…) such as, internal coatings in thermochemical process vessels, construction elements, thermal insulators or conductors.

The sectors which principally use these materials are: ferrous metallurgy (>50%), non-ferrous metallurgy (7%), glass (5%), chemical (mineral and petrochemical) (4%), ceramic (9%), cement and lime production (4%) and thermal electricity generation and incineration (8%).

Diverse application needs demand specific properties from refractory products. Thousands of different compositions exist and in-service lifetimes may vary from very short (< 1 hour in continuous casting of steel) to very long (> 50 years in coke furnaces).

Most recent figures show that Europe leads the world in production of refractory products (table 1). Within Europe the main refractories producing countries are Germany (32%), Austria (15%), England (14%), Italy (12%) and Spain (11%).

Country Year Shaped (106tonne) Non Shaped (106tonne) Total (106tonne)
EU 1995 3.0 1.9 4.9
Russia 1994 3.1 1.6 4.7
USA 1993 1.3 1.0 2.3
Japan 1995 0.7 0.9 1.6

Table 1: Production of refractory products

It can be seen that in Europe and Russia the market is dominated by shaped products (produced at the manufacturers plant), whereas in the USA and Japan there is more of a balance between shaped products and non-shaped products (formed at the customer’s site).

Current economic figures show that global production of refractories is falling (4.3 x 106 tonnes in 2000 in the EU) and likely to be further reduced in 2002. One reason for this is that as the demand for higher performance refractory products increases, their rate of consumption in each sector is reduced (table 2).

Sector Consumption (kg refractory/tonne product)
Steel 10
Non-ferrous 6
Glass 5
Cement and lime 0.9

Table 2: Consumption of refractories by sector

The sector by sector consumption of refractories within Europe is shown in figure 3. It can be seen that European production (4.9 x 106 tonnes) outstrips total consumption (3.0 x 106 tonnes) with the balance destined for export. Thus, the refractories industry makes an important contribution to a positive trade balance in terms of exports.

Country Consumption of refractories
(103tonne) (%)
Iron and steel 2100 70
Glass 90 3
Cement 210 7
Non-ferrous 42 4
Chemical 42 4
Others 360 12
Total 3000 100

Table 3: European consumption of refractory products (58% shaped and 42% non-shaped)

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