Steady as a rock

By Laura Syrett
Published: Tuesday, 28 April 2015

After a tumultuous year for the mining and minerals industry in 2014, early indications for the first quarter of this year are that the sector has entered a period of relative calm.

 Comment After a tumultuous year for the mining and minerals industry in 2014, early indications for the first quarter of this year are that the sector has entered a period of relative calm. 

Flat prices across many mineral segments (pp65-66) and an apparent bottoming out of key downstream markets such as the oil and gas and pigments industries, as well as on the financing side of the exploration business (p8 and p23), have offered some hope that, from now on, the only way is straight ahead, if not quite up, for the time being.

A smattering of high profile deals, done and undone, made the headlines in April, with ASX-listed Triton Minerals securing a $2bn Chinese offtake agreement for its graphite project in Mozambique (p10), while world leading industrial minerals group Imerys has had its takeover of Andalusite Resources blocked by the South African Competition Commission (p9).
Magnesia consumption is linked to a handful of fairly stable end markets, but declining refractories demand is posing a challenge for the industry. 
SOURCE: SMA Magnesium 

Elsewhere, wind power gusted back into view with the signing of two significant contracts. French battery maker Saft has won an order to supply Faroe Islands power company SEV with a lithium-ion based energy storage system, and US rare earths miner Molycorp Inc. has announced it is to provide Siemens with magnet materials for wind turbines (p16).

On the operations side, Rio Tinto has cut its titanium dioxide (TiO2) output in response to market conditions while its march on the iron ore industry continues, despite the collapse in the price of the steel mineral (p14), and Sierra Rutile has signalled its optimism for an upturn in the pigments market with the construction of its Gangama Dry Mining project (p22).

Shifting positions in magnesia

In a departure from the whirlwind new-fangled world of battery minerals, green energy and new materials, this month IM takes a look at some of the more established markets in the industrial minerals industry.

With both overall refractories demand and specific consumption per tonne of steel on the decline (pp26-27), producers of refractory grades of magnesia are under pressure to think of ways of riding out this trend.

As Josie Shillito, Reporter, explains, for many companies this means shifting their positions to focus on higher margin products, beef up their service offerings or even look at new markets altogether (pp29-37). 

The ability of businesses to make the switch comes down to corporate agility, forward thinking and in many cases having the funds available to direct spending into R&D for new customer-led products – a tall order, when margins are already being squeezed.

These shifts within the industry do not preclude capacity expansions, even though supply of magnesia is generally outstripping demand in most industries, as companies and countries look to lock down captive supplies of the mineral. 

In Russia, a country that has historically relied on imports to meet both its magnesia and refractory materials needs, action is being taken to develop its vast magnesite reserves. Vladislav Vorotnikov, IM Correspondent, this month takes a look at the various magnesite mining projects underway in Russia, including new plants by leading producer, Magnezit Group, and efforts to produce amorphous magnesium oxide from recycled mineral wastes (pp38-40).

The silent treatment

While the global population may have enough steel and paint to be going on with for now, one resource that remains precious and in need of conservation is water.

According to the United Nations, around 2m tonnes of sewage, industrial and agricultural waste is spewed into the world’s waterways every day, putting pressure on water treatment systems to ensure safe drinking water and healthy aquatic environments.

In this issue, IM’s Chief Reporter, Liz Gyeke, examines how industrial minerals are widely used in the water treatment industry and what challenges and new technologies are emerging as the planet’s growing number of residents demand more from this finite resource (pp45-49).

Ground down

In other areas of focus this month, IM Consultant, Ian Wilson, gives an overview of the ground calcium carbonate industry in Asia, looking at how falling demand for paper in China has created a situation of surplus capacity, while IM’s Deputy Editor, Kasia Patel, delves into the issue of mental health among mining industry workers in Australia, where a recent spate of suicides has prompted a government-supported response to the issue.

Laura Syrett

Acting Editor*

*Siobhan Lismore-Scott is on maternity leave