China’s talc industry readies for processing upgrade

By Yoke Wong
Published: Monday, 03 July 2017

The goal of cleaning up the domestic environment, set as a top priority by Premier Xi Jinping as part of China’s 13th Five Year Plan in 2016, has had a particularly adverse affect on the mining industry. Now talc producers are being targeted, Yoke Wong, IM Head of Market Reporting, finds.

China’s talc industry has been urged by the national government to upgrade its ore separation and production facilities, as part of the country’s accelerated green industrial development initiative.

Cleaning up the domestic environment was set as a top priority by Premier Xi Jinping as part of China’s 13th Five Year Plan, which runs from 2016 to 2020. 

This goal has placed a particularly heavy burden on the country’s mining industry. In order to ensure that different mineral sectors are able to meet this challenge, China’s Ministry of Information and Technology (MIIT) has engaged in a number of consultation exercises, with talc industry participants invited to provide feedback on a series of proposed reforms by 20 June.

Under the reform programme, newly-built or expanded talc projects must adhere to the provisions of China’s updated mining resources policy, which includes tough restrictions on emissions and waste, and be approved by national and local planning authorities.

Proc2  
A waiting game at the Pingdu talc mine, Shandong?
China’s talc industry have been given a clear-cut message
from the government to clean up its act, in line with the
other environmental reforms taking place in other
industrial minerals markets.
Industrial Minerals 

In order to help curb oversupply, capacity growth will be strictly controlled and priority will be given to inventory optimisation, mergers and business reorganisations and increasing industry concentration. 

All outdated capacity is set to be eliminated and the government will encourage the establishment of new talc operations in areas with the richest deposits and close to the country’s industrial zones.

No talc projects will be permitted in designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, or in areas protected due to their environmental, ecological or cultural importance. Projects will also be banned near drinking water sources and in non-industrialised parts of China.

Any talc projects that already exist in any of these restricted areas must meet even stricter environmental standards than those in approved development locations, or must cease to operate by the end of 2017. 

New technology

The Chinese government is also encouraging the domestic mining industry, including its talc sector, to invest in modern ore sorting technologies, such as light, magnetic and floatation separation, which have higher recovery rates than older forms of separation technology (see table).

Proc1  

Efficient de-dusting and noise control equipment should be used in the processing of talc, to limit particulate and noise pollution. However, many older operations do not use the appropriate machinery, and new government guidelines have sought to make these mandatory with severe consequences for companies that fail to install the necessary equipment.

The guidelines also state that at least 95% of the total annual talc ore consumed by end users should be converted into finished product and any businesses that fail to achieve this will be forced to upgrade their technology or face closure.

In particular, producers of food-grade talc, which has always been tightly regulated, have been told that they must meet new, stricter national food additive safety standards while all other grades for cosmetic, paint, paper, plastic, rubber, cable, ceramic and water-proofing have also had their specifications tightened.

Standards for gas emissions, waste water disposal and tailings storage have also been tightened, as have energy efficiency standards for processing plants.

Where possible, talc producers that work with composite ore bodies have been asked to install technology capable of recovering other non-metallic and metallic elements as by-products from the main talc operation. 

Officials focus on talc

The anti-pollution reforms which have so heavily impacted other industrial minerals industries such as magnesia (see p17), were also enforced in the talc industry in mid 2016. However, as talc beneficiation does not require calcining, production was allowed to restart sooner. 

Chinese talc production is mainly concentrated in Guangxi and Liaoning provinces, but the industry in these areas is sprawling and, for the most part, poorly regulated.

A producer based in Haicheng city, Liaoning province, told IM that production stopped for around a month from the end of April while government teams carried out environmental inspections of talc facilities in the area. 

Production was allowed to resume in late May and there were no reported international shortages of talc as a result of the stoppages.

Many producers have so far not felt the need to invest in upgrades required by the government, but the tougher regulations might eventually see a reduction in Chinese talc capacity, which could ultimately impact volumes available for export.