Timab plans for international growth

By Alex Feytis
Published: Monday, 23 April 2012

Timab, a subsidiary of France-based Roullier Group, plans to become a world-class player in magnesia and phosphates used for fertilisers and animal feed through further consolidation


France-based Roullier Group focuses on innovation and
development, notably at its Dinard-based Applied Studies
and Research Centre (CERA), which hosts an integrated
pilot plant enabling the manufacture of new formulas to be
validated and new processes to be applied
Roullier Group

Created in 1959 by self-made businessman Daniel Roullier, the Roullier Group has steadily grown from initially trading the local red algae ‘maerl’ - produced in the Brittany region - to become a major plant, animal and human feed manufacturer with a EUR3.2bn ($4.2bn) cumulated turnover in 2011.

Based in Dinard, France, family-owned Roullier today owns 14 business lines including its 100%-owned subsidiary Timab, which manufactures magnesia and phosphate products for the fertiliser and animal feed industries.

Timab comprises three divisions, managing phosphates, magnesia, and industrial solutions.

Timab Phosphates is the second largest producer of phosphates in Europe with one production plant in Saint-Malo, France, and two in Gabes, Tunisia.

Timab Magnesium, the leading European producer of magnesia based products for agriculture, produces a full range of caustic calcined magnesia processed from magnesite sourced from different regions.

Timab Industrial Solutions supplies its own products (calcium carbonate) and raw materials from trade (sodium chloride, sugar cane molasses, urea, protected fats, sodium bicarbonate, vitamins, trace elements, clays, sodium carbonate).

Magnesia

Timab Magnesium markets a full range of magnesium products worldwide for animal feed, fertilisers, and environment.

The company mainly sources its magnesia from Spain (70-80,000 tpa), Greece, Russia, China, Brazil and Slovakia, with the magnesia (MgO) content grading between 65% and 95% depending on its country of origin.

The natural ore is processed at the Zuburi site of its sister company Magnesitas Navarras SA - jointly owned by Roullier (60%) since 2000 and Grecian Magnesite SA (40%) - in the foothills of the Pyrenees in Spain. The technologies used in the extraction of magnesite include pre-beneficiation, grinding, calcinations and the screening of magnesia.

“Magnesitas Navarras has become the mineral resource of the group and a factor of growth,” Timab’s Magnesium operation manager Herve Cospain commented to IM.

Cospain explained that the development of Magnesitas Navarras is targeting international markets, as the Spanish steel industry is still impacted by the global economic malaise.

After extraction, magnesite (MgCO3) is enriched by washing, heavy media. For high purity grades, flotation is used. This gives a concentrated product which is then calcined at temperatures of 900-1,200oC, giving a product that can be assimilated by animals and plants. Products include magnesium carbonate (42.5% MgO), magnesium oxide (65-94% MgO), and magnesium sulphate (27% MgO; 20% sulphate SO3).

Timab’s magnesia products are used in animal feed, for livestock such as cattle and pigs, to counter diet-change related stress, or grass tetany (metabolic disorder characterised by low levels of magnesium in the blood serum of cattle), during the period when cattle are turned out to grass.

It is also used in fertilisers as magnesia contributes to photosynthesis and chlorophyll formation by plants.

In addition, magnesia is utilised in environment for different applications such as soil treatment by neutralising heavy metals - pH stabilisation - water and smoke gas treatment.

As operation manager Cospain explained, magnesia prices for animal feed follow the Chinese market, ranging $250-340/tonne in Europe depending on quality, and $400/s.ton in the US. According to market players, prices are expected to get back to the $390/tonne FOB levels of June 2011 for caustic magnesia. “But it is very difficult to anticipate at present as the market is very versatile. It can change any time,” Cospain warned.

Since 2010, Timab started to target the US market, reaching a 10% share in two years. According to Cospain, the US market has a 200,000 tpa magnesia capacity for farming applications in addition to 200,000 tpa for environment.

“The US has been our top priority for the last two years. We are still on it although we will also start focusing on something else,” Cospain said.



Timab Magnesium, through Magnesitas Navarras, Spain,
produces 150,000 tpa caustic calcined magnesia (CCM)
which is processed in Saint-Malo (picture) for animal feed,
fertiliser, and environment
Roullier


Van Mannekus acquisition

In January this year, Roullier acquired a 50% stake in Dutch magnesia processor and distributor Van Mannekus & Co. BV, which was previously owned by Possehl Erzkontor GmbH.

