Boom. Boom. Boom.

By Siobhan Lismore-Scott
Published: Thursday, 14 December 2017

Twelve months ago I wrote that minerals producers and traders would be glad to see the back of 2016. Of low prices and an oversupplied market. Of few peaks and many troughs. If 2016 was the year of bad news, then 2017 was the year that China limped out.

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Over eight pages (pp41-49) in this issue, Industrial Minerals covers a view of 2017 in different minerals markets. For most of these, an anti-pollution clampdown in China reduced production - facilities were shut down for failing to adhere to the strict environmental parameters announced by the central government at the end of 2016.

What has become clear is that the stockpiles are running low or are completely depleted. And that production is not simply just switching back on after the checks. These shutdowns have undoubtedly been the story of 2017 in our markets.

And not just in our upstream, raw materials markets. Conversations with those trying to source chemicals to be used in food – which contain industrial minerals – reveal that every market is struggling. Sources tell me that even large drinks manufacturers are unable to secure supply of specific chemical compounds for drinks. 

Graphite goes into the black

Securing sufficient supplies of graphite had not been problematic for consumers over the past few years. Until months ago, most perceived the global graphite market to be lingering in a situation of oversupply and sluggish demand, deputy editor Davide Ghilotti writes in his feature on the refractory and battery mineral (pp34-38). 

While it is true that sales to the battery sector were increasing, buyers knew they could place an order on almost any day and be certain of finding the material and at a good price. But in 2017 that changed. 

With the environmental-related clampdown triggering a rebound in prices, local sellers seized the opportunity they had been awaiting for years, drastically reducing availability, leading prices higher still in the fourth quarter.

Lithium

In lithium, many have turned to produce battery grade lithium hydroxide in 2017. This has become the favourite lithium compound used in lithium-ion batteries by cathode and battery makers.

SQM, Albemarle and FMC are among producers who opted to increase their lithium hydroxide output throughout 2017 to fulfil battery and cathode makers’ consumption needs.

SQM’s total lithium hydroxide capacity will rise to 13,500 tonnes per year from 6,000 tpy by the end of 2017. 

FMC Corp doubled its battery-grade lithium hydroxide total capacity to 18,000 tpy in 2017.

Albemarle Corp will expand its total capacity of lithium products in Chile, to more than 80,000 tpy by 2020 from 44,000 tpy in 2017. 

Orocobre Ltd expects total production of lithium carbonate for the 2017-2018 financial year of about 14,000 tonnes.

For more information on lithium markets in 2017, visit www.indmin.com/lithium 

Merged opportunity

One of the largest news stories this year was the merger of RHI and Magnesita to form a single company – RHI Magnesita. Davide Ghilotti spoke to new CEO Stefan Borgas about the different markets the company will target and its plans for the future (pp31-32).

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