Feb 19

RHI seeks December restart for Norway magnesia plant

The company aims to have its fused magnesia line ‘up and running’ in Norway before year-end.

Austrian refractory maker RHI is aiming to restart fused magnesia (FM) production at its partially-mothballed facility in Norway in December, the company told IM.

After an initial announcement at the beginning of October, RHI said it is confident the FM production line at the Porsgrunn facility can be “up and running” in a short period of time.

“We are working to start up in December with a limited number of lines first. We will constantly evaluate the needs in terms of production volume to guarantee the supply to our customers,” RHI told IM.

The FM operation at the facility was mothballed in August 2016, on the back of weak market conditions that made the line uneconomical to run.

CCM production at the site meanwhile continued – which is the main reason behind the swift restart schedule RHI is pursuing, as workers have remained at the facility and operations have ticked over in the other manufacturing lines at the site.

Whether RHI’s Norwegian plant would start producing FM again has been a main point of discussion among industry players over the past few months, as the shortage of the material intensified in major consuming markets.

Prices of the material from both Chinese and European suppliers have reached new highs in October.
European FM increased further to $1,400-1,600/tonne, while all Chinese FM grades also appreciate dafter the Golden Week national holiday.

Feb 12

Optimization of Thermal and Material Properties of Refractories Used in Crematoria

The paper investigates the wear damage origins and causes of refractory products in cremation furnaces, identifies various material characteristics for service time improvements and suggests new concepts for the thermal optimisation of lining materials. There are essentially two types of furnaces available in crematoria: multi-deck furnaces and flat-bed furnaces.


Feb 05

China minerals meltdown

If ever there was a time to acknowledge and try to understand the significant influence of Chinese policies on industrial mineral supply to western markets – and there have been doubters out there with their “crying wolf” accusations in recent years – that time is now.

Indeed, if one was smart and could interpret evolving events in a “Chinese” rather than “Western” manner, that time was actually about 12 months ago (and some would argue even earlier).

The upshot is that 2017 will be remembered as the Year of the Perfect….or, Imperfect Storm (depending on whether you are a mineral producer/developer outside China or consumer of Chinese minerals, respectively).

The cumulative effects of swift and robust central government policies in cracking down on pollution, explosives provision, and unlicensed businesses, not to mention domestic market demand factors, have combined to create a storm of severe shortages and soaring prices for key industrial minerals exported from China (see Newsfile 28 July 2017: China minerals supply squeeze: hangover to 2018 likely).

The impact has been keenly felt by consumers of refractory raw materials such as calcined bauxite, brown fused alumina, dead burned and fused magnesia, and graphite. This is not a cyclical phase; the fall-out is unlikely to be temporary for many operations; this time it’s serious.

Underpinning these impacting factors on Chinese mineral supply is the much wider game of Chinese internal politics, to be played out at the imminent 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China commencing 18 October in the Great Hall of the People (see below).

The resultant tight squeeze on refractory mineral supply for export is simply collateral damage in Beijing’s grand scheme of things.

Bauxite, BFA in firing line

As one supplier put it: “Bauxite has all but now stopped from Shanxi province”. Most Shanxi calcination plants have now stopped calcination, with similar happening in Henan province, prompting a shortage of rotary calcined bauxite to crush and size by the wider processing sector for export customers, as well as feedstock for BFA production..

Leading bauxite producing and processing centres in Shanxi, Guizhou, Henan, and Tianjin were subject to another round of plant closures for government environment inspectors during August/September. Reports indicate that many of the smaller plants in Shanxi and Tianjin which were active suppliers for calcined bauxite exports have been closed and many will never re-open.

This is owing to either unaffordable required environmental upgrades or inability to secure the necessary permits (environmental and business licenses) to continue operations, or both.

Many of the small unlicensed processing plants operating in publically rented warehouses in Tianjin have either closed or are restricted to limited operating hours at night.

The strict control over explosives provision to miners during the year finally culminated in a complete ban on supply from 1 October, with security concerns over the impending 19th National Congress.

The ban is apparently for a period of at least one month, although there is no guarantee whether this will be realised, and for many mining operations, especially in northern China, the November-March winter period is normally closed to drilling and blasting.

Many Chinese processing plants and traders have been caught out with little or no stocks, with only the larger players perhaps housing now rapidly depleting stocks. The situation has enhanced the pressure on buyers: no immediate payment, then no material supplied. In many cases cash is King, and a deposit is required in advance of production, plus the highest bidder wins.

