The Boron Group – Boron
Boron is one of seven metalloids, the others are silicon, germanium, arsenic, antimony, tellurium and polonium. Metalloids have both metallic and non-metallic properties and can form alloys with metals. They are typically brittle, semi conductive, have a metallic lustre and some contract on melting.
The boron group makes up group 13 of the periodic table. The other elements are the metals aluminium, gallium, indium, thallium, and possibly nihonium. I shall post on aluminium separately and on gallium, indium and thallium together.
Boron does not occur in the elemental state in nature but combines with oxygen to form boric acid (B2O3) and with salts to form borates. Four borates account for 90% of industry use; colemanite (Ca2B6O11.5H2O), kernite (Na2B4O7.4H20), tincal (Na2B4O7.10H2O) and ulexite (NaCaB5O6 (OH)6.5H2O).
Boron is primarily used in glass (50% of borate consumption) ceramics (10%), detergents (5%), and agriculture. It also has some smaller, but fascinating, uses, such as in control rods in nuclear power plants, as a fire suppressant, in cosmetics and for corrosion inhibition.
The main producers are Turkey, Chile, Argentina and the US. The global market is over 2Mt of B2O3 equivalent. The market is expected to grow at about 3% CAGR. The two largest producers are EIi MADEN of Turkey with a 50% market share and Rio Tinto (production from California) with a 30% share. In 2019 boric acid traded at USD719/t.
There is limited ASX boron exposure, below are four companies with boron projects, including RIO.
American Pacific Borates Ltd (ASX: ABR, MCAP AUD55M)
The company has two projects in the US, Fort Cady in California and Salt Wells in Nevada. At Fort Cady the company has completed a DFS and plans to develop an initial operation to produce 40ktpa of sulphate of potash (K2SO4) and 6ktpa of boric acid (H3BO3). The Salt Wells project is an early stage exploration play for borates and lithium.
Orocobre Limited (ASX : ORE MCAP AUD558M, also TSX: ORL)
Best know as a lithium producer from brine in Argentina, the company also owns Borax Argentina SA, acquired from RIO in 2012. It produces minerals, refined products such as borax anhydrous and boric acid. The operations had been marginal but returned to profitability in 2019.
Ioneer Limited (ASX: INR, MCAP AUD133M)
The company holds the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron project in Nevada. A positive PFS has been successfully completed and the company is awaiting results of a DFS within the nex1t few weeks. From PFS results the company envisions producing 20ktpa lithium carbonate and 170ktpa boric acid.
Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO, MCAP AUD34B)
RIO, via US Borax, is one of the largest Boron suppliers in the world, mining 1mtpa and supplying 30% of global demand, from its mine at Boron in California.