Poor investor sentiment is holding back South African fluorspar

By Shruti Salwan
Published: Thursday, 22 October 2015

The country’s potential remains underexploited as weak prices and demand spooks investors. The Doornhoek project developed by SA Fluorite meanwhile is stranded due to a lack of funds.

South Africa’s fluorspar-to-fluorochemical initiatives are in a strong position to bear fruit, as pressure mounts from downstream consumers to establish non-Chinese sources of fluorspar products. 

But investor confidence in the sector remains a barrier to their realisation, IM learned at the Fluorspar 2015 Conference.

Hosting the world’s largest reserves of fluorite, South Africa has been the focus of increased fluorspar exploration in recent years, however weakening prices for fluorspar and fluorochemicals since 2012 have undermined financial backing for projects.

One notable example is the Doornhoek project, developed by SA Fluorite Pty Ltd in conjunction with ferrochrome giant Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. (ENRC) in South Africa, which has been struggling to secure the funding necessary to take it to production stage. 

This is despite feasibility studies showing Doornhoek contains more than 50m tonnes fluorspar at an average grade exceeding 20% calcium fluoride (CaF2), according Allan Saad, senior geologist with ENRC.

Saad told IM that Doornhoek is a promising project with 80-85% CaF2 recovery of acidspar and limited impurities and that considering the weakness of the South African rand against the US dollar, the site should not be expensive to develop.

The company is understood to have set a production target of almost 275,000 tpa acidspar, once the project gets into production.

Saad said that material from Doornhoek has the potential to be developed for consumption in downstream fluorochemical markets, especially given its high grade.

Also speaking at the meeting in Marrakech, Chris Potgieter, director of BFluor Chemicals Pty Ltd, pointed out that new technologies for fluorine’s potential end-use applications such as pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals, could widen the demand profile for high purity fluorspar.

Africa, as a low-cost fluorspar production base, could see the local development of new fluorine applications, facilitated by the establishment of more energy-efficient technologies, which will create further opportunities for fluorspar consumption within the continent. 

If these visions are realised, which is by no means certain given Africa’s patchy history of developing and upgrading its own resource industries, then new fluorspar projects will be needed.