Dr Abdullah Attas, SGS
Growth opportunities for silica sand and quartz are attracting
increasing attention, and this is nowhere better exemplified
than in, of all places, Saudi Arabia.
The sand abundant country has made
no secret of its strategy in diversifying into natural
resources other than oil and gas, ie. mining. And its drive to
also establish high-tech downstream manufacturing industries
chimes neatly with market demand for high quality grades of
silica in hi-tech applications such as in electronics and the
photovoltaic (PV) sectors.
To this end, the Saudi Geological
Survey (SGS) organised Silica Arabia 2012, a highly successful
conference which took place 12-14 March 2012 in Jeddah,
bringing together around 100 leading lights of the world of
silica and high purity quartz supply, processing, and
Silica & quartz resources
Saudi Arabia has abundant silica resources which were outlined
by Dr Abdullah Al-Attas, Assistant President
for Technical Affairs in his paper Silica sand and quartz
resources in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Most high grade silica sand in the
country occurs in sandstone formations that bound the Arabian
Shield to the north and east, as well as quartz.
The sandstones are in general
friable, loosely to moderately cemented and require crushing to
yield silica sand.
The majority of silica sand
resources have white, moderately sorted sand with low-iron and
other contaminants. A typical silica sand composition from
Jizan grades 97.3-99.4% SiO2, 0.04-0.05%
Saudi silica sand output has
increased from 364,000 tonnes in 2003 to an estimated 920,000
tonnes in 2011.
The main silica deposits are in the
areas of Tabuk, Tayma, Al Jawf, Qasim, and Riyadh and the two
commercially developed production centres are at Ad-Doghm (near
Riyadh) and Tayma South.
Producing companies at Ad-Doghm
include: Rabiah & Nasser, Delmon, National Factory, Adwan
Chemicals, Aldrees, and Ad-Doghom Mining.
Producers at Tayma South include:
Al-Zahid Mining, Almarbaie, Muadinoon, Zahrat al-Riyad, Tuwaig,
Most quartz occurrences in Saudi
Arabia are found as quartz veins with some quartz cupolas
(Bisha area) and pegmatites.
Conventionally, zoned pegmatite
bodies have been mined for feldspar as the feldspar occurs in
the marginal zone of such bodies. Such deposits need more
investigation to be used for selective mining of quartz and
The SGS has initially selected four
locations for core drilling to evaluate quartz in terms of
quality and tonnage. This investigation will start towards the
end of 2012 for a two-year period.
industrial minerals specialist, British Geological Survey, UK,
in his paper The role of national geological surveys in
evaluation of high-purity silica resources reminded
delegates of the basics of silica sand field work, geology, and
assessing deposits related to end use using the UK silica
industry and world trade data as examples. He also underlined:
National geological surveys have a wider responsibility
than those that are purely geological.
Processing the key
Imperative to the development of Saudi Arabias silica and
quartz resources is the harnessing of suitable and modern
mineral processing methods.
In his paper, The importance
of processing silica sand, Mike
Lavender, consultant, UK, after detailing a range of
techniques, emphasised the importance of detailed exploration,
a controlled and consistent end product, and pursuit of the
simplest processing techniques.
Rubarth, managing director, AKW Apparate+Verfahren
GmbH, Germany, presented Speciality sand
processing, and commented: The plant design should
be as flexible as possible to meet end user specifications and
the deposit characteristics and operator
Diego, export manager, Anivi Ingenieria SA, Spain,
focused on Ultrafine grinding for high purity silica sand
and quartz, and considered the following as key factors:
size and moisture content of feed material, a suitable grinding
circuit, high efficiency classifiers, and logistics of
divisional manager, Minerals & Metals Division, Hosokawa
Alpine AG, Germany, presented Micronisation and design of
particle size distributions of high and ultra high purity
quartz and silica sand for high-tech applications, and
summarised: Grinding of very hard minerals such as
natural silica down to the nano range is possible,
contamination can be avoided up a limit of 300ppm, and
excellent wear protection for iron-free processing is
Ceramics & glass markets
Almost 70% of Saudi silica sand production is consumed by the
domestic glass and ceramics markets. The country exported a
total of 435,256 tonnes of silica sand in 2010 to mostly
ceramics and glass consumers in Gulf Co-operation Countries
(GCC), compared to 372,000 tonnes in 2003.
