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    Improve antimony ore recovery rate to ease tight supply in China
    ----Interview with Ruineng Zhu
    Vice General Manager
    Yunnan Muli Antimony Industry Co., Ltd.
    Yunnan Muli Antimony Industry Co., Ltd. is a joint-equity enterprise which is restructured from Wenshan Muli Antimony Ore (established in 1958) and integrates mining, beneficiation, smelting and product development as a whole. It is one of time-honored large antimony ores in China, and belongs to one of the largest antimony production and export enterprises in Yunnan Province, with its production capacity, market aptitudes, competitive strength and product quality ranking the top in the antimony industry of China. The company has made contributions to national non-ferrous metal career and powerful industrial province of antimony through more than 60 years of development. The company has been devoting itself to the development of antimony products and technical updating, with the annual comprehensive antimony production capacity of 10,000 tons; a series of its antimony products are well trusted by domestic and foreign customers for high and stable quality.

    Asian Metal: Hi Mr. Zhu, thank you for accepting our interview, please introduce your company and the main business first.

    Mr. Zhu: Yunnan Muli Antimony Industry Co., Ltd. is a joint-equity enterprise integrating mining, beneficiation, smelting and antimony product development with 63-year history and an annual production capacity of nearly 10,000 tons. We operates with integrity and in accordance with law, and our products are exported to Europe, America, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries and regions by virtue of stable and excellent quality. Our major products include antimony ingot, antimony trioxide and ethylene glycol antimony.

    Asian Metal: As one of major antimony ore producers in China, how do you perceive the tight supply of the material in 2020?

    Mr. Zhu: Impacted by the Covid-19, antimony ore supply in China was indeed tight in 2020. We think the reasons were as follows: Firstly, over decades or even hundreds of years of mining, antimony resources shrank, and there was a lack of exploration for new ore bodies. Secondly, under the influence of Covid-19, the frequent environmental inspections put forward higher requirements on mining technology, production equipment sewage treatment, and so on, resulting in the low operating rate of small and medium-sized mines in China. Thirdly, the Ministry of Land and Resources implemented control on total exploitation amount, and thus the application period for antimony ore prospecting and mining rights became long; meanwhile the awareness for resource protection was enhanced. Our company expects to produce about 90,000 tons of antimony ore this year, a little lower than the volume of around 100,000 tons last year.

    Asian Metal: Chinese and overseas antimony markets went through a lot of adjustment in 2020, but antimony products prices were on the rise, which predominantly benefiting from the tight supply of raw material antimony ore. In your opinion, how will the supply shortage of antimony concentrate in China be alleviated in 2021?

    Mr. Zhu: Antimony metal, as a non-renewable resource, has drawn market players' attention by its scarcity. According to the relevant data from United States Geological Survey, the measured reserves of antimony around the globe decreased from 1.8 million tons in 2014 to the current 1.5 million tons. As a result, antimony supply gradually turned into a key factor affecting the price. In order to ease the tight supply of antimony concentrate in China, we think the ecological restoration and green development of domestic mines should be advocated. Moreover, the recovery rate of antimony ore should be maximized as far as possible. The purpose that we reduce the grade from 40% to 16% is to expand the utilization of antimony ore. Furthermore, it is necessary to enhance the cooperation with surrounding countries and those with rich antimony resources, strengthen bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms, and expand the import market of antimony concentrate.

    Asian Metal: The import volume of antimony ore reached more than 60,000 tons in 2019 but that decreased by nearly 20% YOY in 2020. What are the main reasons in your opinion?

    Mr. Zhu: In 2020, the imports of antimony ore decreased by 20% year on year. One of the reasons, I think, was the insufficient operating rate of foreign miners under Covid-19. Second, the price of imported antimony kept increasing, with its price competitiveness in Chinese market declining. Third, some foreign antimony producers realized the importance of antimony resources and began to limit the export volume. Since 2010, the European Union has included 14 kinds of rare metals such as antimony, tungsten and rare earth in the shortage list, and the United States also listed antimony as one of 35 key minerals in 2018, only allowing exploration but no mining. In addition, European and American countries, Japan and other countries which saw tight antimony supply made strategic reserves and set limits on export right of antimony products.

    Asian Metal: How about your company's antimony oxide production and sales in 2020 and what is your future plan?

    Mr. Zhu: Our sales volume of antimony oxide 99.8%min reached 4,000 tons in 2020, 17.5% higher than the figure of 3,300 tons in 2019, and is expected to increase slightly in 2021 compared with 2020. Our antimony products are trusted by customers at home and abroad for their excellent and stable quality. The qualified rate and the production to sales ratio of our products both reach 100%. At the same time, our ethylene glycol antimony steadily entered the market in 2020 and was gradually known and accepted by enterprises in polyester industry. It is expected the annual sales of ethylene glycol antimony would be 1,000 tons in 2021.

    Asian Metal: What do you think of the downstream demand for antimony oxide in 2020?

    Mr. Zhu: In the second half of 2020, the government actively stimulated domestic demand and supported projects; meanwhile the effective control of the pandemic in China contributed to the rapid rise in the operating rate of major domestic infrastructure projects to more than 90%, which stimulated the demand for antimony oxide of the downstream flame retardant industry to a certain extent. Therefore, the demand for antimony oxide increased significantly in the second half of 2020 and our monthly sales of antimony oxide recorded about 400 tons, an increase of about 50% compared with that in the first half of 2020.

    Asian Metal: Your company successfully expanded the ethylene glycol antimony market in 2020. What are the developing advantages of your company?

    Mr. Zhu: "Muli" brand ethylene glycol antimony was completely launched in 2020. Our company began to develop and produce the material in 2019 and gradually got customers' recognition through team members' unremitting efforts. The ethylene glycol antimony production could reach more than 1,000 tons in 2021. We think our biggest advantage is that our company has mature technology and advanced production equipment, at the same time we own Muli mine with antimony grade of 3% in Yunnan. "Muli" brand high purity antimony oxide won customers' trust with high and stable quality, and our superior and stable resources lays a good foundation for the ethylene glycol antimony production.

    Asian Metal: How do you think of the demand for ethylene glycol antimony in the future?

    Mr. Zhu: We still have confidence in the demand for ethylene glycol antimony in the future. As a polymer catalyst, ethylene glycol antimony is mainly used in the production of PET. The polyester industry in China is continuously consolidating and expanding, with the demand for ethylene glycol antimony increasing. As far as we know, the market demand for polyester catalyst is not less than 10,000 tons per year, and the ethylene glycol antimony production in China is about 9,000-10,000 tons a year. In addition to the supply for the domestic polyester catalyst market, the material is also supplied to overseas countries in Southeast Asia and so on for polyester production. With effective control of the global pandemic, demand in overseas markets will also increase, so the supply of the material remains insufficient to meet the demand at home and abroad.

    Asian Metal: Thank you again for the interview. Wish you a prosperous business.

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