Borates are found in Turkey, the
US, Europe, China and Russia and in South America. Turkey is
the worlds biggest producer of borates and holds the
largest reserves. The US holds the second-largest reserves, and
is the second largest producer, responsible for around 40% of
Borates, largest end markets are in
glass, but they are also used in detergents, agriculture and
ceramics. Lesser-known applications include nuclear
applications, metallurgy and fire retardants.
In Turkey supply is dominated by
Eti Maden. The company operates out of four sites: Bandirma
Boron Works, which produces borax decahydrate, broax
pentahydrate, boric acid, boron oxide, Etidot-67 (agri boron)
and sodium perborate; Emet Boron Works, which produces boric
acid and concentrated colemanite; Kirka Boron Works, which
produces borax pentahydrate, anhydrous borax and calcined
tincal; and finally ground colemanite/ulexite; concentrated
colemanite and ulexite and natural zeolite.
Production of borates across Eti
Madens business is expected to reach 2.1m tpa in 2012, up
from 1.78m in 2011, the company said. This is almost five times
the amount that was being produced ten years ago and also, will
be the first time the company is producing in line with its
The 2011 figure equates to 914,000
tonnes of boron trioxide (B2O3) in terms
of saleable products, which excludes off-grade products, the
Eti Maden exports the majority of
its produced minerals; in 2012 it is expected to generate
$1.02bn from exports and just $30m for domestic use.
The company is targeting a capacity
of 5.5m tonnes of boron chemicals by 2023.
In the US there are two boron
producers: Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto, which operates an
open pit mine in Boron, California, and a refinery via its US
Borax subsidiary; and Searles Valley Minerals, which is working
out of Searles Lake, Trona and refined in Trona and Westend,
California. Searles is owned by India-based Nirma Ltd.
Neither company will reveal how
much it produces, but Rio Tinto said in its Q3 2012 results
that Borates production was 12% lower than the third
quarter of 2011, in response to current market
conditions. However, this also included the companys'
Argentinian assets, the sale of which was completed in August
this year. Argentina has historically contributed around 4% of
Rio Tinto borate production, the company said. In 2011 Rio
Tinto produced 504,000 tonnes borates. 4% of this figure leaves
roughly 483,840 tonnes of borates out of the US.
In Q3 2012 the company produced 111,000 tpa of borates,
compared to 127,000 tpa in 2011. And 2011 wasnt a
particularly strong year for borates as the company encountered
severe rainfall in Boron and in Argentina, which meant that
production had to stop, or that many of the minerals could not
get to market.
In fact, the company had to call
force majerure sales out of Boron in 2011 because of
heavy rainfall. It received five years of rain in less than
five days, prompting it to install pumping and piping in its
pit to remove storm water.
It also changed stockpiling
practices to make sure that the impact of heavy rain was
Finally, the company said that it
has not ruled out expanding.
Our borates assets have
considerable optionality for expansion built upon the tier 1
orebody at Boron in California, Michael Le Page, Rio
Tinto Minerals new chief commercial officer (see p40), told
We are making significant
investments in technological advancement projects at Boron
which support efficient mine utilisation over the next 40 years
of the mine life plus providing flexibility to respond to
changing demand conditions, he added.
So far, Europe is not producing any borate grades, but that is
set to change as two companies are prospecting in Serbia.
In Piskanja, which is 250km south
of Belgrade, Canadian junior Erin Ventures Inc. is exploring a
property which it believes holds boron grades of similar purity
to those found in Turkey.
An historical non-compliant
resource estimate puts the project at being more than
7.5m tonnes with the useful component of 36.39%
Erin is currently working towards
establishing a NI43-101 compliant resource.
Elsewhere in Serbia, Rio Tinto is
exploring a lithium-borate development project, at Jadar, near
Loznica, 100km from Belgrade. The company is currently
conducting prefeasibility studies on the project.
Our Jadar project in Western
Serbia, a significant lithium/borate deposit, also provides us
with strategic optionality to expand our borates business in
the right market environment, Le Page told
Rio Tinto has been working on the
deposit since it was discovered in 2004. It has said in the
past that it is one of the largest undeveloped lithium
sources in the world, with the potential to supply more than
20% of global lithium demand (see pp23-32), but
it also holds vast borates resources.
