Innovation in Liaoning’s magnesia companies

By Albert Li
Published: Thursday, 15 December 2016

With magnesia prices softening under oversupply and weak demand for refractory products, a handful of Chinese companies are attempting to create new end uses for magnesite which they hope will reduce their exposure to steel markets.

Shenyang, Liaoning Province, was an important industrial centre in the 1990s. Now,
the province is seeking to reduce its exposure to steel markets as construction wanes.

Liaoning Yatai New Building Material Technologies Co.

Liaoning province-based Yatai New Building Material Technologies Co. has developed a heat insulation material for walls made from low-grade magnesite.

Pingsheng Bai, Yatai New Building’s chief engineer, told IM that the insulation his company produces meets modern construction industry standards for energy saving in new buildings and can last for up to 50 years.

Whereas high-grade magnesite is used to make refractories, low-grade material produced at the same time is usually discarded on slag heaps.

Yatai New Building currently only supplies the local Liaoning construction industry. Many of the province’s largest magnesia companies also have significant real estate investments and construction activity is supported by the Chinese government as a way of delivering GDP growth, meaning there is a ready market for wall insulation.

However, real estate is difficult to sell in Liaoning at present, so this demand could peter out in the near future. If this happens, Bai said that Yatai New Building will look at supplying builders in other parts of China, or possibly in export markets.

Yingkou Magnesite Chemical Ind Group

Another company in the region, Yingkou Magnesite Chemical Ind Group, has since its establishment in 1999, become the largest manufacturer of magnesite chemicals in China. 

It is also the biggest producer and exporter of magnesium sulphate fertiliser and animal feed products.

According to Yunhong Yang, Yingkou Magnesite Chemical’s vice president, the company is fully integrated, with its own magnesite mines, with a capacity of 400,000 tpa, calciners and fertiliser and magnesium chemical plants capable of producing 500,000 tpa magnesium sulphate products.

The company’s domestic and export sales are split 50:50 and it has sold to customers in 50 countries.

"We don’t sell magnesite or CCM, we focus only on further processed products," Yang told IM.

He explained that Yingkou Magnesite Chemical prefers export markets because of the better payment terms. Selling processed products allows it to make higher margins, although these have been squeezed recently by higher truck freight rates. "Luckily we are only 60km away from Yingkou Bayuquan Port, the second biggest port in north China," he adds.

Liaoning Fenghua Industries Co.

Robert Xie, director of marketing at Liaoning Fenghua Industries Co., told IM that while his company maintains its traditional business in making magnesia and refractory products, it is also working on new manufacturing technology that reduces emissions from magnesia production.

Historically, China’s magnesia industry was one of the most polluting sectors in China, since DBM, FM and CCM production generate large amounts of dust and waste water and heat.

The industry is gradually getting cleaner, however, and companies like Fenghua Industries spotted an opportunity to capitalise on government policies to reduce pollution. 

It has recently invested in developing clean DBM production technology along with a new process to produce activated CCM using the flash calcination method.

Its clean DBM technology relies on a new type of kiln, which is a large, fully sealed, vertical model capable of producing 240 tpd DBM. It burns 248kg of coal per tonne of DBM produced, a reduction of 20% on conventional DBM kilns, and 99% of its solid waste is recyclable, according to Xie.

Because the kilns are sealed, smoke and dust is almost entirely contained within the plant. The density of dust emitted from Fenghua Industries’ kilns is less than 50mg/m3, while sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide discharge densities are both less than 200mg/m3.

Fenghua Industries’ other new project to produce activated CCM via flash calcination, where fine magnesite particles are fed through a vertical kiln at high temperatures, yields three times more activated CCM than a traditional calcination kiln, according to the company.

Coal consumption per tonne of CCM produced is 150kg, a 35% saving on typical fuel usage, and emissions are also reduced.

Magnesia can also be used in the desulphurisation of flue gases as an alternative to calcium oxide. 

Xie said that Fenghua Industries has trialled its magnesia products for this purpose, with more efficient results meaning lower energy costs, however magnesia is more expensive than calcium oxide.

Lessons from Liaoning
The innovative success of Liaoning’s magnesia producers has attracted the attention of governments in other parts of China.

The government of Shanshan in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in northwest of China recently announced that a 200m tonne magnesite resource had been discovered in the area.

Government officials recently travelled to Liaoning to learn from the local producers and potentially secure investment to develop a local magnesia industry.

However, the government of Liaoning is concerned about rising domestic competition and has pointed out that the remote area of Shanshan would face prohibitive logistics costs to ship magnesia products to the main industrial markets in eastern and southern China. 

It recommended that the Shanshan officials should look for customers and investment from China’s Central Asian neighbours, including Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, for its future magnesia supply.