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.
Uses of Boron
Borates are crucial because of their versatility – and as a result, they play an integral role in emerging economies as they modernise.
Boron has an incredible range of properties that make it very useful:
- Makes glass resistant to heat or chemicals
- Absorbs infrared light, useful for energy efficiency
- Provides essential micronutrient for plants
- Improves the performance of cleaning products
- Absorbs neutrons for nuclear containment
- Limits growth of bacteria and fungi on wood products
- Prevents corrosion in many settings
- Making advanced materials such as super-magnets
Borates are used in hundreds of applications with the largest use being for glass:
Boron is a critical and irreplaceable component in the fiberglass used in insulation.
It is also essential to making borosilicate glass that is resistant to thermal shock and high temperatures (such as Pyrex glass).
Supply of Boron
Boron is widely distributed but rarely found in economic concentrations.
Deposits of borates are associated with volcanic activity and arid climates, with the largest economically viable deposits located in the Mojave Desert of the United States, the Alpide belt in Turkey, and the Andean belt of South America.
The supply of boron is dominated by two companies:
- Rio Tinto plc from the Boron Mine in California (the only major mine in production in the USA)
- Eti Maden AS from several mines in Turkey (with exclusive, nation-wide rights to mining borates)
Rio Tinto and Eti Maden each have approximately a 40% share or more of the boron market. The balance of production is mostly from various suppliers in China, Argentina, Chile and Russia. None of these other suppliers are capable of dramatic expansions in production capacity.
With Turkey having roughly 73% of global boron reserves, Eti Maden is likely to remain the leader in the borates industry.
Geographically, boron demand is dominated by Asia (46%) and North America (32%).
Boron is used in a wide variety of products and demand for some of these products are growing rapidly as societies become more affluent and demand larger amounts of simple products such as insulation and glassware.
The borates market typically grows at levels least equal to global GDP growth. Boron demand growth is driven by:
- Urbanisation - Boron is widely used in cities and many building materials, in applications such as heat-resistant glass windows, glazed ceramics, television screens and electronics.
- Energy efficiency - Boron is used in energy-saving applications such as fiberglass insulation and glass tubes for solar panels. Borates are also used to create the high-powered magnets in applications like wind turbines.
- Agriculture - essential micronutrient for fertilisers.
Global borates demand is circa 2 million tonnes per annum of B2O3 equivalent worth about US$3 billion.
A 4-5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in boron demand is predicted.
Boron products are generally priced and sold based on their boric oxide content (B2O3)
Boric acid (H3BO3) is equal to B2O3 times 1.78.
The price of boric acid has generally ranged from US$700 to US1,000/tonne.
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 would 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”.