A JORC compliant inferred mineral
resource was declared at 125.3m tonnes, with a weighted average
lithium trioxide (Li2O) concentration of 1.8% and
16.2m tonnes of B2O3 for the lower
The project is expected to come
online in the next five years.
In addition to Jadar, Rio
Tintos exploration license covers two zones of colemanite
in potentially commercial quantities.
In the past, there have been many small producers in South
America. But in recent years several mines have ceased
production because they have either exhausted resources, or
they have become uneconomical to run.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) put
production of borates out of South America at a total of 1.6m
tonnes in 2011, up from 1.5m tonnes in 2010.
Of the 2011 figure, 630,000 tonnes
were mined in Argentina (up 30,000 tonnes from 2010); 120,000
tonnes in Bolivia (up 23,000 tonnes); 480,000 tonnes in Chile
(down 24,000 tonnes) and 370,000 tonnes in Peru (up 77,000
tonnes) (see pie chart).
Argentina, then, is clearly the
largest producing country in South America. Production here has
been led by Borax Argentina, formerly owned by Rio Tinto
Minerals. This year, Rio Tinto Minerals sold its Borax
Argentina business to Australian junior lithium developer
Orocobre for $8.5m.
Rio Tinto Minerals reviews
each of its operations regularly to ensure a good fit with
business strategy, Le Page explained. A decision
was made to divest Borax Argentina because RTM focuses on
large-scale, long-life mines with expandable operations like
our Boron operation, he added.
For Orocobre, the deal meant it
could tap into a market with strong demand both
regionally and globally.
Although Borax Argentina is
currently only a relatively small and marginally profitable
producer, it is asset-rich in terms of mines, plant and human
resources and has potential to materially improve performance
based on processing recovery improvements and plant
utilisation, Orocobre said.
ÊThe company added that there
was also potential to increase the operational
scale of Borax Argentina.
Borax Argentina has been in
operation for over 50 years and, in 2011, it produced around
35,000 tpa boron-based products out of three open pit mines in
Tincalayu, Sijes, and Porvenir. It has the potential to produce
In Chile, the second largest
producing country in the region, output is led by Quimica e
Industrial del Borax Limitada (Quiborax), which produces crude
ulexite from which it produces boric acid and granular
SQM also produces some boric acid
as a by-product from potassium sulphate production at its SQM
Salar (see pp23-32).
In Peru, Inkabor is the only
producer of borates. The company told IM that
it will be increasing production in February 2013 by between
30-50%. Boric acid is expected to grow by 20%.
The company also highlighted that
it will be making the switch to natural gas to power its
facilities next year.
The company has four operations:
the Laguna Salinas mine in the Andes, which has 10m tonnes of
boron reserves, from which it extracts calcined ulexite; its
calcination plant in Salinas, which produces a variety of
calcined ulexite products; its Rio Seco boric acid and borax
plant in Arequipa, which produces 40,000 tpa of boric acid, and
12,000 tpa of borax; and its Oquendo, Callao production plant
in Lima, specialised in the production of boron compound
Borates are used in the making of
glass; this is the largest end market (see pie chart). Boron is
a powerful flux, while also offering high chemical
insulation fibre glass (IFG) and reinforcement fibre glass
(RFG), boron improves the fluxing capabilities of the batch,
reduces glass batch melting temperatures and increases the
fiberising efficiency by lowering the viscosity, Eti
It is also used in detergents, in
agricultural markets, ceramics and in insulation.
For the world leader, 2012 has not
been a good year in terms of demand.
[The] global economy, to the
most extent, has failed to live up to the expectations in 2012.
This has led to the slowdown of economic activities in most of
the world economies and hence the contraction in demand for
borates, Eti Maden told IM.
Contrary to the past years,
the demand for borates has been sluggish in Asia. The EU market
was disappointing in the first half of the year but it has
shown signs of recovery lately at least for the borates
business. The demand in the US market has been reasonable given
the economic circumstances, it continued.
The company expected to export all
the material produced in 2012, with the majority (1.42m tonnes)
going to Asia, 500,333 tonnes going to Europe and 239,604
tonnes to European markets.
Rio Tinto also said that demand had
been disappointing in 2012.
