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How much is a pound of niobium?

The editorial board of EastRussia tried to understand the situation with Zashihinsky GOKom

How much is a pound of niobium?

A mining and processing plant (GOK) may appear in the Irkutsk region in 2018, which is able to cover the needs of the Russian industry in rare metals - tantalum and niobium.

The cost of the project, which is being implemented by Technoinvest Alliance, is 12,9 billion rubles, if implemented, the regional budget will receive about 2,2 billion rubles of taxes annually. Now the project claims for state co-financing. Industry analysts suspect that the Zashikhinsky GOK will have high production costs, which means that its products will be difficult to compete with raw materials imported into Russia.

Something went wrong

The GOK is supposed to be built at the Zashikhinskoye deposit of rare metals, the license for which has been owned by Technoinvest Alliance since 2005 (30% of the company's capital belongs to the structure of the ChTPZ Group). Back in 2011, the investor announced that in 2014 he would launch the first stage of the GOK to process 250 thousand tons of ore per year. A source familiar with the situation to EastRussia said that the initiator of the project was faced with a problem: the previously developed German technology for processing ore at the deposit "did not go", and the investor had to look for an alternative. As a result, the planned launch of the GOK was postponed to 2018. The construction of the GOK itself, designed to process 1 million tons of ore, as indicated by the government of the Irkutsk region, will begin in 2016.

The project assumes that the plant will produce concentrate with 44% niobium content and 4,4% tantalum content, then it is supposed to be delivered to the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Plant (AEKhK, Irkutsk Region, part of the TVEL company). The latter intends to set up production of pure compounds by 2018 - tantalum pentoxide (up to 200 tons per year) and niobium pentoxide (up to 2 thousand tons per year). For AEKhK, the Zashikha project is part of a plan for the development of alternative industries. In 2014, the plant, which was engaged in the production of uranium hexafluoride and uranium enrichment, stopped the main sublimate production - now the AECC needs more or less adequate replacement.

According to CJSC Technoinvest Alliance, the total investment in the Zashikhinskoye field development project is estimated at 12,9 billion rubles. As of the end of 2014, the investor financed 580 million rubles - the funds went, among other things, to geological exploration, design work, and research and development.

All twenty yards

For the budget of the Irkutsk region, this project is very important. According to preliminary calculations, from 2018 to 2028, the regional treasury will be able to receive almost 22,2 billion rubles from the operating mining and processing plant in taxes. When recalculated for the annual budget, it turns out about 2,2 billion rubles, of which about 1,86 billion is income tax, 365 million - on property. For comparison, the Irkutsk Oil Company in 2014 paid to the Irkutsk budget (its total revenues amounted to 100 billion rubles) 4,9 billion rubles, the Polyus Gold structure - about 3,4 billion rubles.

In addition to the enrichment technology, the GOK has another significant problem - the infrastructure. The Zashikhinskoye field is located in a remote area of ​​the Eastern Sayan. To implement the project, it is necessary to build a 171 km road and a power line. The road must be led to the regional center of Nizhneudinsk on the Trans-Siberian Railway - it is along this road that the investor Zashikhinsky intends to deliver the concentrate to the AECC. The cost of the road is estimated at 2,75 billion, the power transmission line - 3,13 billion rubles, that is, infrastructure costs account for almost half of the total project cost.

The representative of Technoinvest Alliance CJSC explained to EastRussia that the company is counting on state assistance in this matter. In February, the Irkutsk government sent an application to the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, in which it proposed to include the Zashikha project in the list of strategic projects for implementation in the Far East and the Baikal region until 2018. At the same time, the interlocutor of the agency added that CJSC Technoinvest Alliance in 2015 received technical conditions from the Irkutsk Electric Grid Company for connecting the field to the power system.

Deputy Director for Research at the Institute of Energy Systems named after L.A. Melentieva SB RAS Valery Stennikov explained to EastRussia that the project for the power supply of the Zashikhinskoye field is included in the scheme and program for the development of the electric power industry of the Irkutsk region until 2020. “The assumed small load for a given consumer does not provide a quick payback of such a project. But its efficiency will significantly increase with the integrated industrial development of the Eastern Sayan, ”the expert believes.

All two hundred yards

In implementing its project, Technoinvest Alliance proceeds from the fact that, although Russia has its own reserves of niobium and tantalum, it does not have sufficient production, and therefore is forced to import rare metals and their compounds. Niobium is used as a valuable alloying additive in metallurgy; now Russia imports ferroniobium for the needs of the pipe industry. Tantalum is used in the manufacture of capacitors for cell phones and computers, as well as in the production of hard alloys.

According to the company, the average price for niobium pentoxide on the exchange for the last five years was $ 50 per kg, for tantalum pentoxide - $ 280. The investor put these data into his business model and predicted that at such prices the payback period of the Zashihin project would be 10 years. It is assumed that the gross revenue for the project with 2018 for 2042 years will be 235,3 billion rubles (excluding VAT), gross profit - 186,3 billion rubles.

Andrei Tretelnikov, an analyst at Rye, Man & Gor Securities, says that in Soviet times, factories in Latvia were engaged in the production of pure compounds of tantalum and niobium. In Russia, niobium and tantalum oxides are made by the Solikamsk magnesium plant (the raw material for this is the Lovozerskoye deposit in the Murmansk region), but its projects for the production of pure compounds have not yet been implemented.

The world market for tantalum and niobium, according to the analyst, is now controlled by China. “The problem is that such metals in the PRC are mostly mined illegally, from which legal producers suffer - the price of tantalum and niobium in China and on the world market fell below profitable levels. The Chinese authorities have tried to fight illegal mining and production by banning the export of metals, but so far nothing has come of it, ”notes Andrei Tretelnikov.

In Siberia, the cost of mining such metals, taking into account the creation of infrastructure will be higher than in China, and hence the final price of niobium and tantalum will be greater. In such conditions, the products of Zashihinsky GOK in Russia will be difficult to compete with the raw materials imported from China. Moreover, the United States and Malaysia are at any time ready to launch their rare metal production, Tretelnikov said.

BCS analyst Oleg Petropavlovsky says that, in fact, Russia does not need tantalum at all - the country does not have developed production facilities for assembling electronics.

Help

Zashihinskoye deposit of rare metals (Nizhneudinsky district of Irkutsk region) was opened in 1971 year. Its balance and off-balance reserves, calculated in 2009 year, are 34,5 million tons of ore, which contains about 105 thousand tons of niobium pentoxide and 8.5 thousand tons of tantalum pentoxide.

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