|Insulation fibreglass is the single
largest market for borates and is expected to grow
as construction picks up.
Borates is the name commonly given to the group of minerals
which contain boron. Boron combines with oxygen and other
elements to form boric acid, or inorganic salts (borates).
The four borate minerals— colemanite, kernite,
tincal, and ulexite—make up 90% of the borate minerals
used by industry worldwide, according to the US Geological
Borates are used in a myriad of end markets (see Table
4) however, the largest market share of consumption is in
the detergents, fertiliser and glass markets.
The largest producing country is Turkey, which holds 70% of
the global reserves and which sells its borates via its
state-owned miner and producer Eti Maden, which has been
running since 1935 in various forms.
Global borate reserves are estimated by Eti Maden to be
1.29bn tonnes of boron oxide (B2O3), of
which Turkey holds 955m tonnes.
Kazakhstan holds 122m tonnes of boron reserves, but these
have not yet been exploited. China meanwhile holds 47m tonnes,
Latin America 91m tonnes, North America 40m tonnes and Russia
35m tonnes. Serbia is estimated to hold reserves of 21m
tonnes (See Table 1)
Not all reserves are being developed. The mineralogy varies
between the reserves and there are often logistical and
economic challenges associated with exploitation.
A tale of two
In borates there exists an oligopoly with two dominate
players supplying over 80% of the market.
Eti Maden is the world’s largest producer of
borates. The company was on track to be producing 2.8m tonnes a
year by the end of 2016, 50% of the global supply - and
therefore is extremely likely to remain so.
That said, Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto currently
supplies over 30% of the world’s refined borates
from its two boron deposits in the Californian Mojave desert,
US and is developing its lithium-borate Jadar project in
The miner also has borates refineries and/or shipping
facilities in China, France, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Spain
and the US.
In 2016 Rio produced 503,000 tonnes boric acid equivalent,
6% up on 2015. This higher output was attributed by the CEO,
Jean Sebastian Jaques, to higher market demand in the Americas
The other US producer is Searles Valley, which extracts
borates from subterranean brines at Searles Lake as a
co-product with sodium carbonate (trona) and sodium sulphate
extracts. Searles Valley is owned by India glass and soda ash
producer Nirma, which manages the 20-50m tonne Searles Lake
deposit in the US and which produces approximately 200,000 tpa
It is likely that Eti Maden will remain the dominant
producer. The company has ten plants producing boric acid,
colemanite, borax (decahydrate, pentahydrate and anhydrous),
pyrite, sodium perborate, boric oxide and some detergent
end-products. It mines its material, which contains the highest
percentage of B2O3, from its Bigadic
deposit (see Table 2).
Etibor-48 (borax pentahydrate) is produced in a total of
five operating plants within the Kirka Boron works complex,
including the recently–commissioned fifth Boron
Derivatives Plant and the Etimatik Boron-based Cleaning
Product, which was taken into production in 2014.
In Kirka, colemanite ores are extracted in two open pits -
namely Hisarcık and Espey - and they are processed in
crushing-grinding and concentrator plants. Boric acid
production is carried out in the boric acid plant.
Bigadic Boron Works meanwhile comprises of four open pits
from which colemanite and ulexite ores are extracted
(Tülü, Acep, Simav and Kestelek). The extracted ores
are processed in crushing-grinding and concentrator plants.
"Our investment strategies are based on expanding our
production capacity in line with prevailing market needs,
priorities and future trends; because we committed ourselves to
supply global demand in all varieties of all boron consuming
industries," Eti Maden management told
"In line with this, our new processing plant with a
nameplate capacity of 500,000 tonnes/year located at our
Kırka site in Seyitgazi/Eskisehir has started production,"
In 2023, it is targeting a production capacity of 5.5m
tonnes and revenues of $2.5bn.
It functions as a global group with European, US, Russian,
Chinese and Scandinavian operations via its affiliates and
subsidiaries: Etimine SA, AB Etiproducts OY, Etimine USA Inc.,
Etiproducts Russia, Etimaden Asia-Pacific and Etimine Shanghai
(China) Co. respectively.
As the world’s largest producer, Eti Maden also
develops and researches into new technologies. Later this year
the company will release a new flame retardant product.
However even Eti Maden has faced headwinds this year as it
was confronted with fierce competition in the market in
the Asia-Pacific region, especially in the Chinese market, Eti
Maden management told IM, adding that it had
learnt from this and has now reorganised its distribution
network and sales structure within the region.
