Projects in the Pipeline: Global update on magnesite resources and production

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Published: Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Global resources of magnesite are estimated at 13.1bn tonnes with three countries, China, North Korea and Russia accounting for 70% of this total. Macrocrystalline (sparry) type magnesite accounts for 93% of resources, with 7% the microcrystalline type. Global output of DBM, CCM and FM in 2012 is estimated at 11.1m tonnes, with China accounting for 51% and rest of the world 49%.

By Ian Wilson, UK Consultant

Global resources of magnesite are estimated at 13.1bn tonnes with three countries, China, North Korea and Russia accounting for 70% of this total. Macrocrystalline (sparry) type magnesite accounts for 93% of resources, with 7% the microcrystalline type. Global output of DBM, CCM and FM in 2012 is estimated at 11.1m tonnes, with China accounting for 51% and rest of the world 49%.

The quality of products has been enhanced for sparry-type magnesite by the introduction of a flotation stage to remove silica. For cryptocrystalline magnesite, mainly associated with serpentinite/peridotite, hand-sorting followed by magnetting and optical sorting has been successful in improving quality significantly.

The main activity has been among the major players, such as RHI, Magnesita, Magnezit and KŸmaş, growing by acquisition, increasing capacity and improving quality by additional processing. In the case of Magnezit, new high-quality deposits are being developed successfully in Russia.

Magnesite is magnesium carbonate (MgCO3) and is found in many parts of the world along with other magnesium bearing minerals such as brucite, hydromagnesite and hunite, which are shown in Figure 1.





Types of magnesite

Two main types of magnesite are encountered:

- Macrocrystalline (sparry magnesite) often hosted in carbonate rocks

- Cryptocrystalline magnesite hosted in ultramafic rocks such as peridotite-serpentinite

Another less common type is:

- Cyrptocrystalline magnesite, formed in freshwater sediments.

Macrocrystalline (or sparry type) magnesite consist of large crystals (up to several cms), while cryptocrystalline magnesite consists of small crystals often of <10 micron size.

Origin of different types of magnesite

Macrocrystalline (sparry) type

The sparry (macrocrystalline) magnesite found in the Austrian Alps was formed by replacement of limestone by magnesite with the source of the magnesium from the overlying Permian evaporitic brines as seen in Figure 2. In other areas, magnesite can be found associated with dolomite.

An example of this type is RHI’s Hochfilzen mine in Austria, visited during MagMin 2012.





Cryptocrystalline magnesite

Cryptocrystalline magnesite is generally formed by the alteration of serpentinite (an ultramafic olivine rock), which has been altered by migrating fluids of H2O and CO2 and are present in veins at depth and as a stockwork structure nearer to the surface.

A good example of veins and stockwork formation within serpentinite is from KŸmaş deposits in Turkey

Global resources of magnesite

A summary of global resources of magnesite of 1.31bn is shown in Table 1.

Three countries, China, North Korea and Russia, account for 70% of the global magnesite resources with Slovakia (10%), Brazil (7%), Australia (5%) and others (8%).

Macrocrystalline (sparry) type accounts for 93% of the world’s resources, with just 7% for the cryptocrystalline magnesite. However, the quality of the cryptocrystalline magnesite can be processed to a higher grade.

Location of magnesite deposits

The major deposits of the world (shown as red stars representing resource >500m tonnes) and some other deposits (in blue) are shown in Figure 3, with deposits and some operating companies in Europe shown in Figure 4.

Comparison of different types of magnesite and quality

A comparison of the properties and quality of macrocrystalline and microcrystalline types are shown in Table 2.

Dependent on various applications, the market is supplied by:

- Macrocrystalline (sparry) magnesia

Low to medium application

- Cryptocrystalline (microcrystalline) natural magnesia

Low to high application

- Synthetic magnesia

Medium to high application

A summary of impurities in synthetic and natural magnesia CCM grades is shown in Figure 5. Clearly, the synthetic magnesia has higher MgO and lower SiO2, Fe2O3 and CaO than the natural magnesia grades (derived from magnesite).

