Fluctuations in metal prices pushed operators to dive deeper into their mines instead of acquiring new ones and those in search of additional projects are finding lower grades than in the past. The complexity of the industry is quickly turning into an area of opportunity for sodium cyanide suppliers and companies developing new methods for ore processing as demand for higher grade output is on the rise.
“The sodium cyanide industry has a very critical role in the global gold and silver mining value chains, but for a variety of reasons, the industry is structurally under-invested,” said Jeffrey Davis, President and CEO of cyanide company Cyanco. “The global market for sodium cyanide is growing rapidly and there are only five major players that we consider to be top-tier producers. In effect, most of the major global gold producers only want to buy from one of these five companies. There are large gaps between demand and supply and market capacity.”
Closing the Gap
This lack of supply could be of concern as analysts speculate a higher need for the chemical in the industry. According to the report released by Persistence Market Research, Sodium Cyanide Market: Global Industry Trend Analysis 2012 to 2017 and Forecast 2017 – 2025, “there has been an increase in the demand for flotation reagents, such as sodium cyanide, due to the decreasing quality of gold and silver ores.” It states that the fluctuations in gold prices have become an additional driver along with a bigger focus on underground mines. The report claims that Latin America has shown a particular rise in local and foreign investment, which could make the region a hot spot.
In effect companies are rising to the challenge and preparing themselves for those to come. “Sodium cyanide is a global industry but companies achieve competitive advantages regionally,” says Leonardo Martinez, Business Development Manager of Cyanco. “For this reason, Mexico is a strategic market for us as we have a factory in Houston and a distribution terminal in Hermosillo, Sonora. Mexico is Cyanco’s key focus market outside the US.”
Opportunities for New Players
Despite the bright horizon that lies ahead for sodium cyanide suppliers there are certain constraints in the market that could put at risk their future in the industry. According to the sodium cyanide market report released in Persistence Market Research, various regulations in the industry could inhibit the use of sodium cyanide. “Regulations, such as the International Cyanide Management Code have defined a particular limit on the use of sodium cyanide,” it explains. “An excess amount of sodium cyanide is harmful for human consumption and as a result, there has been an increased focus on using safer alternatives.”
Although in their infancy, new technologies such as bioleaching are emerging as potential challengers. This technology is also commonly known as biomining. The American Geosciences Institute explains that biomining is the process of using microorganisms to extract metals from either ore deposits or mine waste or to clean up areas contaminated with metals. But many remain doubtful of its acceptance in the market as its cost remains relatively high.
Gabriel Rodriguez, the director for energy, science, technology and innovation at Chile’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the BBC that the technology needs help to develop. “There are still not enough microorganisms for doing that job, so more research needs to be done,” he says. And even though sodium cyanide is 125 years old, Martinez states that it is still considered state-of-the-art technology. “There is nothing that works better,” he says. “In our view, no product will replace sodium cyanide in the medium term. Alternatives like bio leaching have yet to surpass the results of sodium cyanide, because in bioleaching every single mineral must be processed uniquely and requires different solutions, whereas sodium cyanide works on a diverse range of ore bodies.”
Despite the doubts, Chile has become an early adopter of this technology. According to the BBC, companies in the country decided to adopt bioleaching techniques for mine deposits with a low percentage of copper and approximately 20 percent of the world’s copper production is processed with this technology.
New solutions like biomining are being met with hesitation but companies like Alexander Mining are firm believers that the greatest potential for innovation in the mining industry lies in mineral processing. “The role of mineral processing is key because it has a material impact on the feasibility and economics,” stated Martin Rosser, CEO of Alexander Mining. “By improving recovery by a few percent or more and hence reducing costs, operators can greatly affect returns. So far, many technology advancements been incremental rather than revolutionary, so any technology that has the potential to transform the recovery of metals at the mine site has major importance.”