Fluorspar industry looks to 2017 market recovery

New projects on track for development despite challenging industry conditions

The global fluorspar industry is looking ahead to more positive times following several years of challenging market conditions, according to participants at Industrial Minerals’ Fluorspar 2015 conference in Marrakech, Morocco, which was held on 6-8 October.

Acid-grade fluorspar (acidspar) supply and demand has been stagnant since 2012 but prices have continued to decline since the peak in mid-2012, when FOB China prices spiked at US$440/t.

Chinese acidspar export prices held at an average of US$300/t FOB in the first half of 2015, but showed a slight fall to US$270/t FOB China in August 2015, according to Jessica Roberts, Senior Analyst at Roskill Information Services, who kicked off the presentations on day one of the conference.

There was debate during the event as to whether prices had yet reached the floor, with Roberts forecasting further declines in the second half of 2015. However, a recovery may be on the horizon by 2017, according to the latest analysis in Roskill’s half-yearly Fluorspar Industry Briefing.

The main factors that could drive future acidspar trends include environmental legislation, producer operating costs versus market prices, Chinese fluorspar reserves, and the potential use of fluorosilicic acid (FSA) as a fluorine feedstock, Roberts commented.

In particular, the acidspar industry faces uncertainty from growing regulation of fluorocarbons such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) for use in refrigerants, propellants and other non-feedstock applications.

The high global warming potential (GWP) of some fluorocarbons has led to tightening controls on their use, such as the F-Gas regulation in Europe. While companies such as Chemours (formerly DuPont) and Honeywell have been developing lower GWP fluorine-based alternatives such as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), not-in-kind replacements based on hydrocarbons and ammonia have also been promoted. It remains to be seen if these replacements will take significant market share from fluorine-based products.

New projects in Asia & Middle East

Despite the industry downturn, there were positive reports from new entrants to the market, including presentations from Masan Resources in Vietnam, Amania Mining in Afghanistan, Gulf Fluor in Abu Dhabi, and Navin Fluorine in India.

Dominic Heaton, chief executive officer of Masan Resources, explained how the company had fast-tracked development of the Nui Phao project in Thai Nguyen province, northern Vietnam, since acquiring it in 2010.

Nui Phao is a polymetallic project which Masan has developed primarily for its tungsten component, with by-production of bismuth and fluorspar. Commissioning began in 2013 and the plant reached steady state operations in the second half of 2014. The company is ramping up production and aims to reach eventual capacity of 200,000tpy of fluorspar.

Elsewhere, Amania Mining Company of Afghanistan is developing its Bakhud fluorspar deposit, which has a resource of 8.7Mt. Exploration began at the site in 2013 and the company is now producing 200tpd of metallurgical-grade fluorspar (metspar).

Amania is currently commissioning its acidspar pilot plant and plans to eventually bring online 300tpd of acidspar capacity. Material is sold to the export market and is shipped via Karachi in Pakistan.

Further downstream, Rami Musleh, commercial manager of Gulf Fluor LLC, updated conference delegates on progress at the company’s new HF and aluminium fluoride (AlF3) facilities in Abu Dhabi.

Gulf Fluor’s fluorides complex, which was officially opened in May 2015, is the first of its kind in the Middle East and well located for supplying AlF3 to the region’s aluminium producers.

Musleh commented that the AlF3 quality had been tested and approved for a number of the aluminium market’s major smelters. Gulf Fluor has the capacity to produce 60,000tpy of AlF3, 54,000tpy of anhydrous HF, and 145,000tpy of sulphuric acid. At full capacity, the plant will require some 125,000tpy of acidspar feedstock and 60,000tpy of aluminium hydroxide.

Also speaking from the fluorspar end-user perspective was PS Haridas, VP of supply chain management for Navin Fluorine in India, one of the country’s leading producers of anhydrous HF, the refrigerant R-22, and other fluorine-based products.

Haridas explained that Indian fluorspar consumers still acquire 45% of their imports from China, although imports from countries such as Thailand and Vietnam have been increasing.

To ensure stable supply of fluorspar for India’s downstream industries, Navin, Gujurat Fluorochemicals, and Gujurat Mineral Development Corporation have formed a joint-venture to develop fluorspar mines and an associated flotation plant. The new project is expected to come online within the next two to three years.

Should demand and pricing rebound in 2017 as forecast, these new projects will be well-positioned to support the market.

 

Roskill’s Fluorspar report is essential reading for anyone who needs a thorough knowledge of supply, demand, end-use applications, trade and prices, and informed forecasts of future trends. Our biannual reports will keep market participants up-to-date with market developments, and outline the short-term factors to help your organisation mitigate risks. For more detailed information on these reports, please contact Richard Pell at Richard@roskill.co.uk or telephone +44 20 8417 0087.