High-purity DBM is high MgO with low amounts of impurities such as SiO2, CaO, Fe2O3 and boron in order to avoid the formation of minerals with low melting points. The high purity DBM would have high bulk density (BD >3.40 gm/cc) with periclase crystals of larger size (PC >150 microns).

DBM and EFM grades in shaped refractories are:

- High-grade EFM (mainly from synthetic CCM)

- Low-grade EFM (some Chinese) compete with synthetic DBM

- Double-fired sparry magnesia compete with single-fired cryptocrystalline magnesia

- Some single-fired sparry magnesite

Global production of DBM, CCM and FM

The estimated global production of DBM, CCM and FM in 2012 is shown in Table 3 with a summary in Table 4.

A split of DBM by country indicates that China (51%) and Russia (16%) account for just over two-thirds of output (see Figure 7).

Output of CCM in 2012 was 3.26m tonnes, of which China accounts for 46%.

For fused magnesia (FM), the output/capacity for 2012 was 973,000 tonnes, of which China accounted for 72%. Magnezit is the second-largest producer, with 14% of the output as shown in Table 5.








Current situation with various countries

North Korea

Production of magnesia from North Korea in 2011 was reported as 255,000 tonnes, with CCM (67%), CCM (23%) and FM (10%). Production was estimated to have decreased in 2012 by around 30% to 178,000 tonnes. Of this amount, 100,000 tonnes were exported with CCM (60%), DBM (25%) and FM (15%). Difficulties in the supply of coal and coke and transportation were the main reasons for this decrease.

However, some capacity figures for North Korea were received from the Korea Magnesia Clinker Industry Group (KMCIG), which controls most of the mines and plants. These details are shown in Table 6 and represent maximum production capacity based on being operational 300 day/year. The total production capacity is almost 800,000 tpa. However, the difficulties of availability of energy for calcinations and transportation problems will make it difficult to attain this at the present time. In the past, of course, more than 1m tonnes of magnesia has been produced from North Korea until sanctions on heavy oil and trade sanctions reduced output considerably.

Location of the magnesite deposits and magnesia plants in North Korea are shown in Figure 6.

There is one operating company not controlled by KMCIG, Kommag, which is a Chinese investment based on the Namgye magnesite deposit. At present, some CCM is produced in small amounts. The Namye deposit covers and area of 48 hectares and is currently mined underground for talc and chlorite. The host rock magnesite shows good quality from +15 metres to -90 metres depth.







Brazil

Brazil has large resources of magnesite (830m tonnes) and three companies producing magnesia products, as shown in Table 8.

Magnesita SA

The largest producer is Magnesita SA, located in Brumado, with 830m tonnes of resources and with other deposits elsewhere. There are two sintering plants at Catiboaba and Pedra Preta and there are two main grades of DBM (M-10 and M-30).

The M-30 grade is higher quality as the magnesite ore undergoes a flotation stage to remove to remove silica (SiO2) and also removes some iron and manganese. The M-10 normal grade contains >94% MgO, but with flotation the M-30 grade % MgO is >98. With flotation the M-30 grade shows a higher bulk density of >3.30 than the M-10 grade at >2.98.

Ibar

Ibar’s main operation is in Brumado and a view of the mine is shown in Figure 9 with the plant shown in Figure 10.

A third rotary kiln was commissioned in July 2013, and this capacity is included in the production figures. The CCM is mainly for animal feed and fertilisers and some other uses.

Magnesium do Brasil

The Brazilian-based Magnesium do Brasil, owned by the Franck family, sold 50% of its shares to the Roullier Group in 2012. The two companies have been commercial partners for several years. Located in the northeast of Brazil, there is direct access to two ports allowing easy export to major international markets. Roullier Group holds a strong presence in several agro-chemical and industrial activities. The subsidiary TIMAB, brings a strong international sales network, logistical efficiency and complementary global sourcing capabilities, together with strong R&D support.