Van Mannekus, headquartered in Schiedam, Rotterdam district, is now jointly owned by Roullier and Greece-based magnesia producer Grecian Magnesite.

The Roullier Group and Grecian Magnesite have signed a joint-venture agreement and will utilise their experience and market expertise to share responsibilities in Van Mannekus management in order to further develop the sales of magnesium compounds for the chemical, industrial, construction and speciality markets worldwide.

With Timab, Magnesitas Navarras and their partner Grecian Magnesite teaming up, the move allows the group to “create a strong organisation committed to servicing a wide portfolio of magnesia products tailor-made to customer needs”.

“The transaction has enabled us to create a strong European centre for magnesia. Therefore, the group will be able to develop itself on industrial applications such as flame retardants and abrasives,” Cospain said.

“Our objective is to use the synergies of these companies in order to become a leader for caustic industrial applications within the next two years and confront our competitors,” he added.

Spanish MgO expansions

Timab’s sister company Magnesitas Navarras - which sells its refractory coating products to the steel industry under the brand name Magna - has been working during the last few years on developing two new mines, Zilbeti and Borobia, in north-east Spain. Total investment is Û27m ($35.64m)

The move is a bid to extend its reserves by minimum 30 years as the growth experienced by the company in recent years resulted in the reserves dwindling at its Azkarate mine complex at Zubiri, near Pamplona, where it has more than 10 years years of magnesite remaining at a rate of 440,000 tpa.

As reported by IM, Magnesitas Navarras has identified 7m tonnes of magnesite to initially extract from the Zilbeti mine in the Navarra province of the country and a minimum of 12m tonnes from the mine of Borobia located in the Soria province in the Castilla y Leon area.

The Zilbeti and Borobia mines are expected to have a combined output of about 360,000 tpa.

The Zilbeti mine, which at time of press was expected to start production by the end of April, has 7m tonnes magnesite reserves, yielding a grade of >65% MgO, 30% CaO, 3% Fe2O3, and 0.8% SiO2. Magnesitas Navarras believes that it is the low silica content of Zilbeti’s magnesite that is particularly attractive about its resource.

The Borobia mine hosts 50m tonnes of magnesite reserves, and would yield a finished product grade of 88% MgO, 5% CaO, 3% Fe2O3, and 3% SiO2.

It is not finalised when production will start at Borobia as the company is still waiting for mining concession permits, although it started the process a few years ago. “It is a complex and political subject on which we have been working for a while,” Timab Magnesium’s Herve Cospain explained to IM.

“It could either take one month or one year. We do not know yet,” he added, however underlining that it should not take more than two years.

Phosphate

Timab Phosphate, which has a 450,000 tpa capacity, produces calcium phosphates - dicalcium, mono-dicalcium, and monocalcium - and magnesium phosphates (Mag 26) at its three plants, including one in Saint-Malo, in the Brittany region, France, where the group is headquartered.

The two other plants are based in Gabes, Tunisia, the seventh largest phosphate producing country in the world, according to the USGS. The first plant, launched in 2003, was rapidly coupled with a second one five years later in order to meet the growing demand.

Timab’s phosphate products are used in the animal feed industry - poultry, aquaculture, cattle, and swine - in addition to producers of feed and mineral supplements, pet food and premixes.

Phosphorus is required in animal feed to optimise healthy growth, bone strength, weight gain and fertility. It also plays a key role for genetic transmission and cellular metabolism, bone formation and maintenance, teeth development, muscle tissue formation, egg and egg shell quality, and optimum milk secretion.

All of the phosphates produced by Timab are manufactured using the phosphoric method in which phosphoric acid is mixed with calcium in order to manufacture inorganic phosphate. The special granulation process used by the company enables the phosphate content to be increased from 18% to 23% P2O5.

“That was a very innovative process when we started our operations in Tunisia, as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was then mainly dealing with dicalcium phosphate (DCP) at 18% P2O5,” Bruno Vialon, commercial director at Timab Phosphate, said to IM.

