Fluorspar 2014: DuPont sees growth in fluorochemicals rising demand

By Antonio Torrisi
Published: Thursday, 27 November 2014

Chemours to focus on TiO2 and fluorochemicals; High demand for HFOs in developing countries

US-based chemicals producer DuPont said at IM’s Fluorspar 2014 conference in Miami in mid-November that the spin-off of its performance chemical business unit will boost growth in fluorochemicals production.

The spin-off, which is expected to be completed in July 2015, will enable the new company to optimise costs and develop focused strategies and investments in the titanium dioxide (TiO2), fluorochemical and fluoropolymer markets.

The new company will be called Chemours and will include four key businesses areas; TiO2, fluorochemicals, fluoropolymers and industrial chemicals, David Lavery, executive buyer at DuPont Chemicals and Fluoroproducts, said at the conference.

Lavery told IM on the conference side-lines that Chemours will be 66% self-owned and 33% owned by DuPont, although Chemours will own all the patents of the fluorochemical products developed by DuPont, including Freon-22, refrigerants, fluoroelastomers, Teflon and fire extinguishers.

"DuPont has been completing a transition from a chemical to a biotechnological company, through several acquisitions of GM seeds and bio-based fuels developing companies," he said.

New fluorochemicals

"The big thing for us is the new generation of hydrofluoroolefins (HFO)-based refrigerants," Lavery said, adding that the mobile air-conditioning systems (MACs) directive set in Europe has also been adopted by Japan and the US.

However, David said this will not imply a major growth in hydrofluoric acid consumption for the production of HFOs compared with that of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and that the market will witness a replacement rather than a "stepping growth".

He added, though, that HFOs prices would probably increase compared with HFCs, owing to the lack of patent protection and the novelty of the product. 

"In the long term, we will then see a turning point and eventually prices will go down and stabilise also for HFOs," Lavery told IM.

Lavery said that the new HFO-based products provide higher efficiency and low energy consumption in all refrigerant sectors, as well as reducing power consumption.

DuPont, which has already introduced its HFO 1234-yf refrigerant in the automotive market under the brand name of Opteon YF, is now planning to place its HFO 1336mzz foam expansion agent and refrigerant in H2 2016 from its facility in China.

DuPont said it expects 3m cars to use its Opteon YF refrigerant by the end of 2014, with a rapid transition to 7m cars by the end of 2015. Lavery told IM that, following Dupont’s previous collaboration with Honeywell for the production of HFO-based refrigerants, the new company may continue the collaboration, but it could also be open to other partnerships to develop new fluorochemicals.

He added that the DuPont-Honeywell partnership for the marketing of HFOs was conducted under the spirit of the European Commission (EC) law to promote technical collaborations for the development of new products.

However, in October, the companies were told by the EC that their joint venture to manufacture a fluorine-based refrigerant for cars may be anti-competitive under European Union (EU) law.

"Although it might take two-to-three years to bring the EC’s scrutiny to full resolution, we believe that we have always respected the rules and we will resolve the case," Lavery told IM.

He added that the present legal case will not impact DuPont and Chemours’ HFO sales in the near future.

Market outlook

Lavery said that the global fluorochemical market struggled in 2013-2014, due to weak demand and overcapacity, but that it is beginning to shift. 

He forecast an increase in fluorochemical demand in the future, driven by rising demand for refrigerants in developing economies, including India and China.

At the moment there is no a visible rebound in fluorochemical prices, which will remain stable until next year, and will increase by up to 10% by the end of 2015, Lavery told IM.

According to DuPont, fluorspar demand will continue to soften due to ample supplies with persistent low prices. However, the company said that it has concerns whether low prices will ultima-tely affect sustainability and security along the fluorspar supply chain.

The company said it encourages the development of new fluorspar projects and it will be open to new suppliers, if their projects ensure long term potential, reliable supply and consistent quality. 

Lavery stressed the importance of controlling impurities in the product, which can affect the efficiency of some end products.

Lavery told IM that DuPont considered the possibility of acquiring a fluorspar mine in the 1990s in order to become upstream integrated, but it stepped back to focus on fluorochemical value-added products.

"When Chemours will be running we will reassess the possibility of acquiring a mining project, especially in view of potential risks in fluorspar supply," Lavery said.

"Although Chemours will not set immediately for full vertical integration, this is something that cannot be excluded in the future," he added.

Nickelhutte AUE GmbH starts acidspar production      

German chemicals producer Nickelhutte AUE GmbH told IM on the sidelines of this year’s Fluorspar Conference, held in November in Miami, that it has started the production of acidspar.

The company is eying production levels of 25,000 tpa, it confirmed.

Nickelhutte is producing the fluorspar from a mine in the former East Germany mine which it told IM it owns.

The only operating fluorspar mine in Germany is the Clara mine, in Sachtleben, Oberwolfach, which produces around 55,000 tpa in the south-west of the country.

The market is growing however: the reopening of the Thuringian Forest fluorspar operation in the country’s Ilmenau region means that by the end of 2014, a further 20,000-30,000 tonnes acidspar could be being produced in the country.