IM Fluorspar 2013: is a storm brewing?

By Siobhan Lismore-Scott, Antonio Torrisi
Published: Thursday, 07 November 2013

Metspar takes centre stage; Mexichem move downstream

Sometimes an event takes place which can be remembered for years afterwards because of the havoc it leaves behind.

Last week started off with St Jude hitting the shores of the UK and then onto northern Europe. Winds raged, waves crashed, trees were upturned. For those travelling this meant cancelled flights, a sluggish public transport system.

For those who were attending IM’s Fluorspar Conference, there were concerns that the storm would mean a field trip to the Peak District to see British Fluorspar’s Cavendish Mill operation would be cancelled.

Luckily, it was not. The only impact the storm appeared to have on the fluorspar community being delayed flights.

But while the storm may have passed over the conference and left only a slight trace, some of the revelations heard over the two-day event will still leave people rocking, specifically the industry paying attention to metspar – the lower grade of fluorspar.

Cement market opens eyes

This was the first year that a cement producer was invited to attend Fluorspar.

Nestor Quintero, quality and process chemistry manager at CEMEX, Switzerland, told delegates that the company uses 1kg of fluorspar for every tonne of cement it produces.

To put this into context, the company produces 96m tonnes of cement a year. It is ranked as number six in the world. Lafarge is the largest, with 195m tpa cement produced.

Cement grade fluorspar (“cement-spar?”) ranges between around 95% CaF2 and around 37% CaF2.

“Among the three principal types of fluorspar according to its grade of purity we can also talk about a cement-grade quality,” Quintero said.

Quintero said that fluorspar acts as a flux, decreasing the reaction temperature of 100oC and reducing the energy costs by 10%, while maintaining the quality of the final product, which is measured in terms of compressible strain.

Fluorspar also acts as mineraliser, promoting the formation of specific minerals such as alite and belite, particularly when high sulphur petcoke is added.

Quintero explained that the process is very sensitive to the amount of fluorspar added in the kiln, and a deviation from the right quantity can be detrimental.

Elsewhere, a presentation by consultant James King also buoyed the case for metspar, predicting that demand is expected to increase to over 4m tpa by 2029, as the steel sector recovers.

Presently demand is at around 2.5m, King said.

Metspar consumption by use is expected to shift dramatically, with stainless steel and electric-arc furnace steel demand expanding the most to 2029. China will drive this growth, but it will also be strong in the Middle East, King said.

Following the presentation, Attila Postalci, director of Steelservices trading company, told IM that the Middle East is a major market for metspar, with companies trading up to 200,000 tpa of metspar.

The main end-market of fluorspar in the Middle East is the steel industry, which consumes up to 3,000 tpm of metspar, while welding is a secondary end-market with 300 tpm of acidspar.

A major producer and consumer of fluorspar in the region is Iran, which supplies the mineral to Middle East and Turkey, Postalci said.

Downstream, downstream

As a follow on from last year’s meeting, Hector Valle, fluorine chain director at Mexichem, the world’s largest producer of fluorspar, confirmed that the company would be moving to sell downstream products.

Last year the company said it was looking to    sell more finished products, such as hydrofluoric acid or refrigerant such as R-22. Now Mexichem said its intention is to move toward the sale of finished fluoropolymers and fluoroelastomers. This move means that the company will soon control both ends of the fluorspar market.

New hydrofluoroolefin (HFO)-based refrigerants could be a promising growth market for fluorspar products, delegates heard, but the industry needs to engage in careful risk assessment and better communication with customers, Sarah Kienzle, Linden Tree Partners managing director, divulged in a presentation.

Refrigeration, of course, is the largest market for hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), with the mobile air conditioning (MAC) sector accounting for about 100,000 tpa HFC-134a refrigerant and 150,000 tpa fluorspar.

However, poor publicity and a lack of education between the industry and the end market has led to a drop in use.

New projects – from the Peak District to Mongolia

There is no lack of supply of fluorspar on the market either. Delegates visited British Fluorspar’s working site in the Peak District and later heard a presentation from Peter Robinson, chairman of the company.

British Fluorspar is producing about 300 tpd acidspar, out of 2000 tonnes processed. It has had 14 steady runs and it feeds off four different types of ore, one of which is bought in.

The company has updated a lot of its equipment and a lot of its processes from the days when it was the Glebe Mines site. It is planning to move to a dry press system in 12 months so it will not have a tailings pond.

In Mongolia, two projects were presented and another discussed on the sidelines. In a lively presentation Prima Fluorspar presented Berkh Uul JSC, which it is in the process of acquiring while Brian MacDonald presented on the Arvin monspar project, also in Mongolia.

Mongolia Minerals Corp. which is developing its Dai Uul project in the Dornogovi Province, was also in attendance. James Rodriguez de Castro, managing director, told delegates how quickly infrastructure is being developed in Mongolia.

Speaking to IM on the sidelines, Rodriguez de Castro explained the differences between the projects. Mongolia Minerals is developing a new project, using modern technology, rather than developing an existing project. It is also quite a way through the processing study and has commenced a hydrogeological programme to establish a water reserve sufficient to run a processing plant for the ore.