We are a chemical company - not a miner

7 Oct 2015

We’re very excited about our project to supply high-purity alumina (HPA) in time for what is expected to be a huge surge in demand driven by next generation electronics.

HPA is the crucial raw material in synthetic sapphire glass – the super-strong transparent covering for smartphone screens that makes scratches and cracks a thing of the past.

We expect our project to produce about 4,000 tonnes of 99.99% (4N) HPA a year, based on our 100%-owned deposit of 65 million tonnes of aluminous clay (called kaolin) at Meckering in Western Australia, about 130km east of Perth.

We will mine and beneficiate the clay at Meckering and then ship it to the processing plant we will build in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, where we’ll process it into 4N HPA.

We will mine the kaolin but we’re not a miner. We are a chemical processing company and it is in Malaysia where our intellectual property will make the difference.

However, owning the magnificent low-impurity kaolin feedstock certainly gives us a head start.

The Meckering deposit has already been purified and processed by a natural weathering process over millions of years. It contains very low levels of the impurities that usually plague kaolin deposits, including iron, titanium, sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium.

The main impurity is insoluble silica, which can be easily filtered during the processing. The deposit can go straight to 4N HPA in one single process step.

We will mine, wet-screen and dry the clay at Meckering into beneficiated kaolin. There is no chemical treatment at this stage: the beneficiation process involves wet-screening – effectively sieving-out oversized pieces of silica sand – and then drying the clay.

The process takes the clay from 19% alumina at 9% moisture to about 27% alumina at 0.5% moisture.

After beneficiation, we will ship the clay to Malaysia. There, our plant will use a three- stage process we’ve designed using off the shelf technologies to process it into 4N HPA.

The process will use a hydrogen chloride (HCl) leach and crystallisation process that recycles HCl. This process is critical in getting our plant into the lowest cost quartile of HPA producers.

Other things that help this are the minimal impurity removal costs and the fact that Malaysia is a low-cost country. The cost of labour and many inputs are certainly lower than Australia.

We expect to be not only one of the world’s largest producers of HPA but also one of the lowest-cost. The capital costs of our plant are likely to be 50–60% lower than in Australia and operating costs about 40% lower.

The plant will cost us about US$77 million and have a pay-back period of about 3.8 years.

HPA at this level of purity currently sells for US$23,000 a tonne but our estimated operating cost is just US$8,200 a tonne. That should give us – at current prices – a margin of about US$14,800 a tonne.

And this plant will produce HPA into a serious supply deficit. If all of the 500 million smartphones sold a year used sapphire glass technology, that would require an extra 15,000 tonnes a year of HPA – almost four times the capacity of our plant, which we expect to start building early in 2016.

Can you see why we’re excited?

Read more at www.altechchemicals.com