Demand was impacted by the
construction downturn in China, global drought conditions in
the agricultural sector, and continued pressure from the EU
financial crisis, Le Page told IM.
Inkabor also said that it has seen
a growth in demand from the agricultural sector. "Because of
the economic crisis, international demand has diminished in
general terms," the company said.
Perhaps because of this, Inkabor
has developed a new specification for its product Acido Borico
TQ (boric acid) "in order to respond to international demand
for a more economic product," the company told
Demand for boron products
remains strong, both regionally and globally, Orocobre
said in its stock market announcement to the market, on buying
Borax Argentina SA.
The company said it will be
targeting the regional market for its product, namely Brazil
and Argentina, which are fully dependent on imports for their
boron needs. However the company did say that it believes
there are opportunities for Borax Argentina to expand
into additional markets and supply additional
In June this year, Bob Katsiouleris
, then Rio Tinto Minerals chief commercial officer, told
IM that it was eyeing exciting new end markets
such as energy and energy storage, which are still in the
Another market earmarked for growth
was the use of borates in materials and ceramics, as well as
the use of borate carbide in bulletproof vests.
Eti Maden meanwhile told
IM that, while there is not any new
end-market we have come across recently (...) it should be
noted that borates consumption in agriculture as fertiliser
(micronutrients) has been on the rise.
Further, thanks to the
increased awareness about the environment and green energy,
borates consumption continues to increase in wood based
insulation, solar tubes for water heating systems and wind
turbine blades, the company added.
Elsewhere, in Peru, Inkabor told
IM that it has launched a product, Ulexite
ODT, which is for use in oil drilling.
The company also earmarked markets
in Africa and the Middle East as being new growth areas in the
the near term.
Borates prices have been relatively
flat since July this year, but are expected to increase next
year due to rising demand, Inkabor told IM.
Growth is mainly driven by China, but the uptick of interest
from the agricultural sector has also led to some predicting
higher prices for the year ahead.
The curtailment of supply from
South America and the US in 2011 due to poor weather curtailing
supply and logistical routes to market, meant that prices were
raised significantly. So far there has not been much of a climb
back from the highs and prices today remain high, compared to
levels at the beginning of 2010, for example.
In December 2010 prices were, on
average $200/tonne cheaper than levels on the market in
December 2012 (see graph).
Eti Maden meanwhile has gone on the
record saying it expected prices to soar by 40-45%
by 2015, according to a report in Asian Glass,
available on Eti Madens website.
Inkabor, meanwhile told
IM that it had seen prices of borates come
Looking ahead, Eti Maden expects
demand to pick up next year.
We expect the demand in 2013
for borates in the major markets to be better than 2012 but not
very bullish, it said.
Rio Tinto meanwhile said that it
expected demand to be led by three main factors:
- Energy efficiency
trends. This will drive higher intensity of the
use of insulation products and will lead to better building
standards, both of which will require higher borates use,
Le Page said.
- Urbanisation. This drives demand for
both construction products and consumer electronics that
- Global food
supply. Increasing crop yields and improving quality
from a limited amount of arable land, relying on the
micronutrient qualities of borates.
Over the next five years, w e
expect a total borate demand growth of 5-8%, Le Page
Global market demand for
boron products continues to grow and South American demand also
continues to grow in a wide number of industrial and
agri-business applications, Orocobre said, in its stock
"We expect market demand to return
in the second half of the next year," Inkabor meanwhile
Market stable, with new
Market fundamentals suggest that
the borates market is a growing one. Demand has increased in
line with production so far, but with the major producers
looking to expand in the years to come and new end markets
targeted, this is a market which could see significant growth
New projects in Serbia offer Europe
an interesting alternative in the future, although both Rio
Tinto and Erin Ventures have remained tight-lipped about
whether they are intending their production for European
The use of borates in some detergents is expected to fall
due to new legislation being passed in Europe, although this
will affect only a small sector of the market.
Other less discussed uses of borates
Absorb radiation boric acid is used in the cooling
water surrounding nuclear reactors to absorb escaping
Borax is used in laundry bleaches
are used to balance acidity and alkalinity
borates can be used to control bacteria, fungi and insects
Electric cables as
a flame retardant
are used in neodymium-iron-boron magnets for wind turbines,
hard drives and speakers
flares contain boron
Source: Rio Tinto (US Borax)