Is potash the next big mining commodity in Australia ?
Potash is a group of potassium minerals (oxides, chlorides, sulphates, nitrates and carbonates) used for fertilizer production with the most commonly extracted being potassium chloride salts deposited as sedimentary salt beds formed by the evaporation of ancient seas.
BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest mining company, said in recent days it agreed to acquire Athabasca Potash Inc. for about C$341 million ($322 million) to add to assets in Canada containing the crop nutrient potash.
Potash is far from the most glamorous product of the global mining industry, it is however, one of the most important commodities mining provides to the world.
Mining Growth in Australian & Global potash sector
Athabasca has one of the largest potash exploration permit areas in the so-called Saskatchewan basin, covering approximately 6,900 square kilometres (2,664 square miles), BHP said in a separate statement.
The Athabasca deal will give BHP access to a total exploration area of more than 14,000 square kilometres in the so-called Saskatchewan potash basin, BHP said. Saskatchewan represents approximately one-third of the world’s potash production capacity and has approximately 53% of global potash reserves. It is big business. Potash Corp of Saskatchewan is worth more than Barrick Gold – the market caps are $US39 billion and $US33 billion respectively.
Potash is the common name for potassium carbonate and various mined and manufactured salts that contain the element potassium in water-soluble form. In some rare cases, potash can be formed with traces of organic materials such as plant remains.
POTASH TECHNICAL INFO
The main potash mineral of potential economic interest on the Colorado project is sylvite – a high-potassium chloride salt (KCl) containing 63% potassium (K2O) by weight. Sylvite is water soluble and the most favoured salt mineral for potash solution mining.
The sylvite-bearing rock is called sylvinite and typically contains about 10-50% sylvite mixed with halite, minor shale beds and other salts. The main saleable product after mining and processing of the sylvinite is muriate of potassium (MOP) a sylvite and halite mix containing greater than 95% sylvite.
Potash and mining in australia
Potash is a source of potassium which, in fertilisers, raises yields and disease resistance for plants. The potash price has doubled in the past three years. Potash production rates are related to demand projections whilst salt output is roughly determined by the development required to achieve the potash target.
Potash is a general term covering several types of potassium salts, of which the most important is potassium chloride, the mineral sylvite.
Potash is a nutrient essential for plant growth, and is a cornerstone of modern agricultural fertilizers. Roughly 95 per cent of world potash production goes into fertilizer, while the other five per cent is used in commercial and industrial products – everything from soap to television tubes.
It is well-known that Australian soils are low in phosphorus. What is not so well-known is that many of our soils are also low in potassium. As a result, the animal manures that we increasingly use on our gardens in place of chemical fertilizers are also low in potassium. This has led to an increase in the incidence of plant diseases.
Australia now imports all its potash, but Reward is hoping to fill a large part of that demand. There’s just that native title barrier and, of course, further drilling before Reward can cross the production bridge. Although potash could never be described as a fungicide, its correct use can certainly minimize diseases such as blackspot, rust and powdery mildew. These appear most visibly on the leaves and fruit of affected plants, but can affect any part.
In 2005, these three emerging countries (China, India and Brazil ) consumed just 42% of the level of potash scientifically recommended for them. Now these three countries, “require a combined 25-million more potash tons annually to meet scientifically recommended application levels.” On existing farmland, China should increase its potash consumption by more than 100%, while India should increase its consumption by more than 6-million tons, and Brazil by 5-million tons, annually.
The top producing country is Canada, followed by Russia, Belarus, Germany, and the US, while other important potash producers are Israel, Jordan, Brazil, and China.
In fact, there are just 13 global competitors in the sector. They are (from biggest to smallest): Potash Corporation (PotashCorp) of Canada, Belaruskali (Belarus), Mosaic (Canada, US), Silvinit (Russia), Uralkali (Russia), ICL (Israel, Spain, UK), Kali+Salz (Germany), Sinofert (China), APC (Jordan), Agrium (Canada), Intrepid (US), Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (Brazil), and SQM (Chile).
DRILLING FOR POTASH
Solution mining costs are directly related to drilling cost and the quantity of potash produced from each well. A variety of production well configurations for solution mining are available dependent upon the geology of the deposit. Most solution mining has involved extracting potash-bearing solutions from flooded underground mines or used well designs which access the potash with vertical drill holes (technique recommended for the Colorado Potash Project).
These extraction techniques are the lowest cost solution mining operations and enable large tonnages to be mined. With improved controlled drilling methods horizontal well designs are being employed that enable thinner, high-grade beds to be cost effectively extracted but these are generally higher cost, lower tonnage operations compared to the vertical well configurations.
And, it must be noted, PotashCorp holds 32% of SQM, 28% of APC, 22% of Sinofert, and 11% of ICL. All told, PotashCorp controls 22% of global potash capacity. The first ten of the companies listed above jointly hold more than 95% of global capacity
Other potash projects
Caldera Resources In
(Caldera is engaged in diamond exploration in Australia. Three projects are located in the Pilbara region of northern Western Australia, one of which is joint ventured with Mr. Ronald Winston. The Company also has one project located adjacent to the Ellendale Lamproite Field in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Caldera also has three base metal/gold projects in South Australia.)
Potasio Rio Colorado (PRC) potash project in Argentina
Aus Potash is now a wholly owned subsidiary Sirius Exploration Plc. For further information, please go to: www.siriusexploration.com …
Corumbá iron ore mine in Brazil
Passport Metals Inc
Talon Metals Corp
Sainik Coal Mining Pvt. Ltd., an India Company
Asia Pacific Potash Corporation’s Udon Potash Project in north-eastern Thailand
Australian Potash Company Pty Ltd
( Carnarvon Basin Project, an exploration property covering approximately 4,280 square kilometers of prospective potash horizons in an extensive evaporate basin known as the Southern Carnarvon Basin in Western Australia. Previous drilling, consisting of three widely spaced oil and gas wells over a distance of 25 kilometers, has indicated the potential for significant potash and other sodium and magnesium salts)
Boulby Potash Mine, United Kingdom
In the 1960s, with fertiliser demand growing and the UK reliant on imported potash, ICI decided to develop reserves 40km from its Cleveland facilities in north-east England. The 200ha mine site is at Boulby, half-way between the Tees estuary and the port of Whitby. The design capacity is now over 1.0Mt/y of potassium chloride (KCl) product, sufficient to maintain a 55% UK market share and substantial export sales
Fertilizers Related to potash which could see some interest at some stage :
Nitrogen (urea, ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulphate), phosphate fertilizers (superphospahte, dap, map) ,potassium (muriate of potash, sulfate of potash) , compound fertilizers (npk granulated, bulk blended)
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