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Research Last Updated: Jun 6, 2019 - 4:17:06 PM

EcoMag is Turning Pilbara Wastewater Into a New Billion Dollar Export Industry
By Water Network, 5/6/19
Jun 5, 2019 - 12:02:42 PM

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An innovative ​Australian ​project to ​produce high-​value magnesium ​carbonate ​from ​existing waste-​water streams ​from salt ​production in ​the Pilbara has ​the potential ​to ​establish a ​lucrative new ​export industry ​in the region, ​modeling has ​shown. ​

Emerging ​Australian ​specialty ​chemicals ​producer EcoMag ​Ltd (“​EcoMag”) ​plans to ​recycle waste-​water ​streams (known ​as bitterns) ​generated by ​Pilbara sea-​salt producer ​Dampier Salt, ​to extract ​valuable ​hydrated ​magnesium ​carbonate (HMC).​ HMC is a high ​purity, high ​value magnesium ​product with ​multiple ​applications,​ including ​in smart phones ​and as a flame ​retardant, and ​currently ​fetches circa ​US$1,250/tonne. ​

EcoMag’s ​proposed ​processing ​facility at ​Karratha, ​better known as ​the capital of ​WA’s ​multi-billion ​dollar LNG ​export industry,​ is expected to ​initially ​produce ​approximately ​80,000 tonnes ​of HMC per year.​  ​Construction ​will cost ​approximately $​130m according ​to feasibility ​study estimates.​

However, ​modelling ​undertaken as ​part of a ​recently ​completed study ​by EcoMag has ​confirmed the ​volume of ​bitterns ​available for ​processing is ​much larger ​than initially ​considered, and ​could ​potentially ​support ​vastly ​higher ​production ​levels. ​

“We ​always knew ​there was ​substantial ​potential to ​expand ​production,​” EcoMag ​General Manager ​Shaun ​Triner said. ​“Now we ​know how much, ​and it’s ​better than we ​thought.” ​

As part of the ​ongoing ​regulatory ​approval ​process, EcoMag ​is providing ​bitterns ​dispersal ​modelling to ​the W.A. ​Department of ​Water and ​Environmental ​Regulation, ​taking into ​account 45 ​years of data ​for ​evaporation ​rates, rainfall ​patterns, tides,​ and extreme ​weather events ​such as the ​cyclones that ​occasionally ​strike the area.​

“​On average, we ​utilise only ​ten percent of ​the total waste ​stream,” ​Mr. Triner said.​ “​That’s ​not to say we ​could ​reliably expand ​production ten-​fold because ​there is ​significant ​variability ​from year to ​year, but it ​looks like ​the ​resource could ​support ​production ​levels around ​six to eight ​times the ​initial plant. ​

Mr Triner ​noted that ​magnesium is ​the third most ​abundant ​element ​dissolved in ​seawater. The ​first two, ​ sodium ​and chlorine ​are removed (as ​sodium chloride)​ by sea-salt ​producers and ​Dampier Salt is ​only one of ​five such ​sea-salt ​producers in ​Northern ​Western ​Australia. ​Given that ​bittern ​resources are ​continually ​replenished ​by the ​ocean, their ​potential for ​exploitation is ​practically ​uncapped. ​

EcoMag Chief ​Executive ​Officer Tony ​Crimmins said ​that even at ​the initial ​proposed ​plant ​capacity, the ​project would ​add significantly ​to Karratha’​s manufacturing ​output, ​generating ​around $130 ​million of ​revenue per ​year, almost ​all of it from ​exports.  ​

“​Karratha’​s annual ​manufacturing ​output is ​around $740 ​million, so ​our ​initial plant ​would represent ​a significant ​boost,” ​he said. “​But if, ​down the track, ​we were able to ​expand eight ​times, it ​could more ​than double ​current ​manufacturing ​output. It ​could ​potentially ​bring the ​region a ​billion ​dollars in ​annual revenue, ​not to ​mention ​raising around $​25 million ​annually in ​royalties ​for ​Western ​Australia. ​