Often it is a case of a 20% deposit, then 80% within 15 days of loading date. It’s dog eat dog. Regarding brown fused alumina (BFA), a compounding factor is Chinese domestic demand reported as very strong with many BFA producers considering exports a lower priority.

Prices and European stocks

With the coming winter months and in turn the almost instantaneous switch-on of country-wide energy supply for heating, fused mineral prices – consuming much electricity – are expected to rise further. In an effort to conserve electrical energy as well as the environment, the government of Henan province is to enforce large scale BFA plant closures from November 2017 to March 2018.

Prices for BFA 95% Al2O3, big bags are ranging around US$750-770/t FOB, translating to around €770-790/t delivered Europe. Regarding calcined bauxite, one supplier exclaimed that “Prices are going up daily!” Prices for Chinese calcined bauxite, rotary 86% Al2O3, lump 0-50 mm, FOB are in the order of US$400-450/t; crushed sizes of rotary 83-85% Al2O3 FOB range US$425-455/t.

European consumers must pay an import tax of 5.2% plus freight costs, eg. US$42/t for container, which translates to delivered European prices for Chinese calcined bauxite ranging €445-465/t. There are few stocks of BFA and bauxite in Europe.

There exist some limited stocks of 4-5 month old material in Germany only, but it is unknown how long these will last, probably not too long. New supplies of BFA and bauxite are expected only at the end of December or in January 2018, and there remain concerns over the precise volumes and availability of these deliveries.

Certain European refractory mineral suppliers have increased prices by some 12% and are intending to “ration” their supply to just a fewmain customers in 2018.

CMP to start new calcined bauxite plant in Guizhou

China Mineral Processing Ltd, based in Tianjin, is apparently the only major mineral processing plant still operating in the area. This is mainly down to it securing environmental and processing permits, as well as its location in a Special Economic Zone.

However, like other processors CMP acknowledges that it also has a shortage of raw material in stock, even though the company owns a mine in Guizhou and has a calcination plant in Shanxi. In an effort to mitigate the situation, CMP is planning to start a new 120,000 tpa capacity calcination plant in November 2017 utilising both high pressure shaft and rotary kilns located near its mine in Xiuwen, near Guiyang, Guizhou province. The Xiuwen rotary kiln is to be started up by the end of October, producing 85-90% Al2O3 lump in November; long term output is envisaged at 8,000-10,000 tpm.

Typical chemical specifications of CMP’s Guizhou calcined bauxite are: Al2O3 Fe2O3 SiO2 TiO2 K2O Na2O CaO MgO BD g/cm3 90.26% 1.33% 3.40% 3.92% 0.385% 0.051% 0.066% 0.185% 3.2 The mine, exploiting a deposit of some 3m tonnes bauxite reserves through open pit and a single adit, has been in operation since June 2012, producing 100-200,000 tpa non-metallurgical grade bauxite.

CMP has all required permits and is expecting to supply the market in early 2018. Two containers of bauxite were delivered in September to Europe for testing.

The lump bauxite will be transported to CMP Tianjin in bulk for crushing and also to south China ports for export in lumps.

CMP will also be able to supply BFA since through supply of its calcined bauxite to a toll BFA lump plant.

China in change: 19th National Congress

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (NCCPC), starting on 18 October for a week, is held every five years and theoretically is the highest body within the Communist Party of China.

The Congress is expected to see President Xi Jinping consolidate his position at the helm of the world’s second largest economic power, and determine economic policy for the next few years. More than 2,000 party delegates will appoint the Party’s general secretary, as well as senior leaders to bodies that oversee economic and security functions.

While it has been projected that there will be significant changes among the top party members, President Xi is widely expected to be reappointed, and he will likely follow a similar reform trajectory, focusing on mixed ownership reform for state-owned enterprises and less orientation toward the market.

The most pressing question is whether Xi will name a successor. Xi’s tenure has been notable for a severe anticorruption campaign at all levels of the party, as well kick-starting China’s anti-pollution campaign.

For Xi’s second term as president, the party is likely to emphasize further domestic economic reform with the promotion of innovation-led development and the expansion of China’s international reach through instruments like the One Belt and Road Initiative.

Although specific economic policies are not laid out at the October meeting, who ascends to power and what is stated officially at this meeting sets a strong tone for the Third Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee in the fall of 2018, which will itself set forth an economic agenda for the next five years.

The upcoming party congress will probably focus to a great extent on Xi’s concept of the “Chinese Dream,” which is aimed to create a moderately prosperous society by 2021, at the centennial of the CPC, and to rejuvenate the nation by 2049, at the centennial of the People’s Republic of China.

