REACH 2018 could squeeze EU supplies of mineral processing chemicals

By IM Staff
Published: Thursday, 13 August 2015

New rules requiring European refiners of industrial minerals to register chemicals they use in quantities exceeding 1 tonne could see some substances no longer manufactured or imported into the EU and may lead companies to relocate to other countries to avoid the regulatory pressure.

By Kitty So and Jonathan Dyson

European Union (EU) industrial minerals companies have been advised to check whether supplies of certain key processing chemicals might dry up following the next registration round under the EU chemical control system, REACH.

 EU flags_motiqua
Imports of chemicals not registered under the EU's REACH programme will be banned, which may cause some companies to relocate refining operations outside the union (source: motiqua). 

Experts have also warned that some chemicals based on industrial minerals might cease to be manufactured or imported after the REACH registration deadline of 31 May 2018.

The reason for the concern is that this registration covers a much lower quantity (exceeding 1 tpa  per company) of substances manufactured in or imported into the EU than previous registration rounds. This follows two phases of registration with deadlines in 2010 and 2013, covering substances above 1,000 tpa and 100 tonnes per company, according to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). Chemicals that are not registered by the deadline will not be allowed on the EU market.

  Erwin Annys, the CEFIC’s director of REACH/chemicals policy,  conceded that there will be a high level of uncertainty between now and the 2018 deadline. "At the moment, there are still quite a large number of companies who haven’t really decided what they intend to do – whether to register or not, or remain just below the 1 tonne level [at which registration under REACH is not required]."

  "We expect some uncertainty in the market," he added. "At the end of the day, it is of course a purely commercial decision-making process as to whether you can still make money on these chemicals – yes or no."

Companies that use chemicals, either to process industrial minerals or those made from industrial minerals, are urged to contact their suppliers and determine whether or not they intend to register these substances, said another CEFIC spokesperson.

"Based on the experience from registration phases one and two, we would not exclude the possibility that a user or users somewhere would realise at the last moment that a product that the business relies upon is not going to be registered," the spokesperson told IM.

The spokesperson stressed that CEFIC has not yet identified any specific substances that could be at risk.

Relocating outside the EU

EU companies that are not tied to particular mineral deposits and those that rely on specific industrial mineral-based chemicals could potentially move to another country with fewer restrictions, should an important chemical or suite of chemicals be unavailable in Europe, said Jim Hedrick, a consultant and former United States Geological Survey (USGS) rare earths specialist.

"The money goes offshore, so that hurts the economies of individual countries. [The companies] already sometimes have to go offshore because they don’t have any production within their country and what they end up doing is moving to China."

Full compliance with REACH can be particularly challenging for refiners of industrial minerals as they often need a variety of specific chemical substances to produce their final products.

Hedrick stressed the importance of striking a balance between regulating the industrial minerals industry and encouraging companies to develop so that other innovative green technologies can be advanced, such as in wind turbines.

Using rare earths as an example, Hedrick said that these were among the minerals most in demand by emerging green energy technologies and also those which require some of the most chemical-intensive processing.

He agreed that REACH’s registration-linked information gathering process on the chemicals used in the EU could be beneficial for safety and would help keep track of potentially harmful substances.

The CEFIC spokesperson noted that the ECHA is aware of its concerns and has also been encouraging chemicals users to ask their suppliers about registration.

According to data from the EU agency, about 1,000 substances with a tonnage band of 1-100 have been registered under REACH so far. The ECHA’s current working estimation is that for the 2018 deadline, up to 70,000 registrations will be prepared for as many as 25,000 substances, which is three times more than for either of the previous deadlines.

Industrial Chemicals_Ketzirah Lesser & Art Drauglis 
REACH aims to control the import and regulate the use of industrial chemicals into the EU (source: Ketizirah Lesser & Art Dauglis).

Many industrial minerals-related chemicals have already been registered, where they are produced in large volumes per company, added the ECHA spokesperson.

For instance, bromine has been registered in a joint submission regarding supplies of between 10,000 and 100,000 tpa. The registrants and suppliers included Ireland-based Chemical Inspection & Regulation Service Ltd and Rivendell International, Chemtura Belgium and German chemical specialist, Lanxess.

Another example is calcium carbonate, registered in a joint submission covering quantities 1-10m tpa. Registrants or suppliers in this bracket included 3M Belgium BVBA/SPRL, Denmark-based Akzo Nobel Salt AS, Italy’s ENI and Infineum UK Ltd.

There have also been registrations regarding sodium sulphate; titanium dioxide (TiO2); graphite; silicon carbide; iodine; mullite; and sodium chloride.

The ECHA spokesperson added that minerals, ores and ore concentrates occurring in nature and that have not been chemically modified are exempt from registration. The EU agency has also warned that companies handling registrations for chemicals made or imported in volumes between 10 and 100 tonnes will have to complete procedures that "are significantly more demanding" than for the 1-10 tonnes category, according to an ECHA communique issued in June.



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