Sometimes it is difficult to gauge how history
will remember an incident, a time, a person. By this I mean
that it is not always easy when you are in the thick of it
to notice that you may be witnessing history take
2016 will not be remembered fondly by many in our collective
industries. In fact, unless you are in one of the handful of
markets that has actually prospered (lithium battery markets
for example) then you may be forgiven for closing the curtains
and stoically waiting for 2016 to finish. I felt like that
after learning of David Bowie’s death alone.
In all seriousness, politically, we have seen massive
upheaval this year. The refugee crisis continues, the war in
Syria continues. And the UK will be leaving the EU. Make no
mistake, Brexit has far reaching implications for our industry
- we just don’t know what they are yet.
The US election both bored and titillated the public, but
once the dust has settled, what does a Trump Presidency look
like? A billionaire businessman who swore to break ties with
China is now the leader of the free world. It’s
too early to tell how terrifying this could be, or how
prosperous, but the IM team has spoken to many of you on the
ground about what the election means and how it affects
different end markets (see pp8-9).
So, 2017 promises a fresh start, a new page.
It is the year of new beginnings - of Iluka Resources
beginning to work in Sierra Leone, after the Sierra Rutile
merger completes; of, potentially, the creation of a
refractories behemoth following the RHI/Magnesita merger; of
Tesla’s Gigafactory gloriously ramping up
production; and of what many hope will be the slow creep back
upwards for oil prices following OPEC’s promise to
cut oil output for the first time in almost a decade.
This month the IM team has picked apart several industrial
minerals’ markets and assessed how they have
expanded - or, indeed, much more likely, contracted - in the
last 12 months. This is an interesting and informative read
(pp49-60) and may lend some insight as to what to expect in
For us at IM, 2017 marks a very special
occasion - our 50 year anniversary. Watch this space to see
how we intend to celebrate it!
It has not, however, been a good year for the graphite
market. Prices have peddled downwards and the market is still
oversupplied, by all accounts. This month, Davide Ghilotti,
IM Chief Reporter, looks into the graphite market and
assesses the impact of the downturn in the refractories
This issue also tackles the scale of corruption in the
Chinese magnesia market (pp20-21) and discusses how several
Liaoning companies are seeking to diversify away from
refractories, given the downturn in the market (p70).
Unbelievably, as IM was going to press
there was still no indication as to whether or not there would
be any magnesia quotas for the six months ahead. The Chinese
government has eliminated the magnesia quota and essentially
not told told anyone.
It is a massive understatement to say that this surprised
and concerned market participants IM spoke to,
as local and international companies alike are now at a loss as
to what to expect on the market in the coming months and
IM was told of instances in which
international customers cancelled the orders they had already
placed with Chinese suppliers, in the hope of a price decrease
next year fostered by a no-quota system.
The effect on prices is at the heart of the debate: the
sector has expressed concerns over whether the scrapping of
the quotas will lead to Chinese magnesia flood-ing the
international market, instigating price wars and oversupply
The growth of the Chinese barite (barytes) industry has
happened steadily, and, as Ian Wilson, Consultant, writes
(pp32-37), the quality and quantity and position to market
means that there are companies which can serve the worldwide
market, if so required.
We have all of course heard about the downturn in the oil
and gas industry (still the largest market for barite) -
which has impacted almost every single sector. However,
there are some indications that oil prices may start to
increase, resulting in a pick up in activity in the next six
High purity quartz
High purity quartz (HPQ) is another mineral market which has
an upwards trajectory. The solar industry has played a big part
in HPQ demand in the last decade and its role is set to grow as
new large and innovative solar investments are announced. US
electric vehicle maker, Tesla Motors Inc., in 2016 announced
its intention to acquire Californian solar energy producer,
SolarCity Corp., for $2.6bn. The cost of installing solar is
also going down. Anglo-Australian mining giant, BHP Billiton
Ltd, recently stated that, "on average, wind and solar energy
are expected to reach cost-parity with incumbent technologies
on a new-build, unsubsidised basis in about a decade".
In some areas, such as Mexico, solar is already at cost
parity with conventional energy generation.
And HPQ is used in many other areas - like the semiconductor
market - which are expected to grow in the next 12 months.
Cameron Perks, IM Correspondent, takes
readers through the intricacies of the market and speaks to
those already supplying the market with HPQ - and those still