Glass and ceramics remain the main
markets for silica sand each of which continue to grow, with
the latest data showing glass growth in 2010 up 6%, and
ceramics growth up 10% in the same year.
Glass and glassware output in 2003
in Saudi Arabia was just 103,000 tonnes in 2003, but by 2010
had risen to 334,000 tonnes following significant peaks of
production in 2005 (250,000 tonnes) and 2008 (347,000
Ceramics output was also in its
infancy at 2003 at just 202,000 tonnes, which by 2010 had
soared to 2.3m tonnes, following peaks in 2000 (560,000
tonnes), 2002 (1.2m tonnes), and 2003 (1.6m tonnes).
consultant, Stratum Resources Ltd, Australia, provided a
comprehensive review of silica sand and quartz sources and
markets of the Asia-Pacific region and observed that Vietnam is
becoming a major exporter of silica sand to markets in South
East Asia for use mainly in glass and foundries.
Speakers and hosts at Silica Arabia 2012, Jeddah,
12-14 March 2012
Frac sand development
The author presented Frac sand frenzy: a focus on supply
and demand, summarising the basic requirements and use of
frac sand, concluding that US oil and gas explorers were
looking to replicate the success of the North American shale
gas boom worldwide, and that demand for frac sand should remain
healthy for some time to come.
However, strange as it may seem,
the development of frac sand production in Saudi Arabia remains
in its infancy, but that may be about to change.
The few existing frac sand
producers in Saudi Arabia are looking to expand their
production capacities while others are seeking to evaluate
their raw material sources for development.
It is understood that just two
producers, Adwan Chemical Industries Co. Ltd and Delmon Co.
Ltd, are producing frac sand.
In 2011, Adwan Chemical doubled its
200,000 tpa capacity with a new plant which has assisted its
efforts to increase its frac sand supply as well as meeting
increasing demand from domestic foundry, fibreglass, and filler
At the conference, a company
spokesperson told IM that the Adwan Chemical
had been supplying frac sand to South East Asia and Australia
and wished to enhance its frac sand capabilities.
Most of the frac sand produced in
Saudi Arabia is exported since there is little domestic demand
Total Saudi silica sand imports in
2010 were 46,437 tonnes, most of which were frac sand grades,
according to Mian Habib, technical advisor at the SGS.
These frac sand imports are thought
to be brought in by the various oilfield service companies
supplying the rigs with a range of drilling materials.
However, frac sand demand is
expected to rise in Saudi Arabia as state-owned oil and gas
producer Saudi Aramco embarks on a campaign to explore for new
gas reservoirs which is scheduled to peak in 2015.
Aramco has been trialling open hole
multistage fracturing techniques with positive results in the
Southern Area gas fields.
As part of the countrys
government-supported push to develop its mineral resources,
Saudi Arabian silica sand producers are looking to develop more
frac sand grades for an anticipated near future domestic
market, as well as for export markets, and this is intended to
replace frac sand imports.
During the conference, silica sand
producers Al-Zahid Industrial and Mining Group and Hamad
Aldrees & Partners Co., each expressed a keen interest in
pursuing the frac sand market (see p.14-15 for details of
Frac Sand Forum, Houston, 21 June 2012).
Despite the growth of the traditional domestic markets of glass
and ceramics in recent years, the potential of developing
high-tech industries from utilising silica sand and high purity
quartz is clearly the lead strategy of the Saudi
This was well explained in the
presentation Downstream opportunities in silica sand
& quartz value chain in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
by Kenneth Matz, vice president, Metals
Processing Centre of the National Industrial Clusters
Development Program of the Ministry of Commerce &
The programme is to essentially
kick-start the development of export-oriented and long
term globally competitive manufacturing clusters that leverages
the Kingdoms energy, petrochemical and mineral
Matz told delegates: The
Kingdom has vast high quality silica sand and potentially
considerable quartz resources which can be used in high
technology applications such as sodium silicates, colourless
glass, semi conductors, and solar panels.
At present, there is minimal
development of value-added industries utilising these
resources. Matz added.