“However,​ it’s not ​all about the ​money. The ​potential ​social and ​community ​benefits are ​equally ​important.​” ​Initial plant ​construction is ​expected to ​generate 110 ​jobs and the ​company has a ​strong policy ​of preferring ​local suppliers.​

“This ​reflects ​EcoMag’s ​commitment to ​the regional ​community,​” Mr ​Crimmins said. ​“It also ​ensures that ​local ​expertise and ​specific ​knowledge of ​EcoMag’s ​operation is ​available for ​maintenance and ​expansion.​” ​

Ongoing ​operation of ​the initial ​plant is ​expected to ​provide 25 ​direct full-​time jobs for ​permanent ​residents ​of the nearby ​city of ​Karratha and ​this number ​would increase ​substantially ​as production ​expands. ​EcoMag’​s project ​would also ​represent a new ​source of ​business for ​Pilbara ports, ​importing bulk ​shipments of ​processing re-​agents and ​exporting ​magnesium ​carbonate. ​

“Any new ​project offers ​regional ​benefits of ​course,” ​Mr. Crimmins ​said. “​What sets ​EcoMag apart is ​that our ​business is ​entirely ​outside the ​boom and bust ​cycle and the ​fly-in-fly-out ​employment ​practices of ​the ​resources ​industry that ​dominates the ​region. We ​would offer ​both permanent ​employment and ​economic ​diversification.​” ​

The City of ​Karratha has ​long recognised ​the benefits of ​resource ​related ​investment but ​has also ​stressed ​the ​importance of ​diversifying ​the region’​s economic base.​

Specialty ​chemicals is a ​trillion dollar ​industry ​worldwide, but ​there are very ​few specialty ​chemicals ​businesses ​in Australia. ​EcoMag’s ​magnesium ​recycling plant ​utilises a ​proprietary ​process ​developed in ​South Korea ​to produce ​magnesium ​carbonate at ​extremely high ​purity levels. ​

“​That’s ​important in ​two ways,”​ Mr Crimmins ​said. “​Firstly, in ​speciality ​chemicals ​markets, price ​is driven ​by purity, ​and we produce ​the highest ​levels ​available. ​Secondly, our ​product is ​unusually ​flexible. The ​more  ​you ​understand ​international ​magnesium ​markets the ​more astonishing ​you realise ​this metal is. ​Most people ​know that ​it goes into ​human health ​supplements but ​they don’​t realise ​it’s used ​in plastics and ​rubber,  ​steelmaking,​ ​fertilisers, ​toughened glass,​ water ​treatment, and ​a wide variety ​of foods and ​beverages, just ​to name a ​few ​applications. ​

“​Critically, ​magnesium ​buyers ​don’t ​just want ​magnesium. They ​look for a ​particular ​compound of ​magnesium ​with minimal ​impurities and ​specific ​particle sizes, ​surface areas, ​etcetera. Most ​producers find ​it very ​difficult ​to meet these ​requirements ​but we’ve ​been providing ​samples to ​distributors ​for a year now, ​verifying ​that ​we can ​meet their ​stringent ​requirements ​with relative ​ease. This is ​partly because ​of the nature ​of our process ​and partly ​because our ​Chief ​Technology ​Officer, ​Professor Tam ​Tran is a world ​leader in ​hydrometallurgy.​” ​

Australia is ​the third ​largest sea-​salt producer ​in the world ​and EcoMag’​s process has ​been optimised ​to extract ​magnesium from ​the discarded ​brines and ​produce ​specialty ​magnesium ​chemicals ​with ​characteristics ​demanded by a ​broad range of ​buyers in a ​mature ​international ​market.  ​

“​That’s ​why we see such ​scope for ​expansion,​” Mr ​Crimmins said. ​“It’​s why we’​re see ​EcoMag as ​conceivably a ​billion dollar ​business in the ​making with ​the ​potential to ​drive a ​specialty ​chemicals ​renaissance in ​Australia. ​

Source:Ocnus.net 2019

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