Tight supply of high-grade titanium feedstock to impede pigment production in Europe
Published: Thursday, 19 July 2018
European pigment producers must contend with high-grade titanium feedstock supply tightness following declines in output of rutile and titanium slag from key producing nations.
Pigment producers in Europe are facing
a shortage of high-grade titanium feedstocks rutile and
titanium slag following a decline in supply of both materials
from Australia, Canada and South Africa.
The tightened supply of rutile largely reflects a decrease in output from Iluka’s
closed Murray Basin operation, while availability, current
prices and contracts are already being affected by the
announcement from Tronox that it will remove around 20,000
tonnes of rutile and leucoxene from the market by end of this
As well, the imminent closure of Sibelco’s
Stradbroke Island mine will remove up to 35,000 tonnes of
rutile from the market by 2020.
This supply tightness recently triggered a rise in rutile
prices for the third quarter of 2018.
Industrial Minerals’ assessment
for rutile concentrate min 95% TiO2 bulk cif China rose to
$950-1,100 per tonne on July 5 from $850-950 per tonne a week
earlier, while the assessment for the price of rutile concentrate min 95% TiO2 large
volumes for pigment fob Australia increased to $930-1,020
per tonne on July 5 from $800-900 per tonne in the prior
In times of tight rutile availability, welding customers
usually pay a premium for certain types of material due to a
general preference for natural rutile and the inability of many
customers to use synthetic material. This usually results in a
further reduction in the availability of natural rutile for
Although many chloride pigment producers are able to switch
between slag and synthetic rutile, some could struggle to
source sufficient feedstock given the low availability of slag
Of the global pigment producers, Chemours has the greatest
flexibility in switching feedstocks but not all pigment
producers have the same ability.
Many market participants have tipped Kronos, a major global
pigment producer that purchased an estimated 38% of globally
imported rutile last year, to feel the deepest effects of
dwindling availability of high-grade titanium feedstock.
One market source suggested that Kronos’
Belgium-based plant requires a predominantly rutile feedstock
and will therefore be forced to pay a higher price to its
The company may already be feeling the effects of the pigment
One trader told Industrial Minerals that Kronos’
lead times for chloride route production are extending -
reaching around eight weeks in Europe compared with four or
five weeks for its rivals.
While it is unclear if this is connected to the pigment
producer’s feedstock supply, a second market
source "wouldn’t be surprised" if that were the
case, he said.
Kronos could not be reached for comment at the time of
Pigment producers that can switch to chloride titanium slag or
those who predominantly rely on chloride titanium slag will
struggle more to source this material because of major
disruptions at Rio Tinto’s South African Richards
Bay Minerals (RBM) operation.
Around 120,000-150,000 tonnes of chloride slag
have been removed from the market because of these
disruptions, one market participant estimated, with an unknown
volume of sulfate slag removed from the market due to
operational interruptions to operations at Rio
Tinto’s plant in Sorel-Tracy in the Canadian
province of Quebec.
Rio Tinto has cut its titanium dioxide
production forecast for 2018 to 1.1-1.2 million tonnes from
its previous guidance of 1.1-1.3 million tonnes in April and
1.2-1.4 million tonnes in February, it said earlier this
But while many fear a complete shutdown of Rio
Tinto’s RBM operation, most market participants
agree that it is not in the local government’s
interest to do so and would therefore make every effort to keep
the facility open.