The objective for Saudi Arabia is
to produce the highest value-added products from its available
To that end, Matz outlined an
innovative Saudi silica deposit site selection matrix to guide
investors for high potential locations.
High purity quartz
Introduced as Dr Quartz, Dr Reiner
Haus, managing director, Dorfner ANZAPLAN GmbH,
Germany, cornered the high purity quartz sector with two
excellent papers: New developments in high purity quartz
for the solar silicon market and Advanced quartz
qualities markets and applications.
According to Haus, silicon
production for the solar cell sector was 212,000 tonnes in
2011, with an estimated 15% share produced by direct reduction
technology which would account for 150,000 tonnes of quartz,
representing two thirds of the current high quality quartz
Only companies having a
reliable integrated quartz source and processing technology
will be successful in the long term. commented Haus.
He concluded: The future will
see the Siemens process for the highest quality modules, where
only limited space is available to install, in competition with
the direct reduction [DR] and upgraded metallurgical silicon
[UMG] processes where the overall costs are lower.
Haus outlined the main markets for
advanced quartz grades as being microelectronics, 73%,
lighting, 10%, base materials, 8%, crucibles, 7%, and optics,
Essentially, advanced quartz
resources are of limited availability, but are becoming of high
strategic interest to many fast growing hi-tech industries such
as high temperature lamp tubing, telecommunication and optics,
semiconductor, microelectronics and (solar) silicon
Haus said: The detailed
specification of advanced quartz qualities very much depend on
the final application. There is no standard technology route
that applies to processing quartz into advanced
In order to maximise the
value and potential applications, process development has to
take into account detailed mineralogical and chemical analyses
to make the tailor made processing steps fit to the specifics
of mineral and fluid inclusions. Haus added.
Svein Olerud, chief executive officer, The Quartz
Corp., introduced his company to the conference, a 50:50 joint
venture between Imerys and Norsk Mineral producing high purity
quartz in the US and Norway.
During 2011, The Quartz Corp.
produced from two locations: Spruce Pine, North Carolina, US,
20,000 tonnes high purity quartz feed, 200,000 tonnes feldspar,
and 16,000 tonnes of mica from three mines and two processing
plants; and from Drag, Norway, 10,000 tonnes of high purity
quartz feed from three mines and one processing plant.
Regarding The Quartz Corps
markets, just over 75% of sales supply the solar crucible
market, followed by other markets such as tubes, optics,
semiconductors, and fillers.
Olerud reported that sales had
increased markedly from just under Norwegian krone 50m($8.4m)
in 2006, to around Norwegian krone 230m($38.7m) in 2011.
Total combined high purity quartz
finished product for the company is 10,000 tpa, with two thirds
sourced from Spruce Pine and one third from Drag. The Quartz
Corp. is planning to increase capacity at Drag.
Chris Spencer, industrial minerals consultant, France,
highlighted news of a high purity quartz project in west
Mauritania, 120km east of the port of Nouadhibo, under
development by Mauritanian Minerals Co. Early stage studies
confirm resource quality and volumes, and Spencer said
production of silica lumps is imminent.
MMC envisages development
spearheaded by sales of lump quartz to the silicon metal
market, and the EMC filler market (epoxy moulding compound used
in microelectronics) as very promising.
There is also claimed potential for
fused quartz markets based on naturally low levels of
impurities, although significant research and development is
required. The fused quartz market is a major challenge
and partnerships are a serious option. said
PV industry push
IDEA International for Investment & Development is building
a 10,000 tpa 9N polysilicon plant in Yanbu, western Saudi
Arabia, expected to be on stream by the first quarter of
This is one of several projects
aimed to kick-start a polysilicon and photovoltaic (PV)
industry in Saudi Arabia which will demand inputs of
metallurgical grade silicon derived from the countrys
silica and quartz deposits.
IDEA specialises in the development
and implementation of petrochemical, chemical, power and
mineral industrial projects in Saudi Arabia, and its
polysilicon project is operated by IDEA Polysilicon Co.
Dr Basel Abu Sharkh, managing director, of IDEA said:
Plant capacity will be 10,000 tpa polysilicon, of which
4,000 tpa will be transformed into wafers capable to produce
about 560 MW of solar energy.