"We will be close to and side by side with our customers,
prefer to call them partners, to understand their needs and
priorities in order to be able to respond rather swiftly", the
company told IM.
|Eti’s Bigadic mine in
Turkey is the largest boron-producing mine in the
Source: Eti Maden
Latin American producers
Across Latin America there are several established boron
producers. Chile’s Quiborax is the largest, with
an output of around 580,000tpa ulexite.
Other producers in Latin America include Inkabor in Peru,
Tierra SA in Bolivia, and Mineria Santa Rita SRL and SQM in
Argentina. Most of the deposits are found at altitude and are
ulexite (sodium calcium borates).
SQM produces boric acid as a by-product of the production of
potassium sulphate, by extracting the brines from the Salar de
Atacama and processing the material at its 15,000 tpa boric
acid plant located there. The boric acid is then transported by
trucks to the Tocopilla port terminal.
The company doesn’t have a set output for boric
acid, rather it responds to market demand.
Inkabor mines its products at an open mine located 78km from
Arequipa, Peru, in Laguna Salinas. It only operates its mine
six months of the year, due to heavy rainfall in the region
affecting work for the other half of the year. The ulexite is
transported and then processed at one of the
company’s five plants in Rio Seco, Arequipa, into
boric acid, ulexite concentrate, borax, speciality borates and
sodium-based borates. It also has a calcination plant in Oruro,
Bolivia, which breaks down the ulexite using an organic
Quiborax has the capacity to produce 580,000 tpa of 20-25%
B2O3 ulexite from its Salar de Surire
brine, which lies over 4,000 metres above sea level near Arica,
Chile, and is estimated to contain 1.5bn tonnes of ulexite, or
30m tonnes B2O3. The company transports
its raw material to Arica, where it is processed into boric
acid, using sulphuric acid, or different agrochemical products.
Boric acid capacity is 36,000 tpa. It ships worldwide via its
Little is known about Tierra SA. The company runs out of the
Lipez region in Bolivia and extracts borates from its Capina
salar, which is processed to form boric acid. It also mines
ulexite from an open pit at Challviri, within the Eduardo
Avaroa nature reserve. The ulexite is processed for borax
decahydrate. It is also developing the Pastos Grandes salar,
which contains both lithium and boron mineralisation. It
produces boric acid, borax and other derivatives from its
Apacheta Hill plant.
Amid the established producers in Latin America are two
newcomers: Orocobre and Bacanora Minerals. However, while
Orocobre - which manages its borates arm under its 100% owned
subsidiary Borax Argentina - may be relatively new to the
borates field, they acquired an already-working mine and plant
from Rio Tinto in 2012 and are now working on modernising and
upgrading the other facilities.
Borax Argentina produced 35,426 tonnes of boric acid,
refined product and minerals in 2016 and expects to produce
between 40-50,000 tonnes in 2017/8.
The minerals historically produced by Borax Argentina are
ulexite, colemanite and hydroboracite.
It hopes to be able to produce between
100,000–120,000 tpa borax decahydrate equivalent at
Tincalayu and to add an integrated 25,000 tonne boric acid
"It is anticipated that the potential expansion will further
enhance efficiencies in the production of refined borates at
Tincalayu and contribute to improved manufacturing unit costs.
Approvals have been received for a new gas pipeline to supply
the expanded plant and initial cost estimates are under
review," a spokesperson for the company
|The Borax Argentina plant at
Borax Argentina operates three open pit mines at 4,000m in
the Puna region of north west Argentina: Tincalayu, Sijes, and
Porvenir, a borax decahydrate manufacturing plant in Tincalayu,
concentration plants in Sijes and Porvenir (currently unused),
and refinery facilities in Campo Quijano. Additionally, the
considerable deposits at Diablillos and Ratones are essentially
undeveloped. With the exception of the Porvenir mine which is
located in Jujuy Province, all of Borax
Argentina’s operations are located in Salta
Province in northern Argentina.
In terms of logistics, Orocobre told IM
that "the company holds sufficient inventory in at Campo
Quijano, near Salta, to sustain deliveries to customers during
occasional rain events around the mine sites which can have a
short term impact on road access."
Although there are several producers in South America,
Orocobre told IM that "Borax Argentina is the
only South American based boron producer with a wide range of
refined products and relatively unique mineral
"The value proposition to customers is that it is a local
high quality manufacturer and supplier of boron products well
positioned to provide value particularly in the form of
security of supply to businesses both large and small, not only
in South America but also to the operations of these companies
based internationally and other key customers and markets
located offshore. Key markets in South America include Brazil
and Argentina and in particular the agricultural markets," a
spokesperson for the company told IM.
