Caustic soda is an important inorganic chemical produced by the electrolysis of salt (or less commonly from natural deposits of soda ash on reacting with lime). World production of caustic soda is about 45 million tonnes used to produce a broad range of inorganic chemicals and used in general manufacturing, mineral processing and water treatment.
Typical production profile
|sodium chloride||1.75 tonne|
|hydrochloric acid||0.025 tonne|
|sulfuric acid||0.052 tonne|
|soda ash||0.027 tonne|
|water||8 000 litres|
In other words it require around 30 gigajoules of gas to produce 1 tonne of caustic soda and 1 tonne of chlorine (concurrently).
Australia imports about 1.2 million tonnes of caustic soda per year for the production of alumina. The caustic soda is imported as 50 per cent liquid.
Other applications of caustic soda include for the chlorination (sterilisation) of domestic water and waste, and other domestic market products (including for manufacture of as hypochlorite) at 145 00 tonnes and the manufacture of sodium cyanide at 90 000 tonnes.
Australia uses around 1.2 million tonnes of caustic soda to produce 13 million tonnes of alumina and a further 0.25 million tonnes for other domestic applications.
Caustic soda production is less than 0.25 million tonnes.
International caustic soda prices have been very volatile ranging from about US$30 per tonne (FOB) to ten-times higher at US$300 per tonne as during the late 1980s. Freight costs to Australia are typically US$40 per tonne resulting in a landed price as low as A$100 per tonne. Prices are countercyclical to that of its co-product chlorine and chlorine derivatives.
Manufacture in Australia is in chloralkali production centres primarily dedicated for the required chlorine which is hazardous and hence expensive to transport so that the caustic soda is a by-product.
A chloralkali plant integrated into a petrochemical complex in Western Australia is being promoted for the Pilbara region given the proximity of gas and salt inputs. A smaller chloralkali plant may also become viable in the Goldfields region of Western Australia with the availability of pipeline gas as discussed in relation to sodium cyanide and ammonium nitrate.
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