Zircon, also known as zircon silicate (ZrSiO4), is found in ancient mineral sand deposits and is prized for its thermal stability and reflective properties.
The main use of zircon sand is its conversion into flour and opacifier to make ceramics (i.e. tiles and fixtures). Zircon is also used a feedstock to produce fused zirconia, zirconium chemicals, chemical zirconia and zirconium metal. Zircon sand is directly used in foundry applications and refractories and other minor applications.
Zirconia is derived from zircon either by a chemical route that involves leaching and decomposition, or via a fusion process. Similarly, zirconium metal is obtained through a leaching/chlorination process for further use in chemical applications and other minor uses.
Zircon Market Supply/Demand
World demand for zircon is more than 1 million tonnes per annum, with demand forecasted to exceed supply by around 2023, due to depletion of current mining resources.
Steep zircon production increases were observed after the year 2000, which coincided with considerable growth of Chinese demand for zircon sand. From 2000 to 2010, China passed from being an average zircon consumer in 2000 to the biggest zircon consumer in the world after 2010, accounting for over half of world consumption. A major trend during the last 3 years is the continued increase in exports of zircon concentrates to China, for further upgrading.