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    Optimizing zirconia technique to sharpen competitive edge
    ----Interview with Albert Render
    CEO
    Foskor Zirconia Pty Ltd
    The mining operations of Foskor in Phalaborwa South Africa started in 1951 with Baddeleyite mined as a by-product of Phosphate and Copper.

    Asian Metal: Thanks for accepting our interview. Could you please introduce your company firstly?

    Albert: The mining operations of Foskor in Phalaborwa South Africa started in 1951 with Baddeleyite mined as a by-product of Phosphate and Copper. The Baddeleyite seam was depleted in the early 90’s and an Arc furnace Fusion operation was established to process Local Zircon sand to Zirconia. The new plant was commissioned in 1991 and reached full capacity by 1993. Foskor Zirconia produces Monoclinic and Calcia stabilized Zirconia and has a capacity of 4200t per annum. Recent technological advances have increased this capacity as well as the product range and we are now able to produce Zirconia with Uranium and Thorium levels below 450 parts per million using Local Zircon sand. This new development Zirconia Z450 is a direct substitute for Baddeleyite and is being evaluated by several customers.

    Asian Metal: As the largest producer of zirconia in South Africa, what is the major advantage of Foskor Zirconia products?

    Albert: There are few advantages operating out of South Africa as we have arguably the second largest combined zircon sand deposits in Southern Africa but we compete at arm’s length with the rest of the world on supply and price. We have a small competitive advantage when supply to Europe as we are closer than shipping from China but we need to excel technologically and can now better compete with Low Uranium and Thorium materials.

    Asian Metal: Since there is almost no demand in South African local market, how does Foskor distribute the sales in overseas markets?

    Albert: The highly technological requirements of products limits the customer base to well established producers supplying the steel glass and other industries. There is basically no consumption in South Africa as the national market is too small. This has necessitated the need for Foskor Zirconia to become an exporter to all parts of the world. Through the association with distributers agents and a mobile sales and technical team, as well as strategically placed warehouses, we supply from the smallest to the biggest customers.

    Asian Metal: Would you please give a brief introduction about the latest development of your company?

    Albert: Fused Zirconia has been produced by Foskor Zirconia for over 27 years and in recent times, the higher Uranium and Thorium levels that occur in most Fused Zirconia products have become problematic in certain markets and has always been a limiting factor in the USA where levels are required to be below 500 Parts per million. We took on the challenge to produce from South African Zircon sand product with levels of Uranium and Thorium below 450 parts per million that can be sold into any market or application.

    Asian Metal: As we can see, Chinese fused zirconia prices kept going up from 2017 till Q1 2018, while in Q2 2018 began to show downtrend? Is the same situation compared with European or other Asian market?

    Albert: Prices have been driven up since May 2017 by the massive escalation in electrode prices. The situation had improved by the end of the 1st Quarter 2018 on electrodes but is now being driven by escalating zircon prices. We believe zirconia prices will remain high as further escalations are expected on zircon sand going forward to the end of 2018.

    Asian Metal: How do you expect the market trend of fused zirconia in H2 2018?

    Albert: Zirconia demand is expected to drop in H2 and will remain under pressure due to the USA’s import tariff uncertainty. It will take some time for this matter to be resolved.

    Asian Metal: Could you give us a general idea of the market state for downstream industries?

    Albert: Refractory and Glass industries are showing some signs of improvement but can be negatively affected because of tariff policies in the US and other countries protecting their own industries.
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