Global soda ash consumption is forecast to drop in 2020 as da result of weak demand from the container and flat glass sectors, writes Francinia Protti-Alvarez.

However, demand from other important end-user sectors such as soap & detergents remains stable, and sodium bicarbonate demand is forecast to grow 2% in 2020.

Average operating rates in 2020 will be about 5% lower than last year, says Marguerite Morrin, Executive Director/soda ash at IHS Markit during a recent industry briefing.

“Flat glass is the biggest end-user segment for soda ash with the construction and automotive industries driving demand. Lockdowns and the ensuing shutdown of economic activities have severely hit these industries,” says Morrin.

“Overall, soda ash demand in flat glass production is forecast to drop by 19% in 2020, the equivalent of 1.5 million metric tons (MMt).”

Similarly, container glass, the second largest end-user segment, is forecast to record a loss in demand of 13% (or 1.2 MMt).

Container glass applications are primarily driven by demand from the beer and spirits industry and supported through tourism and hospitality-related activities, which have also been severely hit by COVID-19 lockdown measures, observes Morrin.

On the glass side of things, solar glass production is one sector that offers positive news. Plans to build solar glass plants—boosted by post-COVID-19 green recovery plans—would represent 1 MMt of new soda ash demand, Morrin adds.

Given the overall weak demand and poor economic outlook, there is little support for new projects. There will likely be delays to many of the capacity expansions announced in the United States in September 2019, even if producers have not been explicit about their plans, IHS Markit says.

Learn more about the issues affecting the soda ask market and prices during IHS Markit's World Soda Ash Conference Online 2020, 19–22 October.