The deposits of Magnesium do Brasil are located near to Ibar Nordeste SA, which also has a mine in the same area.

The main producing mine of Magnesium do Brasil is Torto, with the plant located nearby. Production capacity is currently 80,000 tpa of CCM.







Russia - Magnezit Group

There are two main areas of activity in Russia with the established mines and plant at Satka (Chelyabinsk Region) in the Urals and more recent activity from the high-quality magnesite deposits in the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Here, the deposits and plant are situated at Razdolinsk. A location map of the Satka and Krasnoyarsk operations are shown in Figure 8 along with two other magnesite deposits. The chemistry of the high-quality Krasnoyarsk is also shown with high %MgO and low levels of SiO2, CaO and Fe2O3, which are ideal for CCM, DBM and FM.

Magnezit has embarked on a programme of new capacity, which started in 2011 with an additional 235,000 tonnes, and will increase to an additional 650,000 tonnes in 2015. There will be an extra 400,000 tonnes from Satka and 250,000 tonnes from Krasnoyarsk in 2015. The split of the additional 650,000 tonnes will be 300,000 tonnes (CCM), 150,000 tonnes (DBM) and 200,000 tonnes (FM). A summary of these capacity increases from 2011-2015 is shown in Table 7.

Magnezit Group commissioned the new shaft kiln from Polysius AG (Germany) in July 2013 with annual production capacity of 80,000 tonnes at the Satka plant (Chelyabinsk region).



China

China, with 26% of the world’s magnesite resources, also accounts for 51% of the global production of 11.1m tonnes with 5.7m tonnes (see Table 9). Of this 5.7m tonnes production from China in 2012, the split between grades is DBM (62%), CCM (26%) and FM (12%). For DBM, China accounts for 51% of global production, 46% CCM and 72% FM.

However, Asian Metal reports Chinese production for 2012 as 8.67m tonnes almost 3.0m tonnes more than the estimated 5.7m tonnes. Taking the Asian Metal production figures for China of 8.67m tonnes, this represents 62% of global output as shown in Table 10.

Output of magnesite from 1996 to 2011 and projection to 2015 is shown in Figure 11 and gives an estimated growth of 1.3% per annum in the five-year plan. The period from 2006-2010 showed a negative growth of -0.6%.

At the current time, many of the major magnesite companies in Liaoning Province are considering introducing a flotation stage to remove silica and hence increase the quality of their magnesia products. RHI Jinding successfully invested in a flotation plant at RHI Jinding, Dashiqiao, to give high-quality magnesia products of 98% MgO and high bulk density of 3.4.

While most of the magnesite in China is the sparry type, there is a high-purity cryptocrystalline magnesite being developed by the Huayin Group based on the Kamaudo deposit in Tibet. Resources are reported as 120m tonnes and some trials have been carried out in Haicheng. The quality of the magnesite is reported as MgO (48.47%), SiO2 (0.08%), CaO (0.55%), Fe2O3 (0.03%), Al2O3 (0.02%) and LOI (50.74%). A high-quality FM with MgO (99.9%), Fe2O3 (<0.001%), SiO2 (<0.001%) and CaO (<0.05%) suitable for PDP (plasma display panel) has been produced in a LPG high-temperature shaft kiln trial.

It is reported that Qinghai Western Magnesium Co Ltd will develop the Bischofite (MgCl2. 6H2O) present in the Tuanjie salt lake in Qinghai, western China. With resources of 60m tonnes, the aim is to produce high-pure magnesium hydroxide and high-pure magnesium oxide.





Turkey

Turkey is increasing its output of magnesia based on microcrystalline magnesite derived mainly from altered peridotite/serpentinite.

KŸmaş

KŸmaş is the largest producer in Turkey and was acquired by †lker and GŸrmen Groups in June 2012. The same management team is still working with the company following the acquisition.

KŸmaş carried out a detail re-assessment of its resources and reserves in early 2012 and figures reported are shown in Table 11.

The mining programme for 2013 shows a significant increase in 2013 compared with 2012.

