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Fluorspar: The Sweet Spot for Quebec‘s Steel and Aluminium Industries
In September 2019, acid-spar traded between $430-500 USD/t (97% CaF2, FOB China). “Chinese fluorspar spot prices for both metspar and acidspar have reached multi-year highs in 2018 and 2019, with lower-grade metspar sometimes bizarrely costing more than >97% purity acidspar. The turnaround in supply/demand was dramatic... The price of fluorspar generally is on a long-term upward trend.“ (Roskill, November 2019)
Acid-spar accounts for 60-65% of global fluorspar production and the 2 main industry applications are (1) the manufacture of hydrofluoric acid (HF), the primary source of all fluorochemicals, and (2) the manufacture of aluminium fluoride (AlF3) for aluminium smelters. Met-spar accounts for about 37-40% of the fluorspar market with the main application for steel smelters. (Source)
Commerce Resources Corp. recently provided an update on its metallurgical program focused on upgrading the Ashram REE Deposit‘s fluorspar content to acid-spar grade. This program has been underway for several weeks and is being completed in part due to “requests from the industry for acid-spar grade fluorspar samples“, the company noted and added that “this interest has been increasing in recent quarters along with the price of the commodity“.
The work may also improve recoveries of the REEs into the primary REE mineral concentrate as the current fluorspar concentrate still contains some REE minerals that will be removed during the upgrading to acid-spar.
Further, considering the state of the fluorspar market and the historical high-grade fluorspar drill intersections at its Mallard Prospect on its niobium property, it‘s no wonder why Saville Resources Inc. is now also putting some focus on its fluorspar potential (see today´s news).
However, it‘s all the more a wonder that fluorspar – the industrial mineral deemed critical by governments worldwide – is practically unknown to the investment world, despite alarming supply-demand fundamentals, a market price that is poised to escalate over the next years, and its vital, irreplaceable importance for many key industries such as aluminium, steel, cement, and fluorochemical derivatives. Note that fluorspar also plays a pivotal role in the performance of lithium-ion batteries, a relatively new sector putting even more pressure on fluorspar‘s limited supply side.
Similar to the meteoric rise of rare earths in 2010, followed by lithium, cobalt, and graphite, there‘s a distinct possibility that fluorspar will soon be getting the attention it deserves as it may just be the most important and least known industrial mineral today. It‘s part of everyone‘s life, but most people and investors don‘t understand what it is.
Despite few public companies focusing on fluorspar today, global exploration for new fluorspar sources is anticipated to increase sharply over the next years and as such investors will have the opportunity to participate in the pulsating fluorspar market, especially when doing their homework of getting to know all about this critical mineral.
The Elixir For Major Industries
Of all the known elements, fluorine is the most chemically reactive element and as such it does not surprise that global fluorspar demand is dominated by the chemical industry. Fluorspar is an essential raw material in many modern consumer products. As an example, an estimated half of all new medicines contain fluorspar derivatives.
Fluorspar (the Latin verb “fluo“ means “flow“) is heavily used for the production of aluminium and steel. Acid-spar is used to manufacture aluminium fluoride (AlF3), which acts as a flux to lower the bath temperature in the production of aluminium. Met-spar acts as a flux in steel production to lower the melting temperature and increase the chemical reactivity to help the absorption and removal of sulphur, phosphorous, carbon, and other impurities in the slag. Other applications further downstream are refrigerants, ceramics, glass, plastics, healthcare equipment, construction materials, electronics, motor vehicles, pharmaceuticals, and other fluorochemical derivatives.
For many key industries, there exist no substitutes for fluorspar. As fluorspar is consumed by the industry, it cannot be recycled, it must be mined.