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Future Trends - Zinc

Although the consumption of zinc has grown an average of 4% peryear since the mid-1990s (except during 2001 recession when demand fell nearly 2%) the market price of zinc has declined by an average of more than 2% a year. The lowered price has challenged the zinc industry and has resulted in announcements (in late-2001) for six mines to cut production a total of about 500,000 tons. While cutbacks will reduce the surplus, it is insufficient to bring the industry into supply-demand balance in the near-future*. Generally, the worldwide zinc market has experienced a prolonged period of over-supply and reduced prices. In the meantime, pressure is being placed on zinc producers to lower costs.

The largest application for zinc use, galvanizing of sheet steel (for automotive and transportation related applications) is projected to continue growing at nearly 5% annually (source: www.zincworld.org). Another large potential growth area is for galvanized residential construction materials.

Research to develop additional applications for zinc has been sponsored by both the International Lead Zinc Research Organization (ILZRO) and the international Zinc Association (IZA). A summary of forward-looking initiatives they have sponsored includes:

  • Performance studies, technical and economic comparisons and creation of a designguide leading to a research program to develop a new zinc alloy single-dip thin coating with improved weight and performance characteristics. The program is called the Thin Coatings Research Program for Automotive Underbody Components. Fundamental research, carried out at the University of Rome, Italy, led to a breakthrough in 1999 and patenting of a new galvanizing process for which it is said will open new avenues for general galvanizing.
  • Public transport zinc-air battery project in Mexico City for a joint market development
    effort (including research, development and promotion).
  • The Galvanized Autobody Partnership (GAP), ILZRO's largest zinc research program, whose goal is to strengthen the position of zinc-coated steel sheet as the material of choice for carmakers. GAP will determine a) how the next generation of lightweight steels can be effectively protected with zinc coatings, b) how galvanizing lines can be operated to produce the highest quality coatings, and c) the likely next generation zinc coatings for use to protect automotive steels. More than 50% of GAP funding comes from the steel industry
  • A research program responding to the auto industry's need for higher performance zinc casting alloys. Currently, ILZRO is sponsoring research to develop a new generation of zinc pressure die casting alloys. This research is being funded by the US Department of Energy as well as by private industry.

*(Presentation: March, 2002, V. Gauci, M.I.M. Holdings during ABARE conference titled "The Future of Lead and Zinc - A Suppliers Perspective".)