Glass manufacturing as potential goldmine for nation-building

Despite the availability of various glass raw materials in Nigeria, research shows that Nigeria still depends mostly on importation of the same. In an effort to reduce   importation, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) is striving at building the nation’s capital via glass raw materials. BINTA SHAMA reports.

 The world of glass

Glass is a non-crystalline and often transparent amorphous solid material with wide usages. Based on its increasing industrial application globally, glass has transformed from a luxurious decorative piece to a functional material with numerous advancements in different industry verticals. Glass is becoming a versatile material with wide application ranging from domestic uses to construction and aeronautics industry. 

Nearly all glass families of commercial interest are based on silica, or silicon dioxide (SiO2), a mineral that is found in great abundance in nature, particularly in quartz and beach sands. Glass made exclusively of silica is used where high service temperature, very high shock resistance, high chemical durability, very low electrical conductivity, and good ultraviolet transparency are desired.  However, glass products such as containers, windows, panes and lightbulbs that are low cost but high durability can be made with a combination of soda, lime and silica.  Other types of glasses are also made with soda, or sodium oxide derived from either sodium carbonate or soda ash, lime, or calcium oxide derived from roasted limestone.  In glass production, other ingredients may be added in order to vary the properties of the products. Oxide glasses are produced from phosphates and borates, although they are of little commercial importance.   Nonoxide glasses are used in telecommunications owing to their relatively low optical losses.  The mostly produced glassy metal is a compound of nickel, phosphorus and boron that is commercially available as Metglas (trademark). It is used in flexible magnetic shielding and power transformers.

Glass market valued at $127.1 billion in 2019

The global glass manufacturing market size was valued at USD 127.1 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.1% from 2020 to 2027. The rapid rise in demand for the product is from the electronics industry as a result of proliferation in the production of smartphones, increasing penetration of Artificial Intelligence  (AI) in business and consumer applications, and decreasing prices of consumer electronic devices.   Other major products propelling increasing demand for glass are container glass which dominated the market with a volume share of roughly 50% in 2019.  In addition, increasing demand for alcoholic beverages coupled with rapid growth of beer in the industry in Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe are leading to an increase in the demand for glass. Fiberglass is also expected to expand at a CAGR of 4.5%, from 2020 to 2027 due to its extensive usage in automobiles as a result of its lightweight and high strength properties.  Also, the increasing use of glass in the building and construction industries and its insulation applications is expected to propel the demand for glass over the next eight years.

Nigeria has surplus of glass raw materials

Nigeria is one of the most endowed countries in terms of glass raw materials availability.  The major raw materials, silica sand, quartz, limestone, soda ash, calcite, feldspars and cullet or (recycled glass) as well as aluminium trihydrate, sodium sulphate, chromite, etc., which are used as auxiliary raw materials are abundantly available in the country.  Silica sand occurs in more than 25 States of the Federation.  Ondo State alone has an estimated resource of 3 billion tonnes of silica.  Likewise, quartz, limestone, dolomite, marble, chromite and feldspar each occur in substantial quantities in more than 15 states of the federation.  The deposits of these minerals ran into millions of tonnes each. For instance, the estimated reserve of limestone is 2.3 trillion tonnes across the country, mainly in Kogi, Ogun, Cross River, and Sokoto amongst other States.  Also, over 119 million of proven feldspar deposits are available in the country.

Despite the wide availability of various glass raw materials in Nigeria,Nigeria presently depends mostly on importation of glass.  In 2014, Nigeria imported over 360,000 tonnes of glass products for use in the construction industry.  Presently, glass importation is among the top 10 import categories in the country. In 2019, imported glass products, particularly laboratory and pharmaceutical glass wares account for a high share to the tune of USD 1.5 billion with a 35% increase over previous year. Laboratory and pharmaceutical glassware accounted for 95% (USD 1.44 billion) of the total glass products imported into Nigeria, while float and polished glass accounted for 1.91% or USD 28 million and packing glass accounted for 1.12% or USD 17 million.  Nigeria imports float glass from Europe, South America and China.  In 2019, glass demand was estimated at 510,000 tonnes and this is rising due to increasing demand for glass products from the country’s booming housing industry which is the second fastest growing sector, driven by rapid growth in population.  The current housing deficit is 17 million units.  According to the World Bank estimates, this would require about US $22 billion to fund. This portends a great market for the glass manufacturing industry within the country.

Intervention of RMRDC

In view of the above, it has become important to encourage and promote glass production in Nigeria.  As a result of this, the Council has put in place programmes and projects to foster development of the glass minerals in Nigeria. The Council is developing a processing/beneficiation plant for feldspar.  The project which is at the final stage of completion would add value to raw feldspar for different industrial applications.  The project would also catalyse investment in the emergence of more feldspar processing plants in the country and create jobs.  The Council is already working in tandem with investors to establish phosphate processing plants in the endowed states.  The beneficiation plant is being fabricated based on reverse engineering principles in order to build local capacity.  Likewise, efforts have been made by the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) and Borno/Yobe State Governments over the years on the establishment of a plant for the production of soda ash in Nigeria through the trona method.  However, this was not as successful as planned because of a number of factors.  Nevertheless, the project has been revisited and a technical committee, made up of a multidisciplinary pool of experts, was set up to advise the council of the most feasible way of approaching trona production from local soda ash deposits in Nigeria.  The Technical Committee has submitted its report to the Council and the Borno/Yobe State governments and implementation strategies are already being worked out.   It has been established that the soda ash deposit in the neighbouring Chad Republic is suitable for trona production.  The Council should have reached an understanding with the government of Chad Republic; however, experts are of the opinion that sustainability of supply may not be guaranteed.   In view of the importance of soda ash in glass manufacturing, the Council has sponsored the conduct of a detailed feasibility study on the establishment of a soda ash production plant by synthetic method and is discussing with potential investors in this regard. 

The Council is also working on the development of sodium silicate.  Nigeria expends a huge amount of its foreign exchange on the importation of sodium silicate and silica gel annually for the manufacturing sector.   In 2019, an estimated 840 MT and 9,000 MT of sodium silicate and silica gel valued at N110m and N2b respectively were imported into the country.  The raw material for the production of sodium silicate is abundant in Nigeria.  Sodium silicate can either be produced from kaolin or rice husk, which are abundantly available locally.  With estimated deposits of 3 billion MT of kaolin in various States of the Federation and the Presidential Initiative on the anchor borrower programme in local rice production, the raw materials source for sodium silicate production is highly sustainable.