Soda ash is the trade name for sodium carbonate, a chemical refined from the mineral trona or sodium-carbonate-bearing brines (both referred to as "natural soda ash") or manufactured from one of several chemical processes (referred to as "synthetic soda ash"). It is an essential raw material in glass, chemicals, detergents, and other important industrial products. In 1998, in terms of production, soda ash was the 11th largest inorganic chemical of all domestic inorganic and organic chemicals, excluding petrochemical feed stocks. Although soda ash represented only 2% of the total $39 billion U.S. nonfuel mineral industry, its use in many diversified products contributed substantially to the gross domestic product of the United States. Because soda ash is used in flat glass for automobile manufacture and building construction, which are important economic sectors of the domestic economy.
Sodium carbonate is soluble in water, and can occur naturally in arid regions, especially in mineral deposits (evaporites) formed when seasonal lakes evaporate. Deposits of the mineral natron have been mined from dry lake bottoms in Egypt since ancient times, when natron was used in the preparation of mummies and in the early manufacture of glass. The anhydrous mineral form of sodium carbonate is quite rare and called natrite. Sodium carbonate also erupts from Ol Doinyo Lengai, Tanzania's unique volcano, and it is presumed to have erupted from other volcanoes in the past, but due to these minerals' instability at the earth's surface, are likely to be eroded.
Indian Soda Ash industry, which previously depended on imports, has made forays in the overseas market also. Indian exports of soda ash increased from 2.5% of production in FY'00 to 14.9% of production in FY’05 making the trade balance positive (Trade Balance = Export – Import) with reasonable margin. However, with the removal of anti–dumping duty in 2005, the imports rose again and the trade balance became negative during FY’06.
Considering 41.9 Million MT of global demand at present, the demand would increase by almost 1 to 1.5 million MT every year. Of this additional demand, around 60% would come from India, China and Middle East countries. Our outlook for world soda ash prices is stable over the medium term. However, crude oil prices are a matter of concern. Increase in crude oil prices would further increase the cost of transportation and cost push price rise may be seen.
The demand for the product is widespread and constitutes of several industry groups like glass, metals, textiles, detergents & soaps. The glass industry forms the largest end user industry of dense soda ash with over half of the soda ash production being used in glass production on a global scale. Light soda ash is primarily used for aluminum cleaning, dying and water softening. Light soda ash is also used to make baking soda that finds application in the food, leather tanning, fire extinguisher, metals, chemicals and personal care products industry. This makes soda ash a critical inorganic chemical in the global manufacturing value chain. Given its widespread utilization and demand, the chemical is highly traded on a global scale.