Technical issue at Cristal’s Saudi slag project to keep high-grade titanium feedstocks tight in 2019

By Cameron Perks
Published: Thursday, 01 November 2018

Cristal’s much anticipated Saudi Arabian Ilmenite Smelter Project has encountered a technical issue, setting its start-up back to the second half of 2019.

Cristal's Ilmenite Smelter Project, in Jazan, Saudi Arabia, has experienced a technical issue, parent company Saudi Arabian National Industrialization Co (Tasnee) said this week. The issue arose during an attempted start-up of one of the furnaces, causing the furnace to be shut down on Sunday October 29.

The smelter’s planned start-up coincided with a period characterized by strong demand and tight supply for high grade titanium feedstocks, including both rutile and titanium slag.

Fastmarkets IM assessed the price of rutile concentrate min. 95% TiO2 bagged, fob Australia as stable at $1,050-1,300 per tonne on Thursday October 25, a level held since July 26, when it rose from $1,000-1,250 per tonne. This compares with $750-850 per tonne a year ago.

Fastmarkets IM's rutile concentrate min 95% TiO2 large volumes for pigment fob Australia price was $1,000-1,050 per tonne on Thursday, maintaining levels held since October 4, when it rose from $930-1,050 per tonne. This compares with $710-770 per tonne a year ago.

Cristal is working with engineering contractor Outotec, as well as Tronox, to understand what happened at the smelter project. The company intends to try the start-up again in the second half of 2019, it said.

According to data from consulting company TZ Minerals International (TZMI) in May 2018, the furnaces have a capacity of 260,000 TiO2 units of titanium slag production once fully operational. Prior to this most recent incident, TZMI expected production to ramp up to this level by 2022.

Cristal has been attempting to reach the production stage with its Jazan titanium smelter since 2015, and has pumped in millions of dollars of investment since its construction in the hope of producing chloride slag.

Tronox and Cristal, who are both major international vertically integration titanium dioxide producers, intend to merge. But the tie up is being stalled by United States regulators which have opposed the deal, citing fears it will decrease competition in the titanium dioxide market, specifically in the market for high-grade chloride-route pigment, leading to higher prices for consumers.

If Tronox is able to bring the ilmenite smelter online with its in-house expertise following the merger, it will require ilmenite as a feedstock, resulting in a possible increased demand for this mineral, Fastmarkets IM reported earlier.

For now however, ilmenite prices remain subdued, with the price of Ilmenite concentrate, 47-49% TiO2, cif China at $160-180 per tonne on Thursday, unchanged from September 20. Prices have declined from highs of around $190-200 per tonne, a price last seen in July.

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