Mining of stockwork structures represents an important source of magnesite. In the Ballick Region (North Side), the processing of 100 tonnes of magnesite mined will realise 22.4 tonnes feed to the calciner. The process from mining involves hand-picking, crushing and magnetic separation at the mining site with further processing at the Kutahaya plant involving further crushing, drying magnetic separation and optical sorting.

The increased capacity for DBM-CCM-DBD at Kutahaya capacity represents the new rotary 80,000 tpa kiln, giving three rotary kilns now in operation. The Bommag plant for CCM will act as a feed for EFM and briquetting for DBM.





TurkMag (Trabzon, Cihan Group), Aşkale, Erzurum

A new plant of 100,000 tpa was commissioned in late 2011. The deposits are based on magnesite found associated with serpentinite. Hand-picking on conveyors to remove some of the greenish serpentine from whitish magnesite takes place after crushing at the mine site.

In August 2013, RHI announced plans to acquire the TurkMag project in Erzurum; a final agreement on the sale was pending at the time of writing.

Other updates

Spain

MAGNA - Magnesitas Navarras, SA

Nicolas Gangutia, MAGNA general manager, reports that the Borobia and Zibeti deposits are planned to open in the first quarter 2014. The reserves at Borobia are 50m tonnes and 7m tonnes at Zibeti.

MGR - Magnesitas de Rubian

Eduardo Jimenez Aguirre, MGR general manager, reports that current mine Impensada has reserves of 12m tonnes, and just 1.5 kms to the east is the Santalla deposit, which has potential reserves of more than 10m tonnes. At present, 200,000 tpa is mined underground with production of 70,000 tpa of CCM. Markets are 75% for agriculture, 20% fertiliser and 5% others. Some 80% of output is exported, with main markets in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and Ireland.

Australia

Causmag International

Causmag has capacity of 18,000 tpa, of which 70% is used for animal health and the balance in various industrial applications. Aditya Jhunjhunwala, Causmag managing director, reports that present output is 9-10,000 tpa and is expected to increase to full capacity within 1-2 years. Its main activity is the sale of Mg0 to the animal health industry for the prevention of grass tetany in dairy cattle - a serious often fatal disorder characterised by low levels of magnesium in the blood serum of cattle.

Tasmania Magnesite

Tasmania Magnesite is a subsidiary of Beacon Hill Resources Plc. Alan Daly, general manager, reports that 2013 had seen a slow down compared with last year, although land tenure issues in the Tarkine region affecting a number of mining companies were mostly resolved. New metallurgical testing is proposed and the company expects to complete testing of a bulk sample by end-2013.

Thessally Resources

The Huandot deposit south of Darwin is now owned by Thessally Resources Ltd and Lorry Hughes, managing director, reports that the company will be renamed Australian Magnesia Pty Ltd. Exploration was carried out by BHP Billiton in 1969 and advanced by Magnesium International in 2004 with a focus on Mg metal. The new company will concentrate on high-grade raw magnesite and high-quality CCM. A small area assessed to 50 metres depth shows a resource of 5.2m tonnes. Further exploration of the resource is planned. In the past, a 25,000 tonnes stockpile was mined.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to all companies for providing information for this article. Particular thanks go to HŸseyin GŸrcan (general manager), Nafiz Ozdemir (marketing) and Halil Kšse (mining) of KŸmaş, Turkey; Hermano Franck (CEO, Magnesium do Brasil); Alex Menezes (corporate manager, Magnesita SA); Emilio Lobata, (commercial director, Ibar Nordeste); Nicolas Gangutia (general manager, MAGNA); Eduardo Jimenez Aguirre (general manager, MGR); Aditya Jhunjhunwala (managing director, Causmag International); Alan Daly (general manager, Tasmania Magnesite); Lorry Hughes (managing director, Thessally Resources); Carrie Shi (Asian Metal); Professor Wen Lu (Chengdu, China); RHI; Chinese companies, and many others. Thanks also to Theofilos Zampetakis (Grecian Magnesite).