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Sodium carbonate is a common inorganic industrial chemical also known as soda ash (Na2CO3).  It used in the manufacture of glass, chemicals, such as sodium silicates and sodium phosphates, the pulp and paper industries, the manufacture of detergents and for the treatment of water.

In Australia soda ash is manufactured using the Solvay process using limestone, salt and coke as the raw materials.  The process potentially produces an equal mass of ammonium chloride, though in Australia as in most countries, the ammonia is recovered with lime with calcium chloride used in road de-icing else, like in Australia disposed of as waste (outlet to sea). 

Penrice Soda Products



Sodium bicarbonate expansion. (Oct 2007)

The company is expanding its sodium bicarbonate plant to increase capacity by a third to 100,000 tonnes per year to be completed by end 2008. It is expected that plant output will be fully sold within 2 years.

The company has won a five-year, A$50 million contract (with a five year option to extend) to supply Precious Metal's Western Australian vanadium mine with soda ash.

While soda ash contracts with Australia's major glass manufacturers remain the backbone, the Windimurra project is one of their top five annual sales contracts.

During 2006-2007 profits fell from $9.1 million to $6.7 million but the company anticipates market growth at double digit rates over the next five years and is targeting acquisitions in the chemicals and mining sectors.


Penrice Soda Products is the only manufacturer of sodium carbonate (soda ash) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in Australia at Osborne on the Port River, some 20km north of Adelaide, South Australia.

The plant was established by ICI in 1940 and sold to Byvest – a management group in 1989.  With good profitability it was sold in 1996 to DG Harris & Associates of the USA for A$100m.  DG Harris sold all its soda ash, salt and bicarb businesses including Penrice to IMC Global in 1998 for an undisclosed sum.

The company uses the Solvay process utilising limestone from its mine in Angaston in the Barossa Valley, salt through solar evaporation of sea water at Dry Creek and ammonia and coke from external suppliers.  The limestone is used to recycle the ammonia producing calcium chloride as waste which is pumped to sea with unreacted limestone particles. This has been acceptable practice and within EPA Marine Discharge Licensing.  However, Penrice is developing a process such that no solid wastes will be discharged to sea by mid 2001.

Production is believed to be about 330,000 tonnes of sodium carbonate (soda ash).

The company has a turnover of $100m with exports of about 40,000 tpa.

Of the 330,000 tonnes per year of soda ash manufactured per year, about half is sold to glass manufacturers for plate and container (bottles) glass production.  ACI and Pilkington are major Australian glass producers.  The next major user of soda ash are manufacturers of detergents and shampoos. The balance of soda ash produced is used in the mining industry, paper production industries, water conditioning and small scale chemical processing.

Australian imports of soda ash are about 35,000 tonnes per year mainly by ACI who have 25% ownership in General Chemicals, a U.S. based soda ash producer.



Australia’s major container (bottles) glass manufacturer is ACI Glass supplying 96 percent of Australia’s requirements from Melbourne and Adelaide with technology from the US parent company Owens-Illinios group.

ACI purchases its soda ash from local manufacturer Penrice Soda Products and from General Chemical Soda Ash from natural deposits – (trona) located in Wyoming, USA in which it has a 25 percent interest.  ACI now operates a high quality silica (feldspar) plant at Beechworth, Victoria.  Though this could be interpreted as signalling its potential interest in a soda ash manufacturing plant, the local market is in our opinion too small to support two manufacturers of soda.


Penrice soda Products

Solvay Road


South Australia 5017

Tel        08 8402 7000

Fax       08 8402 7266



Note on Western Australia

There is no manufacturer of soda ash in Western Australia with about 25,000 tonnes almost exclusively used by the resource developing industry.  Assisted by an import tariff of 5 per cent, most soda ash is manufactured by Penrice Soda Products in South Australia (foreign imports of sodium carbonate into Western Australia are not recorded by ABS but are believed to be small).

The local price of bagged sodium carbonate varies with quantities purchased ranging from $350 to $450 per tonne compared with about A$280 per tonne in the USA.  Bulk Soda Ash, depending on quantities is cheaper.  The limited West Australian market for sodium carbonate compared to world-scale plants of at least 500,000 tonnes per year and an increasingly more efficient plant at Osborne, South Australia, reduces the prospects for its manufacture in Western Australia.  A manufacturer would also require a strong position in a highly competitive (some claim to be controlled) world market.  Reliable steam supply, proximity to major markets and depreciated plant, currently assisted by 5 per cent import tariff on imports from developed countries and effective anti-dumping legislation underpins Penrice.

The world market is anticipated to continue to grow at 3 per cent per year creating opportunities for well positioned operations.  In depth assessment may expose prospects for its manufacture in Western Australia especially at locations such as Dampier with access to competitive natural gas and salt.  In the end, however, market access may be the key determinant in assessing prospects for its manufacture in Australia.

An interesting idea that requires further consideration is the prospect for using the 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide vented by Woodside at the Burrup Peninsula with nearby salt production and an ammonia plant.  The carbon dioxide could be used to produce soda ash in a modified Solvay process that avoids not only the energy intensive production of carbon dioxide from limestone, but also the use of lime to recover the ammonia with the consequent disposal of waste calcium chloride.  This prospect is dependent on the competitive manufacture of ammonia and a market for the ammonium chloride as fertiliser.

Another and arguably more realistic consideration is for its manufacture there with the PPP co-jointly with ammonia.


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