Industrial Minerals Inside Edge – 7 February 2013

By Mike O'Driscoll
Published: Friday, 08 February 2013

A new source of alumina from anorthosite in Greenland?

Welcome to approximately 60 seconds of reading Mike O’Driscoll’s take on the week’s news highlights in the industrial minerals world.

The news of Hudson Resources Inc. having completed the first NI 43-101 compliant mineral resource estimate for its White Mountain anorthosite project in Greenland is interesting on two counts – it’s anorthosite and it’s Greenland.

The indicated resource of 27.4m tonnes is being looked at by Hudson to supply the high-end glass industry and the plastics and paint industries.

Commercially developed sources of anorthosite are quite rare. Anorthosite is a plutonic rock composed almost entirely of plagioclase feldspar. Its significance is that it is a natural rock source of alumina, hence its use in glassmaking.

But another important, albeit rare, use is as an alumina source for mineral wool production – a major insulation product, which more commonly uses bauxite for its alumina input.

Anorthosite production for this application appears at present to be limited to just Nordic Mining ASA, Norway and Paroc Group Oy AB, Finland. This is mainly owing to the vast resources of anorthosite in these countries.

Paroc captively mines anorthosite at Lapinlathi, Finland, as feedstock for its mineral wool plants.

Nordic Mining ASA exploits the 500m tonne Gudvangen deposit in Norway and sells material for mineral wool manufacture. But in 2011, the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) jointly produced high grade alumina from anorthosite, and is considering it also as a source for aluminium production.

Mineral wool insulation products play a significant energy conservation role in residential and industrial buildings, and have seen increased sales as countries strive to improve on energy efficiency.

The key insulation markets for mineral wool are Europe and Russia, where it holds a 27% and 45% market share, respectively. In its Q3 2012 financial released in January 2013, mineral wool major Rockwool, announced a 12% increase in sales to the growing Russian market, where both Rockwool and Paroc have invested in new plants.

So could Greenland be a new source of alumina for mineral wool, or indeed other alumina applications?

Indeed, the island is no stranger to exploration for industrial minerals since it hosts resources of barite, celestite, graphite, olivine, rare earths, titanium minerals, and zircon. There are projects ongoing for rare earths development by Greenland Minerals and Energy and Hudson.

Of course, some industry observers will recall in the not too distant past a certain olivine source in Greenland that burned brightly for a few years before being extinguished in the face of market economics.

That was the Seqi olivine project, eventually owned and operated by Minelco AS, part of LKAB. The concept and execution of the project was smart – the European market was (and still is) pretty much dominated by one olivine source in Norway (Sibelco Nordic Norway), thus customers were keen for an alternative source, and to have a greenfield facility up and running in just two years in 2005. Nice work.

However, industrial mineral supply chains aren’t always that simple, and fluctuations in market demand can expose their fragility.  The 2m tpa capacity mine (production was around 500-600,000 tpa) closed at the end of 2010 with Minelco blaming falling olivine prices and unfavourable market conditions.

Certainly these factors impacted the project’s viability, but the logistics of shipping the material from Greenland to European customers, and via processing and distribution centres, was not inconsiderable and was thought by some to have made a negative impact.

Also, any hope of breaking into the US slag conditioning market (Greenland is after all somewhat well positioned between the two markets) was on the back foot with most consumers having already switched to using dolomite as a flux, with olivine availability in the US dwindling over the years.

Salutary lessons to be learned all round: know your market, know your logistics. 

Finally, as we head into the Chinese Year of the Snake this Sunday, those born in this year are said to include among their strengths the tendency to be financially secure.   But among their weaknesses, they tend to overdo things.  Let’s see how White Mountain anorthosite fares this year.

Mike O’Driscollis Global Head of Research and Consultant Editor at Industrial Minerals, previously he was Editor of IM 1995-2012.

T: +44 20 7827 6444;

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