Bacanora is a London-listed company developing a borate play
in Latin America, as well as lithium resources in the US and
Mexico. It does however appear to be focusing its efforts on
its lithium plays. The company owns the Magdalena Borates
project in Sonora State, Mexico. It is a developing
project made up of seven concessions, of which one - El Cajon -
is the most advanced with an NI 43-101 indicated resource of
11.06m tonnes at 10.6% grade for 1,170,000 tonnes of
Bacanora intends to develop the project in order to supply a
potential 50,000 tpa boric acid to the Mexican market.
It has processed and sent samples of 99% boric acid to
potential off take customers and says ongoing metallurgical
testwork based on higher value boric acid will commence in late
Serbia and Jadarite
In 2004 Rio Tinto geologists uncovered a new mineral,
Jadarite, which is a lithium-borate mix while exploring near
the town of Loznica in Serbia. Since then it has worked on
developing the project with a view to exploiting both the
lithium and borate mineralogy.
Named by some as the 'Superman’ mineral,
Jadarite famously holds almost the same chemical composition as
the fictional kryptonite.
Rio Tinto’s project is currently in
prefeasibility phase. During Rio Tinto’s
presentation of its annual results, CEO Jean Sebastian Jacques
underlined that the company was "studying very carefully the
Jadar project," adding: "the study is underway and when we have
something else to share with the market we will do it. I think
it is a broad range of products here."
Bold Baatar, chief executive, energy & minerals
meanwhile told IM: "Jadar could be central to
a more energy-efficient world".
Earlier this year, in March, Rio Tinto updated its Mineral
Resource Estimate, increasing the resources by 19m tonnes, to
136m tonnes*. Equivalent borate product resources, it said,
were 21m tonnes of B2O3.
The site has an estimated mine life of over 50 years and Rio
has previously indicated it could supply roughly 10% of global
In an analyst presentation, Rio Tinto explained that the
company was "well advanced on delivering a pre-feasibility
study by the end of 2017, adding: "We’re excited
by the potential we see today. This discovery aligns very
neatly with the incubator concept focusing on a new commodity,
in the case of lithium, and on new markets."
The company said it was "presently advancing technical
studies to complete pre-feasibility by end 2017".
But, where Rio Tinto discovered the jadarite, other
prospectors have followed. TSX-V listed Erin Ventures, Ultra
Lithium and Pan Global Resources are three Canadian juniors
seeking to develop similar projects in Serbia. Of the three,
Erin Ventures is the more visible, as it is being followed by
several analysts and is keen to keep its shareholders up to
date with information on the Piskanja borate project.
It released its independent preliminary economic assessment
report (PEA) in October 2016, which estimated the Life of Mine
at 6.9m tonnes with an average 27.8%
The following month it released an updated mineral resource
estimate, which increased the contained
B2O3 in the Indicated Mineral Resource
category by 41.2% or 700,000 tonnes (from 1.7m tonnes to 2.4m
tonnes); the Indicated Mineral Resource by 39.3% or 2.2m tonnes
(from 5.6m tonnes to 7.8m tonnes) in the updated maiden mineral
resource estimate (MMRE) vs the maiden MRE (filed in 2013) and
the grade of B2O3 was also increased by
Since then, Erin has started discussions with the Serbian
authorities, via its wholly owned, Serbia based subsidiary
Balkan Gold, regarding a potential commercial contract for the
Pobrdje boron mine. The Pobrdje boron mine is licensed and
operated by the Serbian state owned company Ibar Mines, and is
located approximately 1.5 km from Balkan Gold’s
Piskanja boron project in southern Serbia.
Under the proposed terms of the agreement, Balkan Gold would
provide the capital, technical expertise and management
oversight required to refurbish, upgrade and operate the
Pobrdje mine at a capacity of approximately 30,000 tonnes of
colemanite per year until depletion. In return, Balkan Gold
would have the exclusive rights to all of the colemanite
produced at the mine, at a fixed price, for the life of the
It has also entered into the due diligence process with a
potential partner for the Piskanja project.
"This prospective partner meets Erin’s criteria
because of its ability to provide capital required to advance
the Piskanja project towards production, as well as mining
expertise, and boron-specific expertise," the company said in
March 2017, without revealing who it was.
