The main non-metallurgical bauxite markets, such as
refractories, abrasives and brown-fused alumina (BFA), source
their materials in China, where the repeated shutdowns of
industrial operations imposed by Beijing due to high smog
levels created low availability of product through the
Local companies attempted to work through their stocks, but
by the end of January, these were depleted.
And supply problems intensified from there. Numerous bauxite
and fused alumina plants that did not meet environmental
standards were shut down and the operating rates at many of the
remaining producers were restrictedThis severely disrupted
bauxite and fused alumina output in China, which affected
supplies to many refractories in Europe.
Not only were there stoppages on environmental grounds, but
also Chinese white fused alumina (WFA) producers that did meet
environment standards were increasing their sales volumes to
the domestic market to meet local demand, leaving less material
available for the export market.
The ongoing supply disruption in China pushed many European
buyers to seek alternative supply to meet their
In February, European WFA spot prices jumped due to higher
freight rates and production costs.
The disruption also affected the brown fused alumina (BFA)
market. Chinese output was hit when the Chinese government
started to clamp down on polluting plants in Henan – a
main hub of fused alumina production in China.
Although some production returned to normal in
early-to-mid-February following the end of Chinese New Year
holiday, many plants that did not meet environmental
standards have not reopened, according to market sources.
Further environmental clampdowns
Concerns built up of a renewed wave of anti-pollution checks
at the end of February, after the Tianjin government announced
further plans to "greatly enhance" the city’s
environment in 2017.
As a result, producers rushed to produce as much as possible
before any potential disruption, one Tianjin-based trader told
Fears were realised, when, in March, a wave of mass shutdowns
was imposed again on fused alumina and bauxite production
facilities in parts of China, following air quality checks by
the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Elsewhere in Shanxi, the local government banned coal-fired
energy generation in the provincial capital city of Taiyuan as
part of an anti-pollution campaign on March 1.
Most refractory minerals’ production in China
is traditionally powered by coal, but under
China’s natural gas policy, industries were only
to operate using the natural gas.
As a result, most bauxite calcining operations to make
refractory-grade bauxite ceased.
Tianjin processing plants
As part of the ongoing environmental controls, processing
plants located in Tianjin port were forced to relocate in July.
Industrial Minerals heard of eight crushing and processing
plants around Tianjin port that were forced to relocate, many
of which supplied global refractory makers and Europe-based
Major bauxite supplier China Mineral
Processing’s (CMP) plant in Tianjin (see p17)
was not affected as the facility met required environmental
standards and received government approval to operate.
There was much speculation at the 23rd Bauxite and Alumina
conference in Miami, the United States, in March over the
extent that China’s reliance on imports would
Even without the pressure of the environmental controls,
delegates argued that maintaining the required purity standards
of bauxite raw material is becoming harder within China since
best-quality ore in known local resources was becoming scarcer
after many years of extraction.
This was reflected in the increased need for volumes from
outside the country. While China has steadily imported bauxite
(around half of national demand is covered by imports), sources
claim the ratio of local resources vs imports could change as
domestic supply declines.
Australia is expected to strengthen its leading position as
supplier of alumina and bauxite to China in the coming years,
Just over half (56%) of all alumina imports into China were
shipped from Australia in 2016, Andrew Wood, group executive
for strategy and development at Alumina Ltd, told delegates
during a presentation.
Monolithics seen as a growth area
This year saw the growth of interest in monolithics, with
several refractories companies making moves into this field, or
expanding (see box).
"Monolithics are a growth area, and the new plant will
enable us to further elevate product quality and consistency,"
Carol Jackson, senior vice president and general manager at
HarbisonWalker International, said. "From a broader
perspective, the new plant represents an overall strategy to
reinforce our […] position in refractories."
This was a position which was emphasized by John Maxwell,
general manager at Calderys, during the 23rd Bauxite and
Company News in 2017
- In January, Imerys announced it would divest its
newly-acquired Alteo ARC La Bâthie and Beyrède
fused alumina operations into an independent business as
part of the asset acquisition condition set by the European
- Also, in January, Orbite Technologies received its
first two customer orders of high purity alumina (HPA) from
its newly-opened facility in Cap-Chat, Quebec. However, in
April Orbite announced it had filed for a stay of
proceedings on creditors under the Bankruptcy and
- Monolithic refractory maker Calderys UK Ltd completed
the acquisition of NG Johnson Northern Ltd in February, a
UK-based company providing installation and engineering
services to the refectory industry.
- US refractory products supplier HarbisonWalker
International (HWI) earmarked $30 million to set up an
80,000 tpy monolithic refractories production facility in
Ohio, which is expected to be operational by early
- German specialty materials and flame retardants
supplier Nabaltec AG acquired total ownership of its
US-based subsidiary, Nashtec LLC.
- Imerys received the "unreserved approval" of the
European Commission on its proposed acquisition of French
specialty cement maker Kerneos.
- Alteo increased its specialty alumina products prices
in September due to rising raw material costs, citing
higher freight rates, and bauxite, caustic soda and energy