Innovation will be key to driving growth in the industrial
minerals industry in the near term, was the overriding message
conveyed at IMs 22 Congress, held last
week in Vancouver, Canada.
The tone was set with an evocative keynote speech by Rio
Tinto Minerals CEO, Xiaoling Liu, who underlined her own
humble background as a working class Chinese student and said
that increasing infrastructure and middle class consumerism in
China and other emerging economies meant that there would be an
increase in the demand for industrial minerals.
We have all faced significant challenges, Liu
said. I think challenges can be a good thing. For
industrial minerals, challenges can be a saw that swings both
ways, she added.
| Michael Le Page, Rio Tinto's Chief
commercial officer takes questions after Xiaoling
A difficult two years
Difficult subjects were broached by many of the IM22
speakers included the dip in exchange markets, the recession
and the subsequent slowing of demand.
While these have been well documented in many company
results across the industry, it was obvious that many companies
believed that the effects of the recession would be shorter and
less severe than they had proved to be.
However, this has not quelled the push for innovation, with
several companies explaining the steps they were taking to look
at diversifying their markets.
Most underlined that they were continuing to invest in new
technologies and in innovation and research in their companies.
Following from Lius broad statement that innovation
has been at the core of growing industry, speakers were
keen to show how they had moved to embrace creative ideas in
For New Zealands Blue Pacific Minerals this meant
looking at the resources locally and seeing how these could be
used to supply the domestic and international market.
The company is developing the zeolite industry in New
Zealand, using it as a substitute for cat litter and floor
Zeolite is not a curiosity - theres a market for
zeolite, Bernard Novak, market development manager, told
The company supplies Australia and is developing markets in
South East Asia for cat litter and floor chemicals. But
elsewhere, it has also developed new uses for zeolite, Novak
It has been used as a feed additive to improve feed
utilisation this will meet growing demand for formulated
feed farming in New Zealand, as the countrys dairy
farming markets expand.
Zeolites have also been used to treat turf in stadiums.
It comes back to innovation, Novak said,
outlining the ground that can be gained by taking an
entrepreneurial perspective on long-established markets.
Zeolites have been processed to be used in turf markets, as
an alternative to kaolin in paper fillers and also to be used
as a replacement for bentonite in cat litter, he explained.
We dont want to be a one horse wonder,
Novak said, adding that it is also looking to develop its
perlite deposits as well as other ore bodies in New
Perlite has developed from
nothing to a business where we have a proven resource,
Iluka look to
Liu told the delegates that
growing urbanisation would build infrastructure and change the
way people in emerging economies live.
Growth is linked to urbanisation and a growing middle
class, she said, adding that she believed that Rio Tinto
Minerals thinks demand will double in the markets it serves, or
is hoping to serve (borates, minerals sands, lithium and
This will increase demand for industrial minerals
(...) all of which is a good outlook for our industry,
David Robb, managing director of Iluka meanwhile said that
he believed growth would return to the mineral sands industry,
but said that it would be in a different market to that which
is recognised now.
We believe in the industrys future, but things
will be different. We believe in our industry and we are
investing in its future, Robb said.
Robb took delegates through the companys acquisition
Metalysis, underlining that this could transform
demand for titanium metal.
The $20.3m acquisition of Metalysis, a UK Cambridge
University spin out, was announced in the companys 2013
results. Metalysis has developed a process that can produce
titanium powder from rutile.
This is a potentially disruptive technology if it is
successfully commercialised, Robb said.
Logistics move forward
Logistics service providers to the industrial minerals
industry were also eager to showcase innovation, with speakers
focusing on ways to mitigate rising costs and avoid bottlenecks
in the supply chain.
Rusty Safine, president of US-based FBC Logistics, said that
new packaging and container options were needed to compensate
for the lack of handling infrastructure at many ports, which in
itself is scuppering growth, with one possible solution being
the use of larger, intelligently designed bags for transporting
dry bulk material.
Port of Amsterdams manager of agribulk, minerals and
recycling, Marcel Gorris, opened the floor to the IM22 audience
and appealed for greater co-operation and communication between
mineral suppliers, buyers and logistics providers.
Amsterdam aims to be a port of partnerships,
Gorris said, but in order to do that, we need to know
what you need.
Cost and flexibility were two of the main issues raised by
delegates, who agreed that growth in the industrial minerals
sector was sometimes hamstrung by the difficulty of taking
product to market.
Look to Istanbul 2016
There were many predictions for the next two years given
over the course of the week. Many said that they believed the
market would turn around, but that things would be more
challenging in the near term.
What was highlighted is that there is no shortage of
investment for the right project and that innovation and
research and development are more important than ever in these