As such, soda ash is one of the most widely used and important commodities in the United States, contributing substantially to the gross domestic product. For this reason, the Federal Reserve Board incorporates monthly soda ash production data into monthly economic indicators used to monitor the condition of the U.S. economy.
Sodium carbonate has been used in manufacturing for over 5,000 years. Ancient Egyptians used it to make glass ornaments and vessels. They recovered the product from dry lake-bed deposits or by burning seaweed and other marine plants. The Romans also used soda ash for baking bread, making glass and for medicinal purposes. Its extraction from the ashes of various plants continued until the middle of the 19th century and gave it the present-day name of “soda ash”.
Today, “natural soda ash” refined from the mineral trona is regarded as the standard for quality and purity and is also processed from sodium-carbonate-bearing brines. The Green River Basin of Wyoming is the world’s largest area for naturally-occurring trona. There is also “synthetic soda ash”, which is manufactured using a number of different chemical processes and requires significantly more energy to produce, resulting in a larger carbon footprint.
Soda ash is made in three main grades – dense, medium dense and light. These have the same chemical properties and only differ in physical characteristics, such as bulk density and particle size and shape (which affect flow characteristics and angle of repose).
When companies process and produce soda ash, a number of other sodium compounds are made as co-products, including sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda), sodium sulfite, sodium tripolyphosphate, and chemical caustic soda.