Magnesia products under the radar

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Published: Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Although refractory markets remain the staple of most magnesia production, CCM markets and fire retardants also offer up attractive opportunities.

by IM staff

While deadburned magnesia (DBM) holds the largest share of the magnesia market, interesting opportunities are arising in caustic calcined magnesia (CCM) production. This market is set to expand as a greater need for CCM in animal feed and fertilisers, arises on the back of changing diets in emerging economies and a growing middle class.

This has led major companies such as Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to invest in fertiliser markets more heavily this year.

Another area of growth, albeit a small one, is the use of CCM in pharmaceutical applications, although this calls for a very high grade of CCM.

The bulk (approximately 90%) of CCM production is based on natural magnesite and destined largely for agricultural applications, such as animal feedstuffs and fertilisers (involving grades in the 85 - 90% MgO range) or for bulk industrial applications, such as construction and paper processing (90 - 95% MgO). The uses for magnesia as a refractory mineral or as filler in animal feed are well known, though not so well reported is the use of magnesium hydroxide, or brucite, which is used in chemical applications and as a fire retardant.

China is a major producer of CCM, holding about 72% of capacity, followed by Spain with 6%, the US with 3%, and Greece, Austria and Canada with 2%, respectively.

The remaining 10% of CCM production based on seawater/brine includes both high (+99% MgO) and medium (+96% MgO) purities for specialised industrial applications ranging from chemicals, pharmaceuticals, anti-scorch agents, steel coating and environmental uses. Indeed, water and effluent treatment has been a major growth area in recent years. Production of brine-based CCM is concentrated in the US, Japan and Israel.

While there are numerous non-refractory uses for CCM, the largest volumes are used in agricultural and water treatment/neutralisation applications.

In the agricultural sector, considerable quantities are used in the North American and European markets, where CCM is used as an additive in animal feed, with developing markets in countries such as China and Brazil.

Magnesia is also used as a fertiliser, especially in Europe. In North America the use of magnesia as fertiliser has not been taken up as quickly. Instead, water treatment applications hold a larger portion of the market in North America than in Europe. There, applications tend to utilise magnesium hydroxide, either from brine operations where it is extracted directly before calcining, or by hydration of CCM.

Many other applications are regarded as niche uses or require high purities that can only be achieved from synthetic sources.

However, for CCM there are uses in flue gas desulphurisation, cements and hydrometallurgy.



Animal feed

The largest end market for CCM is in animal feed, with the largest ‘consumer’ being dairy cattle, with around 75% of the animal feed market using magnesia.

It is estimated that worldwide the consumption of magnesia in animal feed is of the order of 470,000 tonnes, which is expected to increase to about 600,000 tonnes by 2020.

The markets in Europe and North America are very stable but may even have declined a little with some reductions in milk consumption. Growth is expected to take place in developing markets such as China and Brazil.

Magnesium is critical in the dietary requirements of cattle, sheep and other livestock to prevent hypomagnesemia, grass tetany, grass staggers, lactation tetany, or wheat pasture poisoning; particularly in lactating or pregnant dairy cows. This is particularly critical in the early spring when pasture grasses may be magnesium deficient.

It also strengthens bones and teeth and is necessary as an activator of various enzymes for proper nerve and muscle function and it maintains the appetite of ruminants as well as regulating heart rate and muscle relaxation.



CCM and China

China remains the largest producer of CCM, with most of the capacity coming out of Liaoning Province. The industry has shifted gears in recent years and is now vying to create a more streamlined, energy-efficient industry to protect the resource in the area, which was in the past poorly managed with a lot of wastage. Smuggling however remains a concern.

About 70% of the magnesia products produced in Liaoning are sold within China with the rest exported to Asia, North America and Europe. The main destinations for CCM are the Netherlands, US and Japan.

Major integrated refractories group, Haicheng Houyin, began exploiting China’s first cryptocrystalline magnesite deposit in 2008. The deposit is located in the eastern part of Tibet. This is presented as an exceptionally high purity magnesite. Full production volume is intended to be 100,000 tpa high-purity CCM and the material will be taken to the company’s Haicheng plant in Liaoning Province for further heat treatment.

Brucite - the other side of magnesia

Magnesium hydroxide, or brucite, is used in chemical applications and as a fire retardant as well as in refractories.

Brucite occurs in serpentine, chlorite, or dolomitic schists or in crystalline limestones and forms through dedolomitisation and an enrichment of magnesia from intrusive rocks.

When it is calcined at high temperatures, brucite gives active magnesium oxide. This product finds its application in the rubber and tyre industry as an additive and stabiliser.

A company that is exploring this use of brucite is Russian Mining Chemical Co., which recently opened an office in Amsterdam, demonstrating that there is adequate demand for its products.

“Our company and its products are widely represented in Russia. Now we are targeting European and Asian markets,” a spokesman for the company said.

Russian Mining Chemical Company mines brucite in east Russia, but processes the mineral into flame retardants at its milling plant in the Vyazma city, Smolensk region.

Milled brucite finds application in different industrial areas, such as fertiliser production, paper bleaching, glass production, for waste water treatment and gas purification. But the most significant application is a production of mineral flame retardants.

The company produces 150,000 tpa brucite, which generates around 30,000 tpa of several different flame retardant grades; 60,000 tpa of agricultural products and 70,000 tpa of foundry fluxes.

“Currently we supply our flame retardants to the major Russian plastics companies, cable producers, aluminium composite panels manufacturers, etc. In Europe we are targeting the same industrial sectors plus paper pulp bleaching,” the company told IM.



Assets of the Russian Mining Chemical Company

Kuldur Brucite Mine

- Subsidiary company located on the Far East of Russia

- Mines raw material - mineral brucite (natural magnesium hydroxide)

- Crushes and enriches this raw material

- Sends railway carriages with the material to the plant

Vyazma-Brucite

- Producing plant located within short distance of Moscow

- Mills and classifies delivered raw material, processing it into different grades

- Laboratory for testing products

- Packs products and provides logistics to customers

Russian Mining Chemical Company

- Mother company

- Financing and new projects

- Control of operations

- R&D and technical support

- Marketing of products

Europiren B.V.

- European representative office

- Storehouse expected in the near future

- Plastics laboratory in the future (technical support)

- New production facilities in the project

- Logistics and technical/application support for our customers