Soaring demand for bentonite led Imerys' joint venture in China to boost output capacity.
An Imerys joint venture in China focused on bentonite announced an increase in production capacity after rising demand for the clay led to a massive surge in sales.
The joint venture in the Liaoning province in north-east China has more than tripled its sales in the last 3 years.
The operations are to extract material from its own mines, activate, dry and mill bentonite, amid forecasts from analysts that global demand for bentonite will rise by several percent annually over the next few years.
The operation was formed in 2013 through a tie-up with a real estate conglomerate. It aims to supply the paper, civil engineering and foundry industries in mainland China, Taiwan and Japan. Today, Korea and other South East Asian countries are also part of the operation.
Bentonite, which is usually created from volcanic ash, plays a crucial role in industries ranging from papermaking, where it absorbs wood resins and improves quality, to oil and gas, for which it is used in drilling mud that seals off porous rock and cools the drilling bit.
To produce more paper-grade bentonite, the joint venture installed three new Raymond mills – a type of grinding mill in which spring-loaded rollers bear against a bowl that rotates – earlier in the year.
The joint venture has proved highly successful so far, however challenges still remain.
Maximo Coll, the Asia Manager of Imerys' Metalcasting & Absorbents Business Unit, admitted that the bentonite market in the region involved a number of major international companies and that it was "very competitive". The aim is to expand into new markets, such as animal feed and pet litter, where bentonite is used because of its high absorbency.