Welcome to approximately 60 seconds of reading Mike
ODriscolls take on this weeks news highlights
in the industrial minerals world.
Vermiculite supply veers to China...
Whats the similarity between the leading commercial
sources of vermiculite and those of refractory grade bauxite?
They are now both owned by Chinese concerns.
This year the world of vermiculite followed 2011 its
most active year for 30 years with another landmark
event as the worlds leading producer, Palabora Mining
Co., at some 200,000 tpa production capacity, was sold by Rio Tinto Plc to a
Chinese-dominated (80%) joint venture company.
As indicated a few weeks earlier (IM Inside Edge
30 November 2012), Rio Tinto was expected to
divest its vermiculite operation. Like its recently divested
talc business (Luzenac Group to Imerys)
and its retained (so far!) borates business, the Palabora
vermiculite producer was the leader in its field, although
production had fallen to 163,000 tpa in 2011.
Although there was speculation just over a year ago that Imerys might strengthen
its Zimbabwean and Australian vermiculite interests with
Palabora, the Chinese have yet again nailed another industrial
mineral supply market.
Just as in refractory bauxite, when Guyana was the only game
in town outside Shanxi and Guizhou provinces until Bosai
Minerals Group of Chongqing snapped it up to give China 100%
control of refractory bauxite supply, Chinas previous 22%
vermiculite supply market share has now shot up to 57% with
This leaves pretty much just the US, with 17% market share
or 100, 000 tpa, as the worlds only other major source of
vermiculite outside Chinese-owned supply.
It remains to be seen how new and emerging vermiculite
players, such as Brasil Minérios Ltd (Brazil) and Gulf
Industrials (Uganda), will react to this move, but they may
well be wary.
Certainly, Gulf Industrials Namekara vermiculite
project might be spurred on with news that Uganda is inviting
Russian interests to exploit its natural resources, which
However, until construction markets improve where
vermiculite finds a primary market as lightweight aggregate
material and in insulation any vermiculite developer
will face a tough time right now.
...as does Australian lithium
If you want something enough, you often have to pay for it.
Thats just what the Chinese have done with Talison Lithium Ltd, the
worlds main hard rock lithium source although
newcomer Galaxy Resources Ltd,
also in Western Australia, is emerging onto the scene. Both
companies are exploiting spodumene.
The initial buyer for Talison Lithium, Rockwood Holdings
Inc., was this week blown out by Windfield Holdings Pty Ltd, an
Australian wholly-owned subsidiary of Chengdu Tianqi Industry
(Group) Co. Ltd.
Chengdu Tianqi upped its offer for Talison Lithium to C$848m
($855.4m), or a cash consideration of C$7.50/share, which was
well over Rockwoods earlier offer of C$6.50/share.
Even though the initial Rockwood offer was considered
respectable, the fact is, Chinese lithium raw material
consumers remain geared up to utilise spodumene concentrate
rather than brine-sourced material. Clearly they were on a
mission to ensure that China would not want for their preferred
And, while were on Chinese interests in Australia,
state-owned oil producer PetroChina has agreed to pay $1.6bn
for a 10% stake in Browse LNG Development, a major offshore
Australian liquefied natural gas (LNG) project.
This underlines Chinese interests in natural gas development
(as well overseas natural resources in general) and also
reminds us of proppant demand potential in Australia as a range
of shale gas interests are evaluated to feed the countrys
ambitious LNG aspirations.
New technologies break ground in proppants and
Theres just enough time for me to acknowledge a couple
of intriguing news items on two separate technological
breakthroughs on mineral processing. And what timing!
If you were to ask me, which two mineral products are in
demand, Id say refractory grade
Interestingly, this week we saw announcements of processing
innovations to convert low grade bauxite into refractory grade bauxite
by the Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, Kolkata,
India as well as news that ceramic proppants utilising
suitable clay minerals (not including kaolin nor bauxitic
clays apparently) could be manufactured by Brownwood Clay
The announcements were short on detail, but watch this space
Mike ODriscoll is Global
Head of Research and Consultant Editor at Industrial Minerals,
previously he was Editor of IM 1995-2012.
For the latest trends and
developments in oilfield mineral supply and demand dont
Oilfield Minerals Outlook: Middle East, 21-23
January 2013, Dubai.