Almatis sells US alumina hydrates line to Huber

By Jessica Roberts, John Ollett
Published: Monday, 23 April 2012

Germany-based speciality alumina producer Almatis Group is to sell its US alumina trihydrate business to Huber Specialty Hydrates, part of JM Huber Corp., following an earlier tolling agreement between the two parties that was established in December 2010.

Germany-based speciality alumina producer Almatis Group is to sell its US alumina trihydrate business to Huber Specialty Hydrates, part of JM Huber Corp., following an earlier tolling agreement between the two parties that was established in December 2010.

The deal will include the fire retardants section of Almatis’ US facilities in Bauxite, Arkansas, as well as the company’s fire retardant product grades under the Hydral and SpaceRite brands.

Almatis owns and continues to operate the tabular and calcined alumina plants in Bauxite, Arkansas, which produces speciality alumina grades primarily for the refractories and ceramics markets.

Kerry Bertram, general manager of Huber’s industrial mineral section, said that the initial hydrates tolling arrangement at the Bauxite facility had been an “outstanding success” and that the products acquired from Almatis would continue to be manufactured with the same specifications.

Almatis said it would dedicate resources to its core markets and continue to manufacture calcined and tabular alumina in Arkansas to supply key minerals from strategically located manufacturing.

Calcined alumina was the first speciality alumina to be sold for a chemical application and has been produced by Almatis for over 100 years.

Another of its core products, tabular alumina, is both a critical refractory aggregate and matrix component. The refractory, ceramic and polishing markets are understood to be Almatis’ key businesses, with Almatis confirming to IM that the group continues to invest in “manufacturing advancements” in Arkansas and its other plants around the world.

Talk from the Top: Almatis on alumina

Almatis spoke to IM about its decision to sell the Bauxite hydrates line and its outlook for the future.

What was the driver behind the speciality hydrates sale?

The sale of the speciality hydrate business to Huber allows Almatis to focus on its major businesses.

With Huber’s value addition and strong market presence, they can leverage the speciality products into more applications and customers.

The sale was only of the speciality hydrate products, and tabular and calcined alumina production in Bauxite, Arkansas continues with the same market commitment and production excellence.

What is Almatis’ strategy for the future?

Almatis’ strategic focus remains the same and the group continues to drive growth in the refractory, ceramic, polishing and investment casting markets. Globally, Almatis has made recent and substantial investments in manufacturing and laboratory expansions for these core markets.

In Qingdao, China, a calcined alumina facility and R&D investment will later this year bring high quality calcined alumina products and technical applications support resources to this important market.

In Ludwigshafen, Germany, the company recently added a new crushing and sizing line to meet demand for synthetic sintered alumina-based aggregates.

A new state-of-art application laboratory was just opened in February 2012 at the Falta, India plant. At the Bauxite, Arkansas facility a new ceramics application laboratory was opened in mid-2011 to serve Americas’ markets.

These global laboratory investments offer enhanced capability to optimise custom solutions with leading-edge technical support.

Can you expand on the investments in Arkansas?

Together the Arkansas, Leetsdale and Neville operations serve the refractory, ceramic and polishing markets in the Americas. The Arkansas operation, over the past six years, has had a very significant increase in capital investments and also an increase in employment to near 160 employees.

The Almatis management team has invested >$30m in capital projects, exhibiting their commitment to sustaining and growing the Arkansas plant. These investments have been made in various capacity, quality, lab equipment, and environmental projects, for example, an improved bulk loading system, improved screens and magnets, a particle classification system, the new Ceramics Development lab, and state-of-the-art environmental and safety systems.

What are the main products supplied from the Arkansas site?

The Bauxite, AR facility is one of the largest of Almatis’ operations, and is the centre of the Americas speciality alumina production for advanced ceramic, refractory and polishing applications.

Tabular alumina, a major component of alumina-based refractory applications, is a homogenous, pure and very dense synthetic refractory material. In coarse sizes it provides high resistance to thermal shock, and also corrosion resistance. The addition of fine sized tabular alumina optimises the refractoriness of the refractory matrix.

The group’s reactive aluminas have tailored grain sizes to meet the fired density and shrinkage requirements for precision ceramics. Almatis has perfected stringent process control to produce a tightly controlled product.

In ceramic applications, high sinter reactivity can be achieved at lower sintering temperatures and wear resistance is excellent. Equally excellent is lot-to-lot consistency, producing more reliable advanced ceramic components. Almatis also invests in technical product support, offering consulting, troubleshooting and application assessment to optimise ceramic performance.

What is your outlook for refractory and ceramic markets?

Almatis is cautiously optimistic that global industrial production will not be impacted further by European sovereign risks. Steel production is a major driver of the refractory market and year-to-date global production is up just 0.6%. Analyst expectations are for the second half of the year to be stronger.

Still there are strong markets, notably the North American market. Automotive production and gas drilling are strong drivers in the US. The ceramics market is certainly less volatile and remains strong in most global regions. Almatis is continually assessing on-going investments and will react quickly as regional markets increase demand.