The slicing of silicon wafers from
polycrystalline ingots will also require silicon carbide
abrasive slurry used in the wire sawing process, and a new
joint venture company has been formed to set up a silicon
carbide plant in Yanbu (see
Sharkh highlighted the main
benefits in choosing Yanbu and Saudi Arabia for the project to
include: support from government strategy; anticipated Saudi
and Gulf Co-operation Council country solar cell projects (to
include regional plans for more than 30GW); proximity to the
European market and potential African market; and proximity to
raw material reserves (ie. quartz concessions in Saudi
In his informative presentation
Investment in polysilicon production, Alan
Elyousfi, business development manager for GT Advanced
Technologies, showed how polysilicon production costs could be
brought down to around $22/kg.
With contract pricing to 2014
forecast in the region of $40-50/kg, the market outlook was
In support of new polysilicon
plants such as envisaged in Saudi Arabia, Elyousfi commented:
If global PV goals for 2020 are achieved, [present]
polysilicon production would need to increase by as much as
Silicon metal production
IDEA is also looking to integrate upstream by establishing a
$170m., 50,000 tpa silicon metal plant in the Yanbu Solar
This will produce two grades:
one needed as a feedstock to polysilicon projects, the other
will be used in aluminium and steel manufacturing plants.
For feedstock the plant intents to
utilise high quality metallurgical grade quartz from deposits
in north, central, and south-west Saudi Arabia.
Sharkh said: Success of
silicon manufacturing largely depends on the quality and cost
of feedstock material and electric power cost.
IDEA is also developing a synthetic
soda ash plant and calcium chloride plant in Jubail.
SiC plant for Yanbu
IM has learned that a new joint venture has been
formed to develop a silicon carbide plant in Yanbu, on the west
coast of Saudi Arabia.
Construction of a 24,000 tpa
silicon carbide plant is expected to start in 2013 with
completion towards the end of that year.
The joint venture partners are
Washington Mills Electro Minerals Corp., US, Rabiah &
Nasser Co. (Ranco), Saudi Arabia, and Sumitomo Corp., Japan,
and the new company is called Nova Silicon Carbide Co.
At the conference, Nisar Ahmed,
project development manager, told IM:
Target market applications include wire sawing abrasive
slurry for slicing silicon wafers for the photovoltaic (PV)
market and in automobile diesel particulate filters
Saudi Arabia is pushing ahead in
developing a domestic polycrystalline silicon industry
to serve growth markets such as PV which will
in turn provide a growth market for silicon carbide in wafer
Ranco, a large diversified
industrial group based in Riyadh, owns a high purity silica
sand mine about 40km east of Riyadh. This plant supplies a
range of silica markets and will supply the silica raw material
for the Yanbu plant.
The news comes three years on from
a similar but short-lived foray into the region by Washington
Mills in March 2009.
At that time an agreement was
signed with Saudi Arabian investor Ahmad H. Algosibi &
Brothers Co. and Sumitomo Corp. Inc., to start a new 24,000 tpa
silicon carbide plant in Jubail Industrial Park, east Saudi
Production was expected to start in
early 2011 but the project never came to fruition.
Certainly one of the attractions in
setting up a fusion plant in the Middle East is the benefit of
relatively low cost energy supply - essential for the high
levels of electrical power required in electrofusing
Which is perhaps why Imerys in late
2011 announced its intention to establish a joint venture with
Al Zayani Investments for the construction of a white fused
alumina plant in Bahrain.
Imerys is the worlds leading
producer of white fused alumina through wholly-owned
subsidiaries Treibacher Schleifmittel AG of Austria and C-E
Minerals of the US.
The Bahrain plant would mark the
groups first operation in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, in January 2012,
Washington Mills tied up a silicon carbide supply deal with
Targray Technology International Inc. to supply specific
silicon carbide grades from Washington Mills AS, Norway, to the
Asian PV market under an exclusive agreement.
Targray Technology is to distribute Washington Mills
Carborex SiC grade to Taiwan which will be used in wire sawing
silicon metal wafers - a growing market for silicon carbide in
Asia (see IM April 2010: The cut & thrust of