Europe remains an economically viable production and
consumption base for industrial minerals, delegates at the
MINEX European Mining and Exploration Forum heard.
Speaking at the conference, Owen Herod, corporate geology
manager at global industrial minerals giant, Imerys SA,
emphasised the role of industrial minerals in the wider
industry as the struggling mining sector seeks to pick itself
up off the ground in Europe.
"We continue to see Europe as not only an important market,
but also an important source for minerals," he said.
Acknowledging that efforts to reboot the mining sector tends
to focus "very much on metals", he outlined the importance of
the industrial minerals in European mining.
Industrial minerals account for 700 mines, 750 processing
plants and the direct employment of 42,500 people in Europe,
The continent also accounts for significant proportions of
the global production of major industrial minerals, including
60.1% of worldwide feldspar output, 36.1% of kaolin production,
22.5% of salts and 18.7% of bentonite output.
Yet, he said, the crucial positions industrial minerals
occupy in day-to-day activities are often overlooked.
Herod used the example of a smartphone to illustrate this
point. A smartphone screen is made using high precision
abrasives, while the cover is composed of carbonates, mica,
talc and carbon black. The device’s steel
reinforcement requires refractory minerals to produce, the
microchip is the product of silicium, refractories and high
purity quartz and its insulating foils are made of graphite.
And, finally, a smartphone’s lithium-ion battery
contains both graphite and lithium.
"Per phone, there might not be a huge quantity of minerals
used," Herod said. "But it adds up" – particularly as
such devices become more and more popular in Europe and across
Herod drew particular attention to Imerys’
kaolin production at St Austell in Cornwall, UK, a 150-year-old
mine which produces 800-900,000 tpa kaolin, and the
company’s newly-acquired bentonite deposit on the
Greek island of Milos, which has an output of 1m tpa
Imerys produces more than 30 industrial minerals globally
and 45% of this production is Europe-based, with 24% in North
America, 26% in emerging markets and 5% in Japan and
The slump in raw materials demand in recent years has hit
sales across the industry, notably in ceramic proppants
– bauxite and kaolin products used in fracking and
which therefore rely heavily on the embattled oilfield
industry. Imerys has recently had to rely on external
expansion, via acquisitions, to deliver revenue growth as like
for like sales come under pressure.
Speaking to IM about the
company’s policy of expansion through
acquisitions, Herod said: "You look back at history and Imerys
has done it a number of times".
"We are always on the lookout for new opportunities to see
where we can grow. The message has always been: 'When the
opportunity is right…’" he added.
"We are always actively on the lookout, so I
can’t see that not continuing."
*Conversion made November 2015