Estimated global consumption of boron rose to a record 1.8 million tonnes of B2O3 in 2005, following a period of strong growth in demand from Asia, Europe and North America. Boron mining and refining capacities are considered to be adequate to meet expected levels of growth through the next decade. The form in which boron is consumed has changed in recent years. The use of ores like colemanite has declined following concerns over arsenic content. Consumers have moved towards the use of refined borates or boric acid that have a lower pollutant content. The average cost of crystalline boron is $5/g.
Increasing demand for boric acid has led a number of producers to invest in additional capacity. Eti Mine Company of Turkey opened a new 100,000 tonnes per year capacity boric acid plant at Emet in 2003. Rio Tinto increased the capacity of its boron plant from 260,000 tonnes per year in 2003 to 310,000 tonnes per year by May 2005, with plans to grow this to 366,000 tonnes per year in 2006.
Chinese boron producers have been unable to meet rapidly growing demand for high quality borates. This has led to imports of disodium tetraborate growing by a hundredfold between 2000 and 2005 and boric acid imports increasing by 28% per year over the same period.
The rise in global demand has been driven by high rates of growth in fiberglass and borosilicate production. A rapid increase in the manufacture of reinforcement-grade fiberglass in Asia with a consequent increase in demand for borates has offset the development of boron-free reinforcement-grade fiberglass in Europe and the USA. The recent rises in energy prices can be expected to lead to greater use of insulation-grade fiberglass, with consequent growth in the use of boron.
Roskill Consulting Group forecasts that world demand for boron will grow by 3.4% per year to reach 21 million tonnes by 2010. The highest growth in demand is expected to be in Asia where demand could rise by an average 5.7% per year.