The clampdown on pollution, corruption, security, and business practices, which are so impacting the minerals industry, are just part of the Beijing-led wider programme in China’s political and economic evolution.
Outlook: so what next? On the one hand it might be apparent that nothing is clear.

There will be some that will assume this situation will pass and China’s minerals industry will go back to “business as usual”. One of the issues is that there appears to be a perception among some mineral consumers in Europe that things are not quite so bad; either through a lack of knowledge or appreciation of the China situation; owing to still being able to draw down on stock from old contracts in European warehouses of their suppliers; or still receiving limited bauxite from small Chinese traders.

But this time around, given the clear heavyweight implementation of recent central government-led measures, listening to the situation in China, it is surely unlikely that things will ever be the same again.

And mineral traders and consumers should prepare for this – as will, and are, mineral producers and project developers outside China (desperately wishing they had started investing and expanding earlier). It seems that global mineral consumers are just starting to wake up to the reality that the whole market might be short in 2018, which is why certain refractory companies for example, are now trying to bring forward their 2018 negotiations and fix 2018 contracts as soon as possible.

There is a structural transformation in the country taking place, which will be forcefully pushed through by the government. This will result in the closure (and consolidation) of many small, possibly even medium sized players together with consolidation of the remaining stronger, larger and more regulated players.

Already this is happening in the magnesite business (see Newsfile 4 August 2017: Chinese magnesite supply: 80% to come under state control & consolidation), and one school of thought considers that if successful, this may become a template for successive such reforms in other mineral producing sectors.

Frankly, it is a process that China has been promising to undertake for more than a decade. Now it is finally happening. The government is also tackling the “three excesses”: excess production capacity, excessive debt, and excess employment. This is expected to continue to put a drag on economic growth for some time to come. Mineral supply shortages are set to continue, as are prices rises.

Even if the latter plateau, the sheer non-availability of physical material will remain an issue well into 2018. Suppliers and traders with mineral stocks will start to ration supply to favoured customers, if not already. The adopted practice of maintaining low inventories in response the 2009/10 GFC where many were left with excess stocks is now turning against the industry.

The refractories industry will be obsessed with finding limited raw material and haggling prices, while existing producers outside China ponder capacity expansions and those developing greenfield and brownfield bauxite and magnesia projects will be upping their game. Meanwhile, the mineral recycling sector, particularly refractories, already evolving fast, will be given additional impetus. Watch this space!

Ene 29

Henan enforces mass brown fused alumina shutdown from November

The Henan government has ramped up efforts to combat pollution by implementing yet more shutdowns of brown fused alumina production later this year. This is set to cause more global supply disruptions since output was already intermittent in recent months.

The government of Henan province in China will enforce large-scale brown fused alumina production stoppages from November 2017 – March 2018 in a bid to cut down pollution levels in the region, according to official documentation.

China is one of the biggest fused alumina producers in the world and Henan is a key fused alumina producing region.

Further output cuts will severely impact exports to the refractories and abrasive sectors globally, since production was already intermittent due to the past months of anti-pollution checks, market participants told IM.

According to the provincial capital Zhengzhou government, the province must meet the target of the environmental plan, it announced on 28 September.

Under the plan, the average concentration of particulate matter (PM2.5) between October 2017 and March 2018 must fall by 20% year-on-year, and the number of severe pollution days must also reduce by 15%.

By end of October, all steel and cement producers must complete their paperwork for emission licenses, while copper, zinc, lead smelters, aluminium, pharmaceutical and pesticide producers must obtain their licences by December 2017.

Companies releasing pollutants without licenses will be prosecuted, according to Zhengzhou government.
In a separate notice seen by IM, a list of 51 brown fused alumina producers across Zhengzhou, Jiaozuo, Luoyang,
Sanmenxia, Jiyuan, Gongyi and Lankao have been compelled by the government authority to shut down for a set period of time, between 15 November and 15 March 2018.

While it is not a blanket ban to all producers to shut down production in the next four months, 42 on the list are allowed to produce for one month in January 2018, while five have ceased operation indefinitely.

It is unclear when the environmental restrictions will end, but many market participants within and outside China believe that many small fused alumina producers will not survive this wave of checks. As a result, the total output in China could potentially drop in 2017.

Ene 22

Liaoning looks to lift standards in magnesia processing

Government incentives and academic cooperation have spawned a number of promising new environmentally sensitive projects in the capital of China’s magnesia industry, Albert Li, IM Correspondent, finds.

