Global markets for refractories were already relatively low before the pandemic hit the planet and a poor performance in some regions was only made worse in 2020, with significant declines. There is a hope in the industry that it will return to some sort of normal or at least a “new normal” in 2022.
There have been signs of significant recovery in first half of 2021 and strong sales were possibly enhanced because of the need to rebuild stocks and line idled vessels before bringing them back on line.
World’s total refractories market in 2019 was estimated to be about 34-35m tonnes, which then fell by as much as 20-25% in 2020 in Europe and North America, but actually increased slightly in China. The longer term outlook is for modest growth, particularly in steel and cement, but accompanied by a slow reduction in unit consumption of refractories.
But, there are other factors creeping in that could influence longer term demand: the move to higher qualities of refractories, for longer working life; cleaner steels; harsher conditions eg. alternative fuels use in cement manufacture.
Other factors will be an increase in recycling of refractories; reducing carbon footprint of steelmaking through new processes; and potential cement replacement for CO2 reduction.