Until relatively recently, commodity trade and
interest in the Middle East focused on the demand for crude
oil. As an oil-rich region, this meant there was a need for
industrial minerals used in drilling muds, as well as those
used in construction to support the infrastructure that sprung
up in tandem with the development of oil industry.
However, the boom years of the 1990s, which saw
cities being constructed to rival – and surpass
– those seen in the western world, meant that a need
for refractory minerals peaked on the back of growing steel
The region also saw an increase in demand for
glass minerals such as soda ash, borates and silica sand, as
well as those associated with a growing middle class and
infrastructure, such as fluorspar, rare earths, graphite and of
course minerals sands used to produce titanium dioxide
As well as importing more minerals into the
region, countries in the Middle East also started to
concentrate on developing their own minerals industry. Efforts
have varied depending on the country, but there has been a
notable push to build robust oilfield mineral production, in
order to establish some supply security.
Both Algeria and Saudi Arabia are leading the
pack in the region for shale gas development. In January this
year, Halliburton opened a new R&D centre in Saudi Arabia,
specifically to look at developing unconventional resources
— the latest in a line of similar R&D hubs in the
region, established by oilfield services companies, Baker
Hughes and Schlumberger.
The region is also investing in the
TiO2 industry and fertiliser market, with high-level
projects planned in different countries, with accompanying
infrastructure and logistics (see pp28-29).
Gypsum strides ahead
There is also a developed gypsum and cement
industry in the region, as well as lime and sulphur
Gypsum produced in the Middle East is largely
consumed domsetically, in order to fulfil growing demand for
plasterboard and cement. The intense heat of the region means
that cement buildings are often preferred over the glass, iron
and steel structures usually favoured in new cities.
Iran is one of the leading gypsum producers in
the region, and produces 10% of global output, making it one of
the largest producers after the US.
Gypsum is found on surface in the country and
measured reserves are around 3bn tonnes, although total
indicated reserves are around 24bn tonnes. Around 200 quarries
are in operation, according to the Ministry of Industry and
Mines. However, most of these quarries are described as being
small and serve only to feed local plaster producers.
Oman’s gypsum industry, meanwhile,
is growing, driven by demand in India, which
has seen unprecedented growth in construction. India has so
far relied on synthetic gypsum to fulfil its high demand,
derived from flue gas desulphurisation (FGD), but political
leaders have indicated their willingness to establish a more
secure – and low cost – supply source.
Oman is pleased to rise to this need and has
invested in expanding its limestone and gypsum export
facilities. The Port of Salalah told IM in
early 2014 that it expected general cargo growth to continue
into 2015, highlighting positive indicators for dry bulk in
Value added products
Unsurprisingly, the emirate of Dubai has seen the
most growth in its minerals industry. Although it has little
mineral wealth of its own, there has been vast investment in
the industries which convert the raw materials into higher end
To this end, global pigments producer AkzoNobel
started operations at a powder coatings plant in Dubai to
target "growing regional demand for decorative powder
The company also acquired a 50% stake in an Omani
paints company, Sadolin Paints Oman.
The growth expected in TiO2 is
demonstrated by the construction of a 500,000 tpa titanium slag
operation in Saudi Arabia, by leading TiO2 producer
Its ilmenite smelter, in Jazan Economic City, is
expected to be in production in early 2015.
Other companies have also invested in the
company’s future. In December, Saudi
Arabia’s National Industrialization Co. (Tasnee)
purchased a 13% stake in Cristal Global, for $428m, bringing
its total stake in the company to 79%.
Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia has made no secret of the
fact it wishes to develop its vast sand resources and has
sought to engage downstream industries interested in developing
its reserves for hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
It has also announced a massive $1.8bn investment
into a minerals hub in the west coast industrial city of
"The intention is to have a minerals distribution
hub that can serve the whole region," Alaa Nassif, executive
president, Royal Commission at Yanbu, told reporters in April
The Yanbu industrial park is also growing and
developing other industries besides hydrocarbons which will
need industrial minerals. Parts of the park have been set
aside for solar panel manufacturing, as the country looks to
diversify away from only exporting oil.
Making solar panels involves a number of
industrial minerals, including quartz and silica sand, and
Saudi Arabia’s imports of these materials have
soared as a result. It imported around 38,000 tonnes quartz in
2012, up 18 fold compared with the previous four years.
In Qatar, the country’s preparations
to hold the FIFA World Cup in 2022 is likely to cause a spike
in local demand for construction and pigment minerals as it
builds the stadiums, hotels and associated infrastructure for