Oxides are used by refractory and structural ceramics manufacturers to produce materials that are used in a wide variety of industries. Even with the reduced production of steel in the US, the industry continues to be the largest (in terms of tonnage) consumer of refractory products. The high temperatures required for domestic steel production coupled with increasingly stringent performance demands and ever-present cost concerns continue to drive development of new products. Annually, the steel industry consumes about one-half of the World’s refractory materials. The next two largest consumers of refractories, the aluminum and the glass industries, only account for about 20% of the refractory materials produced.
Remaining production and usage is distributed over a host of industries, many of which are not commonly known. Others include nonferrous metal producers (copper, lead, zinc, etc.), the cement industry, petroleum and hydrocarbon refineries, chemical producers, pulp and paper, food production-related industries; anything involving heat and/or hot products. Although only a minor consumer, NASA utilizes refractory tiles to protect astronauts from the harsh conditions that exist on operation of the space shuttle and a refractory brick pad to manage the heat load associated with launch.
The specific application defines the type of refractory material that can be utilized not only by property requirements but also by cost requirements. Each of the industries mentioned balances refractory performance with refractory cost. At times higher quality oxide refractories are abandoned in favor of less costly, but also less affective alternatives. As these industries continue to evolve to higher and higher production temperatures, acceptable lower cost alternatives will become increasingly less available.