Erin seeks to compete with the Latin American producers as
it believes it can do so on a cost basis (according to an
analyst presentation Erin’s opex at Piskanja is
around $135/tonne, which places it at the low-cost end of the
spectrum). The company is seeking to bring 200,000 tpa online,
which is a market penetration of < 5%
It also indicates that, as its colemanite contains less
arsenic than that supplied from Turkey, it is in a position to
take some of Eti Maden’s market share.*
Borates are mined in underground deposits in Gaotaigou,
Zhuanmiao, and Wengquangou, which are in the Liaoning (also
known as the 'magnesia capital’ of China) and the
Jilin Provinces in China. The primary borate ore produced is
szaibelyite, a magnesium borate, which is then processed into
borax or boric acid. Proven reserves from a number of deposits
total more than 30m tonnes, according to the USGS.
Elsewhere, boron is also produced from brines taken from
salars near the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. The Qinghai deposits
contain inter-related mineral groups including boron, lithium,
and potassium mined from three lakes.
According to China Customs data, natural borates
and concentrate exports from China totaled 2,124 tonnes, while
the country imported 369,656 tonnes. The import value of the
borates was around $127.5m.
In terms of end markets the largest sector is glass, which
in 2014 accounted for a 51% share of the market. Specifically,
according to Eti Maden, insulation fibreglass is the largest
single use for borates.
"In insulation fiber glass (IFG) and reinforcement
fiberglass (RFG), use of boron improves the fluxing
capabilities of the batch, reduces glass batch melting
temperatures and increases the fiberizing efficiency by
lowering the viscosity,’ Eti Maden explained.
"It controls the relationship between temperature, viscosity
and surface tension to create optimal glass fiberization. Boron
also reduces the tendency of crystallization and increases the
strength of the fibers and resistance against moisture."
But of course borates are also used in the manufacturing of
other types of glass and in recent years demand for
borosilicate glass (used in LCD screens, solar panels,
laboratory glasses, pharmaceuticals, ) has also grown.
Borosilicate glass has boron oxide
(B2O3) content between 5-30%. Anhydrous
borax and Borax pentahydrate are the borate products most often
preferred for borosilicate glass.
Boron is also used in fiber optics, which enable luminary
photons to be transferred effectively in communication systems.
Fibre optics are formed of two different parts: an inner core
and outer sections. The inner core is made of glass with high
index of refraction, whereas the outer section is made of glass
with low index of refraction.
In agriculture (14%) boron is used in small concentrations
as micronutrients in fertilisers. When used in large
concentrations they function as herbicides, algaecides and as a
pesticide. Several producers manufacture their own boron-based
products directly to the agricultural market (SQM, Eti).
"The consumption of borate products as micronutrients in
agriculture sector has grown significantly in recent years due
to the need for increasing crop yield in order to supply global
food demand which is the result of growing global population,"
Eti Maden management told IM.
"We will particularly be more present in the South-East Asia
market with new brand names to be placed as micronutrient in
fertiliser sector. It is also scheduled to expand our product
portfolio with new granular/compacted forms of boron products
for blended NPK fertiliser applications by the beginning of
2018," the company added.
In the ceramics market (13%) borates are chiefly used in
tile glazes in roof, wall and floor tiles. Tableware also uses
some borates. According to Eti, frit and glaze formulations can
contain concentrations as high as 25% borates. Borates
improve glazes in a number of ways: facilitating the production
process; ensuring a good fit between the glaze and the item it
covers; and enhancing the chemical and mechanical strength.
Boron is also used as a cleaning and bleaching agent (3%),
controlling the alkalinity of soaps and synthetic detergents as
well as lowers the heat of the washing and prevents the
corrosion of the metals or machines used. It is in this market
that borates have faced some headwinds as, in 2009, a number of
boron compounds were listed as "toxic to reproduction" on the
European Union’s (EU) classification, labelling
and packaging (CLP) regulation. And since then, the borates
industry has faced an uphill battle to stave off impending
restrictions on the minerals in the EU’s member
Customers in different parts of the world require borates
for different purposes, according to Eti Maden.
The company demonstrated its reach to IM by
listing the markets and demand trends of their customers: "The
insulation grade fiber glass (glass wool) customers are
primarily located in North America and Europe, whereas the
textile grade fiber glass customers are placed in Asia,
predominantly China and Taiwan," Eti Maden management
"Most of our TFT-LCD glass customers are mainly located in
Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China. As for the ceramic industry,
the frit/glaze consumers are located mostly in China and India
in Asia and Spain in Europe. We have many customers active in
fertiliser market in India, Indonesia and Malaysia which can be
cited amongst the leading countries in agricultural
sector. Africa has been a promising export market in
recent years driven by demand growth in micronutrients."
