Known as the softest mineral in the world, talc has a rating of 1 on the Mohs hardness scale and can be scratched with a fingernail. Although talc is famous for its use in talcum powder, it has broad applications in plastics, ceramics, insecticides, cosmetics, automotive and more. There are several varieties of talc that are based on the level of processing and the end-use requirements.

Talc is resistant to heat, electricity, and acids due to which it has broad applications as an industrial mineral. Due to the lustre and softness of talc, along with its ability to absorb moistures, oils, and odour, talc has extensive commercial uses. While talc is slightly soluble in dilute mineral acids, it is insoluble in water. Talc can also be supplemented with additives to enhance desired characteristics.

Production Of Talc

Most often found in metamorphic rocks, talc is formed when magnesium minerals react in the presence of carbon dioxide and water in a process known as ‘talc carbonation’, producing talc carbonate rocks. The rocks are then drilled, blasted and crushed, after which sorting takes place, and the partially broken stones are further reduced to particle size. Impurities are removed, and finely ground talc is the end result.

As the production of talc is dependent on sourcing of suitable ore, the primary production hubs are centred in locations where there is an abundant natural supply of talc carbonate ores.

Producers from the APAC are expected to continue to dominate the talc market supply at a global level until 2020, in terms of prospects and production volume. Primary producers are China, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, with China and India leading the global talc exports. Pakistan and Afghanistan are emerging as famous exporters, offering talc at up to 20-25 per cent cheaper rates as compared to China and India.

Talc Applications

The numerous uses of talc drive the market, a few of the applications are:
  • Plastics - Talc plays a vital role as a filler in plastics, increasing the stability and stiffness of products such as polypropylene, polyethene, vinyl, nylon, and polyester. The finest talc is used as useful reinforcing filler for plastic parts used in automotive, such as under-the-hood, exteriors and dashboard. Talc also boosts the heat resistance of plastic and reduces shrinkage. In comparison to harder mineral fillers, talc produces less abrasion during the manufacturing process.
  • Ceramics - Talc is primarily used as a flux in traditional building ceramics such as tiles and sanitary fixtures, allowing firing temperatures to be reduced in refractory applications. Thermal shock resistance is also boosted by the incorporation of talc in ceramics.
  • Paint - Talc also services as a filler and extender in paints, improving the suspension of solid colour particles in the can, and helping liquid paint stick to the wall without any sagging. Since powdered talc is typically a bright white colour, it further whitens and brightens the paint, making it an excellent filler. As talc has low hardness, it causes less abrasion damage to the equipment used for painting.
  • Food - Talc is used as an anti-stick coating agent in several favourite foods such as cured meats, boiled sweets, chewing gum and for rice polishing. It is also used in olive oil production as a processing aid to improve the clarity of the oil and increase yield.
  • Paper - In the rotogravure printing process, talc is used to improve printability and reduce surface friction, resulting in substantial improvements in print mill productivity. The matte texture of the paper is boosted, and ink scuff is diminished. As a pitch control agent, talc absorbs any sticky residue particles in pulp, preventing the deposition of such material on the final paper. Compared to chemical pitch control products, talc does not pollute the process water and is thus more efficient.
  • Personal care - One of the most popular uses of talc is as a body powder, as it reduces oil levels on the skin. Talc is famous in the form of baby powder for general skin care for babies and to prevent rashes. In cosmetics, talc is used to boost the silky texture in blushes, eye shadows, and powder compacts. Talc also improves the sheen of beauty creams and the transparency of foundations. In pharmaceuticals, talc is used as a lubricant, glidant, and dilutant.

The talc market overall is growing at a global level, with constant demands for talc from developing and developed nations. The largest consumers of talc in the world are China and India, driven mainly by request from the automotive plastics. North America and Europe are considered to be highly mature markets, driven by new innovations, high consumption volume, and a secure distribution network.

Despite being such a soft mineral, talc has immense versatility and is used in a wide variety of industries. The plentiful supply further encourages innovations to come up with more uses of talc. By combining talc with other additives, its characteristics can further be enhanced. Talc is also environment-friendly, which is a major benefit, especially in comparison to non-recyclable plastics.