Boron is an important industrial mineral that is only produced in a few locations globally but plays an important role in the modern world. It is one of the most versatile elements in the world, used in everything from computer screens to fertilisers to creating powerful magnets for wind turbines.
Boron (chemical symbol B) is a rare light metal and the fifth element in the periodic table. The element boron does not exist by itself in nature. Rather, boron combines with oxygen and other elements to form boric acid, or inorganic salts called borates.
Borates are an important mineral group for modern society with demand expected to continue to grow at or above global GDP rates. There are few substitutes for borates especially in high-end applications and agriculture. These markets are expected to grow as global population grows and becomes more affluent.
Key Implications for Rhyolite Ridge
Rhyolite Ridge will produce boric acid which is the primary feedstock chemical for industry.
Essential for our modern society, demand for boron is increasing and consumers are expected to welcome additional suppliers to reduce the risks associated with being dependent on the two dominant suppliers (Rio Tinto and Eti Maden).
Further Information on Boron
For an interesting summary of boron, see the infographic on the Visual Capitalist website "Boron: Making Modern Life Possible".
Boric Acid Supply and Demand
Boric acid is a critical raw material used in more than 100 specialist applications globally. The global distribution of boric acid use is shown in the chart below:
Boric Acid End Uses (2019)
The distribution of boric acid applications is set out below.
Global Borates Demand by Use
Borosilicate glass is the main end use due to its high chemical resistance and resistance to thermal shock. Other major uses include fiberglass, liquid crystal display panels (LCD used in televisions, computers, mobile phones, computer tablets, smart watches, etc.), domestic ovenware, and laboratory glassware. Some strategic end uses are use in permanent magnets for electric motors, specialty alloys, and ceramics including armour and armour plating.
Large-scale borate resources are very rare. There are only two major suppliers of borates and they currently have over 80% of total borate sales. One is in Turkey operated by a government company and the other in the Mojave Desert in California owned by Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto’s open cut mine was started in 1957 after pursuing underground operations for many years and the Reserves are diminishing.
There are no other major mines in the U.S. or elsewhere other than Turkey. Currently, there are no announcements of any large expansions of existing producers and no new large-scale mines have been announced. Rio Tinto does have an underground project in Jadar, Serbia but this project has been in the prefeasibility study stage since 2012. No recent announcements have been made on this project.
The global demand for boric acid has been consistently growing at more than 4% and is projected to continue at this growth rate to 2024. Based on the supply and demand modelling, it is believed that the market will start to tighten in 2021 at >85% utilization rate of installed capacity. This is due to maintenance shutdown requirements, non-scheduled breakdowns, inefficient global distribution of supply, and other inefficiencies.
Demand is expected to exceed supply by 2024 without ioneer boric acid supply. This supports the assumption that the market needs additional capacity.
China will continue to be the biggest market over the forecast period, growing the fastest of the four major end use regions (over 4% annually), after growing at 5.3% annually over the past 4 years. North America is the second biggest borates market.
Boric Acid Supply and Demand (2014-2030). IONEER supply included (thousands of metric tonnes).