Zirconium oxychloride (ZOC) producers face tougher environmental standards in China, while materials costs are increasing worldwide, especially for zircon. Smaller producers are shutting down, the Chinese industry is consolidating, and ZOC prices are rising. In addition, many zircon mines are reaching the end of their life and supply chain stockpiles are dwindling, so the global forecast is for uncertain supply, growing demand and higher prices for zirconium materials. Significant additional supply from new sources like Alkane’s Dubbo Project is urgently needed.
CHINESE PRODUCTION COST DRIVERS
- There are 25 producers of zirconium oxychloride (ZOC) in China. 16 are in the eastern province of Shandong. National ZOC production is 346,000 tonnes annually.
- The Chinese government is enacting a 5-year US$277 billion plan to address environmental concerns, especially industrial pollution.
- Current means of ZOC production in China create pollutants including alkaline wastewater, acidic gas, and silicate sludge.
- Recent changes to Chinese environmental regulations that are profoundly impacting the ZOC industry include 2014 air pollution standards and 2015 emission standards for the inorganic chemical industry. There are also provincial standards that can be stricter than the national standards.
- The Chinese government aims to reduce China’s use of energy from coal to 58% by 2020, down from 64% in 2015. Shandong, one of the largest ZOC producing regions, is also the primary coal consumer.
- Natural gas is the primary fuel-switching option for industrial boilers used in ZOC production. The government is seeking additional supply and building more pipelines to increase the use of energy from natural gas from 6% in 2013 to 10% by 2020.
- Tightening regulations have their greatest impact on smaller ZOC producers who cannot afford to upgrade their emissions, disposal, storage and monitoring practices to comply. Some facilities will also need to pay for water treatment by an external party.
- Producers who do not comply risk permanent closure. Some companies disregard closure orders by continuing to operate, but visits by environmental inspectors frequently force non-compliant operators to suspend production to avoid fines.
- ZOC producers are also bearing the cost of converting coal-fired furnaces to natural gas, as well as paying more for electricity (energy from natural gas is 1.5 times more expensive than coal).
Environmental drivers alone have increased ZOC production costs by ~ 10%.
- To date, environmental enforcement has focused on water and gas discharge, but China will need to address the issue of radioactive waste, particularly as future zircon supply is likely to contain a higher proportion of Uranium and Thorium. Producers will, therefore, bear additional costs associated with safer disposal/treatment of radioactive waste.
Materials costs are also rising
- Average production cost for ZOC increased by 47% from mid-2016 to end-2017, mostly due to price increases for zircon – the raw material for ZOC production – and caustic soda, which is used in the extraction process.
- As a result of environmental clamp-downs constraining local supply, domestic prices for caustic soda have risen by more than 100% since mid-2016.
- Four consecutive price increases were announced by major zircon producers in 2017, with combined increases up to US$300 per tonne (~30%).
- In first-half 2018, some zircon producers announced price increases of US$180-US$300 per tonne. Prices are expected to trend higher after one of the major producers announced a US$175 per tonne increase for second-half 2018.
- The weighted average price for premium-grade zircon is estimated at around US$1,500 per tonne FOB for 2018, and at US$1,580 per tonne FOB for 2019.
Consequently, the price of ZOC is increasing.
- Following several years of weak market conditions, with huge stockpiling in the supply chain and declining prices, ZOC prices recovered strongly in 2017.
- The profit margin for ZOC producers is much greater than the margins of downstream users. Surveyed Chinese producers indicated that they could reduce their margin if prices become unacceptable to customers.
- However, ZOC consumers have indicated that since there are currently no substitutes for ZOC, they will be forced to accept any price increases and pass the cost on to their customers.
Uncertain supply, growing demand
- The Chinese ZOC industry is consolidating. Uncompetitive plants are closing, leaving large-scale companies, integrated producers with competitive downstream products, and companies with by-products.
- In addition, a number of existing operations are expected to close due to end of mine life.
- Global supply of zircon from existing operations is predicted to decline rapidly, down 4-5% per annum to 2025, to approximately 800,000 tonnes.
- Global demand for zircon was 1.1-1.2 million tonnes in 2017 and is expected to rise beyond this in 2018. The ceramic sector is expected to underpin global zircon consumption growth in the future.
Significant additional supply from new projects will be needed to meet global supply deficit
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ON CHINA ZOC INDUSTRY
(click the image below or here to download the full report)
- Impact of tightening regulations on ZOC industry by TZ Minerals International Pty Ltd, Oct 2017
- China ZOC Price Forecast by TZ Minerals International Pty Ltd, June 2018
- Feedstock and Zircon Market Study by TZ Minerals International Pty Ltd, Feb 2018
Multi commodity miner and explorer, Alkane Resources (ASX: ALK) has released its quarterly activities report to 30 September 2018.
Production at Tomingley Gold Operations was in line with forecast at 15,634 ounces, with gold sales totalling 6,656 ounces generating revenue of A$11.4M at an average price of A$1,720/ounce.
During the quarter Alkane announced it had made an investment into gold exploration company Calidus Resources Limited (ASX:CAI) and approved an investment into gold exploration company Explaurum Limited (ASX:EXU) subject to Explaurum shareholder approval.
The Group’s cash and bullion position totalled A$82.4M, with A$59.6M in cash and bullion on hand at fair value of A$22.8M, an increase of A$2.4M from the previous quarter.
