Cenospheres, the high strength, small sized, lightweight, non-porous, free flowing, hollow ceramic spheres produced in coal fired thermal power plants during the burning of lignite or coal at very elevated temperatures, find extensive usage across a number of industries owing to their physical properties. Cenospheres find usage as fillers in a number of applications, replacing resins and minerals and imparting diverse benefits such as reduced shrinkage, improved level of thermal insulation, weight reduction, improved level of fire resistance, and easier application.
Industries such as oil and gas, building, plastics, aerospace, automotive, and surface coating continue to be some of the leading consumers of cenospheres and new application areas are being devised at an encouraging pace. Owing to their natural properties, cenospheres can be used in forms such as dry, wet, or slurry. Owing to their inert nature, cenospheres are not affected by acids, alkalis, water, or solvents. Hence, cenospheres have an impressive reusability quotient. Cenospheres are nearly 30% lighter than conventionally used resins and nearly 75% lighter than most minerals used as fillers or extenders.
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These two factors chiefly contribute to the increased demand for cenospheres in the industrial sector. Their role in improving the strength and durability of products while also allowing a massive reduction in product weight enhances their applicability. Moreover, their high reusability quotient works in their favor as the interest of governments, businesses, and consumers in environmental concerns has significantly heightened of late.
Cenospheres can be defined as the inert, lightweight hollow spheres made from silica and alumina. They are the byproducts of coal combustion in thermal power plants. Cenospheres have great buoyancy as they have very low density ranging between 0.4-0.8 g/cm³. They are light, waterproof, rigid, insulative, and innoxious in nature which makes them highly useful in numerous products, particularly fillers. They have compressive strengths of more than 3000 psi and are available in size of 500 microns. Cenospheres are produced when coal is burned in thermal power plants, consists mainly ceramic particles such as alumina and silica. Composition and structure of cenospheres depends on the composition of coal used in thermal power plants. They have special characteristics such as resistance to acids, low water absorption, high particle strength, ultra-low density, and low thermal conductivity making them useful in improving properties of finished consumer products. Owing to their unique properties they have found applications in polymers and metals for the production of composite materials, fillers in cements, antistatic coatings in paints, conductive coatings & electromagnetic shielding, fabrics, and tiles among others. Cenospheres were initially used as extenders for plastic compounds, owing to their compatibility with phenolic resins, latex, urethanes, plastisols, polyesters, thermoplastics, and epoxies. They also find their application in synthetic foams, in fire and heat protection devices, automobile bodies, specialty cements, insulations, building materials, sport equipment, and paints.
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The market for cenospheres can be segmented on the basis of type of cenospheres into white and gray cenospheres. Based on end user industry, the market for cenospheres can be segregated into building & construction, oil & gas, automotive, paints & coatings, and refractory. The market for cenospheres is anticipated to witness strong growth during the forecast period owing to their increasing applications in myriad of sectors and industries. Abundant availability of raw materials from existing and new thermal power plants is the factor driving the growth of this market.
In terms of type, gray cenospheres segment held significant share of the market in 2016 and this trend is anticipated to continue during the forecast period. The growth of this segment is attributed to its high demand from Europe and North America. Ascending building & construction industries in emerging economies of Asia Pacific such as India, China, and Singapore is anticipated to further aid the growth of this segment. In terms of end use industry, the oil & gas segment held prominent share of the market in 2016. Rising production activities in the Middle East and increasing hale gas exploration and production activities in North America is expected to drive the demand for cenospheres over the years. Technological intensive nature of cenospheres production can result into strategic partnerships between buyers and manufacturers for improves application scope. As a result of high initial investments, entry of new manufacturers is expected to be less, which can act as a potential barrier in the growth of cenospheres market during the forecast period.
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Key players operating in the market for cenospheres are Envirospheres, Ceno Technologies, Qingdao Eastchem Inc., Cenosphere India Pvt. Ltd., and Scotash Limited.