USA: 2008 a record year for soda ash firms

US soda ash production, concentrated in Wyoming, achieved record output in 2008. The continuing economic and energy problems notwithstanding, industry experts said overall global demand for soda ash i…

US soda ash production, concentrated in Wyoming, achieved record output in 2008. The continuing economic and energy problems notwithstanding, industry experts said overall global demand for soda ash is expected to grow slightly over the next few years. The US industry set a production record in 2008 with 11.2 million short tons of soda ash, 100,000 more short tons than in 2007, according to a US Geological Survey report by soda ash analyst Dennis Kostick. Wyoming producers accounted for more than 95% of domestic soda ash production. The US soda ash industry consists of four companies in south-west Wyoming operating five trona mines and soda ash plants, and one company in California. South-west Wyoming holds almost all of the nation“s mineable trona reserves and the world“s largest deposits. The trona lies in beds from 600 to 2,000 feet (183 to 610 meters) underground in the Green River Basin. The industry employs more than 2,200 people in the area. For the second consecutive year, the total value of soda ash produced in the United States exceeded USD 1 billion, increasing from USD 1.3 billion in 2007 to USD 1.4 billion in 2008. The four Wyoming companies accounted for an estimated 25% of the world“s total soda ash production of about 46 million short tons in 2008, the year-end data showed. Wyoming producers continued to face fierce competition from synthetic soda ash producers in Asia, Africa and Europe in 2008, according to the report. Mr. Kostick said the adverse economic conditions in domestic automobile production and housing starts that affected soda ash consumption in the flat glass and fiberglass sectors in 2007 continued through 2008. But the report said US export sales have risen recently as world market conditions have improved for soda ash. Global energy consumption increased in 2008, which caused soda ash production costs and transportation costs to rise accordingly for all producers, resulting in some price increases in 2008. Mr. Kostick said overall global demand for soda ash is expected to grow from 1.5% to 2% annually for the next few years. The report said that if the domestic economy improves, US demand may be slightly higher in 2009. The report also said FMC Corp., the leading US soda ash producer, announced it would restart production to tap the remaining 700,000 tons of mothballed capacity at its Granger facility in Wyoming by 2012. Glass production accounted for an estimated 49% of the soda ash consumed in 2008, followed by chemicals at 30% and soap and detergents at 8%.