Fluorspar facing competition from alternative fluorine sources

By Michael Greenfield
Published: Friday, 01 November 2019

Fluorosilic acid (FSA) could become a widely used viable alternative source for fluorine in the future, with increasing amounts if investment in specialized plants.

Fluorspar prices have been on such a high recently that alternative sources of fluorine are becoming attractive and are now enjoying investment from chemical companies, delegates heard at Fastmarkets’ Fluorspar 2019 event over September 25-27 in London.

Fluorosilicic acid (FSA), a waste product from the phosphate fertilizer industry, can be used as a source of fluorine, which can then be turned into fluorine chemicals.

FSA accounts for around 5% of the global fluorine market, IHS Markit director Ray Will estimated, adding that this percentage is likely to grow.

Given that a "tipping point" in costs had been reached, it is now more economical for companies to produce chemicals from FSA, according to Roskill division manager Kerry Satterthwaite.

Fastmarkets’ price assessment for fluorspar, acidspar, 97% CaF2, wet filtercake, cif Rotterdam was $460-525 per tonne on Thursday September 26, down from $500-540 per tonne in the previous month but almost double the assessment from two years prior of $250-285 per tonne on October 5, 2017.

Fluorspar is also taking a larger percentage of the production costs for primary aluminium, according to Satterthwaite.

Purchases of CaF2 account for 28% of the overall costs for aluminium producers outside of China; the percentage for Chinese producers is as high as 45%. Alumina, at 24%, is the second-most costly component among all producers.

"FSA is growing although growth is not easy. But over a period of time, it may have a majority share in the production of aluminium fluoride," Sendhil Nathaan, president and chief executive officer of Indian fluorochemicals company Tanfac, said.

Cindy Shang, sales manager at Do-Fluoride, told delegates that the Chinese fluorochemicals producer - one of the largest in the world - has plans to create hydrofluoric acid from FSA. Some research and development had "already been done" but more work is needed to improve quality, she said.

Chinese fluorochemicals company Wengfu broke ground this past April on an FSA-derived chemicals plant in Kailin, China.

FSA cannot be used as a straight substitute for fluorspar because chemical producers’ systems can be sensitive, even to different types of fluorspar with varying impurity profiles. A plant would need to be configured solely for FSA or fluorspar consumption and could not simply switch from one to the other.

There could be greater investment in FSA technology if fluorspar prices remain high, the industry widely believes.