In Tunisia, Timab buys its phosphoric acid from state-owned Groupe Chimique Tunisien (GCT). As reported by IM, the country, dramatically impacted by social unrest since January 2011, has run at an average 25-30% of production capacity since then.

However, Vialon confirmed that the situation has improved in the country. “As a result of the end of the strikes, raw material supply and shipping of feed phosphate came back to normal in January 2012,” Vialon commented.

As far as development is concerned, Timab is already selling in 70 countries worldwide but nowadays focusing more and more on sales in Asia and Central and South America, from Mexico to Argentina.

Projects

With no surprise, the Roullier Group plans to continue its innovation and development strategy steadily applied during the last 53 years.

“We are at present working on about 15 projects and the group has a very clear strategy to focus on international development through consolidation,” Cospain revealed to IM, underlining that the group is focusing on international acquisitions in order to boost its potential.

“We are proceeding step by step,” he added.

In addition to its two projects in Spain, Roullier is also working on developing three more mining projects for magnesia. The targeted capacities and locations are not disclosed yet.

“It is too early to say where but I can tell you it will not be in Russia as we do not want to compete with our Russian partners [Magnezit Group],” Cospain highlighted, however pointing out that the Spanish projects “are the top priority for now”.

In terms of regions, Roullier first focused on Europe, notably for fertilisers, before expanding to “growing” Brazil about ten years ago as “it is where the main activity for fertilisers is”.

Today, the group targets the US and Asia, principally North-America and Asia, to sell innovative solutions. “We believe that, one day, China will become a significant consumer of value-added products. So we are getting ready for that,” Cospain told IM.

“Our development strategy is to produce worldwide in order to be able to market new regions. That will also help us to get access to new sources of raw materials at local and therefore cheaper prices,” he explained.

The company, which has constantly invested in innovation and R&D during the last 53 years, is working on developing a world-class R&D centre in Saint-Malo, which will gather together all its research teams “in order to generate more emulation between the researchers”.

It will also include Roullier’s existing Applied Studies and Research Centre (CERA), based in Dinard. CERA hosts an integrated pilot plant enabling the manufacture of new formulas to be validated and new processes to be applied; and an analysis laboratory equipped with the latest technology.

“It will have high-performance greenhouses in order to test in situ the raw material of the group and to make more innovating fertilisers,” commented Cospain.

The 17,000m2 centre, expected to be launched in 2014 with a workforce of 350 people, will also regroup different fields including a laboratory dedicated on marine technology, pilot plants to manufacture algae used in biotechnology, and research on nutrition.

Cospain believes that the present consolidation trend in the industry is going to continue further, with more acquisitions to be expected.

“The industry has changed dramatically since the financial crisis of 2008-09, notably for fertiliser production. As a result, we have to be more flexible in order to be able to quickly meet the demand.” Cospain declared.

“The world has changed. Now you have to get access to raw material faster, in order of produce faster and supply your customers faster. That’s the new challenge,” he added.

 Roullier Group at a glance

- Family-owned group created in 1959 by Daniel Roullier in Brittany, France, starting with the trading of maerl, a coralline red algae which produces calcium carbonate;

- Today focuses on plant nutrition, animal and human feed;

- 14 business lines among three main divisions;

- Markets: agro-supplies, professional hygiene, mineral and industrial products, magnesite, plastics, garden products, food phosphates, marine biotechnologies, operation and transformation of seaweed, naval equipment, pastries, cooked meats, energy and seafood.

- 6,000 employees in 40 countries and three continents (North America, South America, Europe);

- Turnover: €3.2bn in 2011 (cumulated);

- 51% revenue generated abroad.

Timab

- 800,000-1m tpa raw material;

- Turnover: €200m;

- Three business lines: Timab Phosphate, Timab Magnesium, Timab Industrial Products;

- Timab Phosphate: one plant in Saint-Malo, France; two plants in Gabs, Tunisia; total capacity: 450,000 tpa calcium phosphate, animal feed standards ;

- Timab Magnesium: 150,000 tpa caustic calcined magnesia (CCM); natural ore sourced in Spain, Greece, Russia, China, and Slovakia; processed at Magnesitas Navarras’ Zubiri site in the foothills of the Pyrenees in Spain; used in animal feed, fertilisers, and environment;

- Timab Industrial Products: various products including calcium carbonates, sodium chlorides (salts) and urea.