Published December 2016
The primary use of ferric chloride is to remove impurities in water and for wastewater treatment. Combined with use in industrial water applications and in the pretreatment of seawater prior to desalination, total water treatment accounts for approximately 79-84% of total demand globally. The second-largest application is in the production of printed circuit boards (PCBs), which ranges between 8% and 12% of the total, annually.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of ferric chloride:
In industrialized regions (United States, Western Europe, and Japan), ferric chloride markets are relatively mature. Although it is recognized as a highly effective flocculant and sequestering agent for sludge and odor control, substitution from competing products will lead to relatively flat demand growth. In Asia and the Middle East, where economic and population expansion has drawn greater demand for water management, ferric chloride continues to experience above- average growth. For countries in Central and Eastern Europe, which have mostly completed compliance with new regulations, or many countries in Latin America, which are slow to invest in infrastructure or adopt necessary environmental and health legislation, growth is likely to be slower. As a result, global demand is forecast to increase by only about 1% per year through 2021.
Consumption in the United States is forecast to grow at 1.3% annually during 2016-21. Ferric chloride producers tend to have a regional, rather than a national outlook, because transportation costs are significant. More than 80% of all ferric chloride is sold in municipal bids, with 53% sold for municipal wastewater applications, and 37% for potable water treatment applications. Industrial water treatment applications account for 6% of consumption, with the remaining 5% sold in non.water treatment applications, such as electronic and photographic etchants, metal surface treatment, and as a catalyst. Much of the etchant activity has moved to Asia. Electronic applications, especially for PCBs, are small in the United States.
In Western Europe, ferric chloride is used mostly as a coagulant for sewage treatment and potable water production. It is also used as an etchant for copper-based metals in printed circuit boards, a precursor in synthetic iron oxide and specialty pigment production, and in the pharmaceutical industry, where it is used as a precursor for iron-bearing medicine for anemia treatment. Growth in Western Europe is stable, with all countries having installations in place to comply with EU legislation for clean water standards in both the municipal and industrial sectors. In the forecast period, consumption is expected to stagnate, with a largely mature water treatment market. No new uses for ferric chloride are on the horizon.
Water treatment will continue to be the largest end use for ferric chloride in China, accounting for about 69% of the total consumption in 2016. Wastewater is treated and recycled extensively for industry use and farm irrigation. Although industry wastewater discharge has been decreasing in recent years, the discharge of domestic sewage has been growing rapidly. Therefore, as a very economic wastewater treatment agent, ferric chloride in this end use is expected to increase moderately at an average annual rate of 2.9% during 2016-21.