Xinwei Environmental Protection Technology Co., a subsidiary of Chinese industrial conglomerate Fenghua Industrial Group based in Dashiqiao, Liaoning province, may have made a significant breakthrough in deadburned magnesia (DBM) production.

In June this year, the company produced its first DBM using environmentally-friendly, self-regulating digital technology. According to the company, it uses 20% less coal than traditional DBM production technology and yield is 20% higher, while direct emissions are practically zero.

Xinwei’s project was part of the first batch of projects to be funded by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology under the country’s 12th five-year plan for 2010-2015. Its technology took five years to develop, with the help of engineers from Liaoning University of Technology, Northeastern University, Wuhan University of Technology and Beijing University.

Xinwei and its partners have constructed a prototype production line, with four large standing kilns, each with a DBM capacity of 80,000 tpa. The production line cost Chinese renminbi (Rmb) 97m ($14.4m*) to build, but its output is expected to have a market value of Rmb 300m ($44.6m).

Although Xinwei Environmental Protection Technology Co. has worked to produce DBM using less coal than traditional production, other companies in the area are still producing large amounts of air pollution, as demonstrated in the above image, taken during a visit to a suburb of Dashiqiao.

Liaoning magnesia
Liaoning province is the centre of China’s magnesia industry. Anshan, the province’s third largest city in central Liaoning, has 148 kilns with 2m tpa DBM capacity, although recently output has been around 1.3m tpa.

Anshan’s DBM kilns are fed with magnesite ore from Liaoning’s mining areas of Dashiqiao and Haicheng.
According to Weishun Sun, an engineer at Liaoning province’s Anshan Industrial Research Institute, DBM in China is typically made using standing kilns which have high energy consumption and produce large amounts of waste gas.

Newer DBM kilns tend to be rotary models, which are more energy efficient with a higher output of DBM per unit of energy consumed. They also have higher levels of automation and can be equipped with dust collectors, desulphurisation and denitrification technology to reduce pollution.

While traditional DBM kilns are around 20 metres high and six-10 metres in diameter, Xinwei’s kilns are 47.5 metres high with an outer diameter of nine metres and inner diameter of three metres.

“The kilns are sealed and have built-in dust collectors, which reduces airborne emissions,” the company told IM. “We also use digital systems to measure out and combine the raw materials, which is much more efficient and improves the quality of the final product.”

Xinwei’s digital control of raw materials and the taller, slimmer design of its kilns reduce the amount of coal needed to heat them. It takes 150-180kg coal to heat two tonnes of magnesite ore, compared to 240kg of coal to heat 2.4 tonnes of ore in traditional DBM kilns.

Xinwei’s kilns are fitted with large fans which rapidly reduce the temperature of the DBM from 1,550-1,600 ° C in the burning part of the kiln to 180°C in the cooling section.

Other magnesia technology projects

The Chinese government, which is trying to reduce pollution and increase the quality of finished materials produced from Liaoning’s magnesia industry, hopes that Xinwei can provide a model for other magnesia companies to follow.

One of the main objectives has been to encourage magnesia producers to switch from using coal to natural gas to heat their kilns, but so far the industry has been slow to upgrade their power supply.

Some companies have however invested in modernising their manufacturing technology, in the hope of currying favour with provincial and central governments.

Anshan-based Houying Group, for example, has spent Rmb 1.8m ($267,000) since 2011 on developing a caustic calcined magnesia (CCM) gas suspension calciner. The company has constructed a plant capable of processing 2m tpa magnesite ore to produce 800,000 tpa CCM and 200,000 tpa special magnesia, using a low temperature calcination process run on natural gas.

Houying says that its low-temperature technology allows it to more accurately control the heating of the ore and running the kiln on natural gas means that carbon dioxide emissions are considerably less than they would be if the plant was run on coal.

The main drawback is that the process costs Rmb 150-200/tonne ($22-30/tonne) more than traditional CCM production, making the end products more expensive.

Haicheng Demei Environmental Protection Technology Co. has spent Rmb 90m ($13,4m) since 2014 on developing a low-grade magnesite processing project. If successful, it is hoped that Demei’s technology will offer a solution to the 300m tonnes of magnesite tailings piled in waste dumps in Haicheng by recycling them into usable materials.

The company uses flotation technology to sort the magnesite waste and its production line is capable of producing 400,000 tpa magnesium sulphate heptahydrate, 200,000 tpa magnesium sulphate monohydrate, and 170,000 tpa high-purity magnesia.

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