SIC 3274

The lime industry is comprised of establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing quick-lime, hydrated lime, and miscellaneous lime-related products. It is considered part of the larger concrete, gypsum, and plaster products industry.

NAICS Code(s)

327410 (Lime Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

Lime, or quick-lime, is calcium oxide derived from naturally occurring calcium carbonate. Its total production in the United States ranked fifth among all chemicals. Lime is produced at 85 establishments. The total value of the product shipments in 2000 was more than $1.16 billion.

Background and Development

One of the oldest products of chemical reaction known to man, lime is a white or grayish-white solid with numerous applications. Its history dates to ancient Egypt, where it was used in mortar and plaster. Lime was traditionally used as a construction product until the Industrial Revolution when its usage began expanding. The growth of the chemical industry at the start of the twentieth century gave lime production another boost and, of that produced, an estimated 90 percent is used in some sort of chemical process. Solid lime, for example, is used extensively as a fertilizer and building material. It is also commonly utilized as a chemical neutralizer to treat solid and gaseous wastes. Quick-lime accounted for approximately 72 percent of industry revenues in the early 1990s.

When mixed with water, lime turns into calcium hydroxide, or slaked lime, which is used to make mortars, plasters, and cement. Lime is also used to make calcium carbide, which decomposes in water to form the flammable acetylene gas used in welding torches.

Blast furnace operators and steel manufacturers consume the largest amounts of lime products to melt and process steel. Steel production usage, the traditional driving force in this industry, consumed about 31 percent of industry output in 1994. Total use in chemical and industrial applications represented 64 percent of the lime market. Chemical firms, for example, use lime-related products in the production of plastic resins. Environmental uses, such as water, sewage, and smokestack emissions treatment, accounted for 26 percent of lime usage in 1994, and construction industries consumed about 8 percent, with refractory, or heat-resistant, dolomite usage consuming 2 percent of total U.S. lime production.

Lime is considered a commodity, and industry profit margins are typically low. However, new applications for lime allowed the industry to realize steady demand growth throughout the mid-1900s and even through the 1980s. Between 1982 and 1988, for instance, sales of lime expanded 35 percent, from $543 million to about $830 million. Growth faltered in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and lime production dipped to about 17.5 million tons and $720 million in 1991.

Current Conditions

World production of lime has been tapering off each year since 1990. The total value of U.S. product shipments in 2000 was $1.16 billion, compared to $1.28 billion in 1999.

While some core lime markets remained stagnant in the late 1990s, other segments were expected to buoy production volume and industry earnings throughout the next decades. Flue gas desulfurization accounted for 15 percent of all lime sales and, as the market segment with the fastest growth, was poised to continue with utility deregulation. As environmental restrictions increase, so too will lime uses related to treating wastes.

Industry Leaders

The largest U.S. lime producer in 1999 was Dravo Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with sales of $321 million. Second was Martin Limestone Inc., of Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, with sales of $36 million.


A recovering economy and new lime applications will help boost industry employment by 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. Lime manufacturers employed about 5,385 workers in 2000. Despite continued productivity gains, however, jobs in most occupations should rise by 5 to 20 percent by 2005. Truck drivers, who make up about 30 percent of the entire workforce, will see their opportunities jump by 13 percent. Industrial production management jobs will grow approximately 23 percent. Sales and marketing positions will likely increase 27 percent.

Further Reading

Bureau of the Census. Economic Census 1997. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1999. Available from .

Chapman, Peter. "Lime Growth Doesn't Meet Expectations." Chemical Marketing Reporter, 1 January 1996.

"Lime Demand Eases, But Market Remains Strong." Industrial Specialties News, 6 May 1996.

Minerals Yearbook: Metals and Minerals, Volume I. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines, n.d.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

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