Other markets make up quite a significant 19% share of total
demand and are myriad and complex in their applications
(see Table 4).
Boron products are priced and sold based on their boric
oxide content (B2O3), varying by ore and
compound and by the absence or presence of calcium and sodium.
The four borate minerals— colemanite, kernite, tincal,
and ulexite—make up 90% of the borate minerals used by
According to reports released by Erin Ventures, pricing is
"generally $500/tonne for colemanite and $800/tonne for boric
During Orocobre’s annual report Chairman
Robert Hubbard admitted that pricing for borax products
"appeared to be at the low end of the cycle", adding: "With our
production expansion plans, we are confident that we are well
positioned when economic conditions and market prices
"In recent times market conditions have been challenging
which has provided significant motivation to achieve cost
reductions and efficiencies in production," a company
spokesperson told IM.
However, Eti said that its prices were stable, telling
IM "we do not expect the current price levels
to change considerably in the global borates market over the
next years and we intend to keep the same pricing approach
intact for the years to come to avoid radical
fluctuations in prices jeopardising price predictability
in the market."
Demand for borates remained stable globally in 2016,
according to Rio Tinto. It noted "robust demand in the Americas
and India partly offset by weaker growth in China and
weather-related demand constraints in South East Asia.
China is the largest consumer of boron, where consumption
has risen by 15% pa from 2000 to 2010 and is currently growing
at their GDP growth rate of 7%, according to the USGS. The US
market is the second largest, growing at a rate in excess of
GDP growth, driven by housing recovery.
"Our global sales increased by double digit in the first
quarter of this year over the same period of the previous year.
In the meantime, our production has also increased in line with
the growth in our sales," Eti Maden management told
"It is estimated to continue growing also in 2018 with the
increasing demand in the global market predominantly driven by
Asia Pasific region, which is the largest boron consuming
market in the world despite its unprecedented, relatively
subdued demand experienced mainly over the last couple of years
due to structural adjustment period of overall economy to the
new economic policies," the company added.
Eti believe that increased demand for borates and associated
products is expected
to "steer up quite rapidly," telling
"There [Asia Pacific] and also in some other parts of the
world like in the US, we expect that it is the right time for
the overall demand to steer up rather rapidly. As a
natural consequence of this, our production can only be
expected to follow
the said trend in global demand for boron products."
*The updated Mineral Resource estimate comprises: •
Indicated Resource:52.4 Mt @ 1.79% Li2O, 19.2%
B2O3 • Inferred Resource: 83.3 Mt @
1.90% Li2O, 13.0% B2O3 • Total
Mineral Resource: 135.7 Mt @ 1.86% Li2O, 15.4%
Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and
Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)
Through a process of authorisation, REACH aims to
identify and manage SVHCs, promoting their substitution
with less hazardous alternatives where possible. It
obligates companies producing applicable substances to
apply for authorisation per substance, per use and per
A category 1B CLP listing led to borates in an SVHC,
or substances of very high concern, candidate list,
from which REACH’s Annex XIV pulls
minerals for inclusion in its authorisation
Following consideration of a number of technical
arguments from the industry, the European Chemicals
Agency (ECHA) recommended – via its 6th
prioritisation list – the inclusion of a
number of boron compounds (boric acid, disodium
tetraborate and diboron trioxide) on Annex
XIV. However, this is only the beginning of a
drawn out process of authorisation under the
EU’s new regulatory framework, Hakan
Kanli, board member of the European Borates Association
(EBA) and operations, quality and regulatory affairs
manager at Turkey’s Etimine SA,
told IM last year.
In September 2016 it was revealed that a decision on
whether or not to include boric acid, disodium
tetraborate (anhydrous), diboron trioxide and
tetraboron disodium heptaoxide (hydrate) under a 1B CLP
listing was to be postponed.
The Commission says uses of these
substances "are very diverse and concern a broad
range of different manufacturing industries, expected
to lead to a very high workload for the agency and the
Commission as regards the number and complexity of
applications for authorisation. As currently the
experience of handling authorisation applications
covering broad ranges of uses is still limited, it is
appropriate to postpone the decision on the inclusion
of these substances in Annex XIV for the time