The MMTA International Minor Metals Conference 2019 was held last week in Edinburgh, during which, one of the main topics under discussion by delegates was the ongoing classification of antimony trioxide and proposed restrictions on use by the EU’s REACH regulation. A decision has yet to be made if antimony trioxide will see restrictions resulting in a reduction in use or a more widespread ban.
Hans Vercammen, Chair of the Board of The International Antimony Association (i2a) and Speciality Chemicals Division Manager at Campine, presented at the conference and spoke about industry concerns during the breakout session on the impact of regulatory environments. The antimony industry is keen to highlight the use of antimony trioxide in the potential life-saving application of flame retardants, as well as its uses in lead acid batteries and other commercial and industrial sectors. The i2a is currently undertaking a number of studies to ascertain the scale of the antimony industry and its contribution to European economies, including a comprehensive socio-economic study being carried out by Roskill.
Roskill analysts Jessica Roberts and Suzanne Shaw spoke to a number of delegates at the conference who expressed concerns over the challenges which might be imposed by REACH on producers, as well as possible rising costs for consumers.
Ultimately, regulation both creates demand for antimony and has the potential to limit it. Fire safety standards encourage the widespread use of flame retardants and almost all use of fire retardant compounds is in response to legislation or industry norms.
In total, 85kt of antimony was consumed in flame retardants in 2018 with Asia being the largest consuming region, followed by Europe and North America. Thus, over 80% of non-metallurgical antimony consumption was in flame retardants. Antimony oxides are used widely as synergists to enhance the flame retardancy of halogenated compounds and flame-retardants are by far the largest end-use market.
There is inherent uncertainty in the shape of demand over the outlook period due to its dependency on the results of future regulatory activity. Roskill anticipates that ongoing regulatory evaluations in Europe and North America, such as those concerning antimony compounds under REACH in the EU, may put pressure on manufacturers to consider substitutions, but that any decisions made will take several years to finalise and will probably not be felt acutely until around 2022. The rate of replacement of antimony-halogenated systems will also be moderated by the fact that they remain the most efficient flame retardant solutions in many applications and by the need for the development and assessment of alternatives.