By Kitty So and Jonathan
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,
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
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.
The European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC)
has noted that some companies may decide that such low volume
substances are not worth the cost of REACH registration and
will simply stop manufacturing them or exporting them to the
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
"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
"Based on the experience from registration phases
one and two, we would not exclude the possibility that [users]
would realise at the last moment that a product that the
business relies upon is not going to be registered," the
spokesperson told IM.
They 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
EU companies import and
store large quantities of chemicals for
businesses, many of which will now have to be
registered under REACH.
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 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 information
gathering process on the chemicals used in the EU could be
beneficial for safety and would help keep track of potentially
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
Many industrial minerals-related chemicals have
already been registered, where they are produced in large
volumes company. 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 of 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.
An 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.