Highlights are pasted below and the full quarterly can be found here:
Tomingley Gold Operations
- Development of the underground operation has been approved and execution has commenced.
- Quarter Results
- Gold production was in line with forecast at 15,634 ounces.
- Site operating cash costs were A$763/ounce with AISC of A$972/ounce.
- Gold sales were 6,656 ounces for revenue of A$11.4M at an average price of A$1,720/ounces
- Guidance for FY19 is unchanged at production of 30,000 to 35,000 ounces of gold at an AISC of A$1,300 to A$1,400 per ounce. Included in this is budgeted expenditure of $5M on rehabilitation for which provision in Alkane’s accounts has already been made.
- The Group’s cash and bullion position totalled A$82.4M, with A$59.6M in cash and bullion on hand at fair value of A$22.8M, an increase of A$2.4M from the previous quarter.
- In accordance with its strategy of investing part of its cash balance in junior gold companies and projects that meet its investment criteria the company has:
- Made an investment into gold exploration company Calidus Resources Limited (ASX:CAI).
- Approved an investment into gold exploration company Explaurum Limited (ASX:EXU) subject to Explaurum shareholder approval.
- Financing effort continues as global supply uncertainty remains:
- The United States has imposed tariffs on Chinese zirconium chemicals and powders.
- Ferro-niobium demand is increasing as steel companies are looking to substitute ferro-vanadium, which is facing short supply and rapidly escalating prices.
- China’s rare earth permanent magnet industry continues to forecast increasing demand.
- Continued grade and mineralised intercepts in the extensive regional exploration program that is underway around TGO. This program has the objective of defining additional resources that have the potential to be mined either via open pit or underground operations and fed to TGO.
The Board of multi-commodity miner and explorer, Alkane Resources Limited (ASX: ALK) “Alkane” has approved an investment into gold exploration company Explaurum Limited (ASX:EXU) “Explaurum” subject to Explaurum shareholder approval. This represents Alkane’s second strategic investment following its financing transaction with Calidus Resources Limited announced on 17 October 2018.
Subject to Explaurum shareholder approval, Alkane will invest A$8.0 million in Explaurum through placement of 66,666,675 ordinary shares at an issue price of 12.0 cents per share to become a 12.2% shareholder in Explaurum.
With a strong cash position, Alkane’s strategy for increasing shareholder value includes investing part of its cash balance in junior gold companies and projects that have passed its due diligence review and investment criteria, namely investments that have high exploration potential and/or require near-term development funding. Alkane’s cash and bullion position as at 30 September 2018 was A$82.4M.
Welcome to Alkane Resources’ Annual Report for 2018. The year has seen excellent performance in the Company’s gold activities, promising exploration results, and continued preparation for developing the Dubbo Project, which will supply zirconium, hafnium, niobium and rare earth elements to the global market.
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Multi-commodity miner and explorer, Alkane Resources (ASX: ALK) has confirmed high grade gold mineralisation at a number of prospects in the Tomingley regional program.
Alkane is undertaking an extensive regional exploration program focused on the immediate mine are to the south of Tomingley as part of the plan to provide additional ore feed, either at surface or underground, in the future to Tomingley Gold Operations.
More details on the prospects can be found in the full ASX announcement here.
The Board of multi commodity miner and explorer, Alkane Resources (ASX: ALK) “Alkane” has approved an investment into gold exploration company Calidus Resources Limited (ASX:CAI) “Calidus”, which has been executed today. With a strong cash position Alkane’s growth strategy for increasing shareholder value includes investing part of its cash balance in junior gold mining companies and projects that meet its investment criteria, namely potential investments that have high exploration potential and/or require near term development funding. Calidus, with its excellent exploration potential and path through feasibility to development fits the criteria well, and Alkane’s involvement is expected to generate superior returns for both companies’ shareholders.
Alkane’s Managing Director, Nic Earner, said “The Calidus investment represents an exciting opportunity for Alkane shareholders. Working collaboratively alongside the existing Calidus board and management team, Alkane brings additional capital and operating capability that will bolster the Warrawoona Gold Project as it moves through the critical feasibility phases in 2019.”
Alkane’s Board has approved the development of the underground mining operations at its Tomingley Gold Operations. Highlights of the development plan approved by the Board include:
- 93,000 ounces of gold recovered over a 40-month development at cash costs estimated to be A$1,100 – $1,200 per ounce.
- Ground support work for the portal will commence late in 2018 with development commencing shortly after in early 2019.
- First ore is expected to be produced from underground in mid-2019 and stockpiled on the surface until processing recommences in the final quarter of 2019.
- Cash outflow to recover first ore is estimated at A$25M. One of the first priorities underground is to establish a drill position to target further extensions along strike and at depth as geologically mineralisation is open under all three open cut pits. The Company’s cash and bullion position at the end of the previous quarter was A$80.0M.
The profit before tax of A$31.3 million was the highest recorded by the company since 2012, the year in which the company sold its share of McPhillamys gold deposit.
The profit was largely driven by excellent production and cost performance at the Tomingley Gold Operation where full year guidance was met with 78,533 ounces of gold produced at an all in sustaining cost (AISC) of A$1,002 per ounce.
As at 30 June 2018 the company’s cash and bullion position totalled A$80.0 million, with A$72.0 million in cash and bullion on hand at fair value of A$8.0 million.
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