Silica’s future depends on paradigm shift

4th June 2021 By: Claire O'Reilly

Silica sands’ long-term economic growth and stability is reliant on being reimagined and introduced into new industies and nonconventional applications – the traditional usage of this commodity is no longer enough to sustain silica sand companies, Mineral Processing Engineering & Consulting (MPEC) Saudi Arabia MD Hatem Ibrahim stressed during processing plants manufacturer CDE’s Engineering Insights virtual event.

His presentation, which took place on May 19, noted that the last decade has demonstrated fluctuation in silica sand consumption in several industries in Saudi Arabia, and internationally – hitting growth spurts, owing to silica gaining value in new markets and becoming an integrated part of the supply chain of numerous industries over the last seven years. Ibrahim alluded to how this path of evolution is pertinent to prevent the industry from collapsing.

Yet the silica sand market has also faced huge dips, reaching its lowest consumption point in 2009, owing to the global recession. Silica sand is experiencing another dip, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent financial constraints, with many industries unwilling to risk incorporating silica sand into their applications.

“[Owing to] the variety of products and the new or future development in applications, the long-term forecast for silica sand requires nonconventional methods and use [of] silica sand in [new] applications. These new untapped markets are what will expand the industry,” explained Ibrahim, who commented that, while the majority of companies are reluctant to experiment, “there are some industries that are taking the leap”.

Each unique market opportunity and its interconnection with other industries has been studied to draw a strategic long-term forecast of silica sand-based products. Recent research, conducted by MPEC, noted that many new sectors seek to introduce silica sand into their production processes. MPEC has yet to estimate the likely impact of future glass containers but sees potential for growth into that market as well.

Silica sand is being experimented with in many products including whole grain fillers, abrasives, gravel sand, and in the ceramic and filtration industries in general, likely boosting global demand for the next decade. “Most of the silica sand deposits extracted from quarries are of good quality, [with a] purity value of about 80% and above,” claimed Ibrahim.

Further, in Saudi Arabia, “after going through beneficiation and other [processes], the silica sand is between 95% to 99% pure, which is a higher grade than almost all other countries”, he boasted.

Ibrahim commented that Saudi Arabia is a strategic location to distribute silica sand as the country has an abundance of high-grade of silica.

Saudi Arabia also has a thriving quarrying industry and the largest economy and market in the Middle East and North Africa region.