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This blog can now reveal two amazing breakthroughs achieved by the Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) industry. TiO2 is used in everything from paint to paper as the pigment that delivers the colour white to hundreds of products in our daily lives.
TiO2 has always had to compete with the aluminium industry for supply of calcined coke. The aluminium industry dominates the market, leaving the TiO2 players with little choice but to pay the going rate.
But TiO2 scientists have made not one but two amazing breakthroughs. These breakthroughs are set to transform both the anode/calcined coke market and the global aluminium industry.
Chinese anode plants and aluminium smelters are now trialling the use of TiO2 as a binder in the anode, replacing coal tar pitch. The trials are still underway, but the most immediate and eye-catching outcome is that the anodes are white.
“For too long, we have lived under the paradigm that anodes have to be black” said Mr Sarry Badler, a well-known expert on anode performance. “But why? In China now with these new white anodes, the anode plants are much brighter than before, and employee morale has lifted as well” said Mr Badler.
AZ China has been able to get this spy camera photo of some white anodes.
We wondered how long before we start to see white anodes shipped to smelters all around the world. To answer that question, we are now seeking comment from Aminco Resources, the world’s leading exporter of Chinese anodes, including whether the rumour is true that their partners in R&D Carbon are experimenting with other colours besides white.
The TiO2 in the anode dissolves in the molten aluminium in the electrolytic cell, but this is a good thing, according to the Chinese who have been trialling the new binder. “We were already adding titanium as an alloying ingredient in the cast house, so this saves us money” said one prominent Chinese smelter manager.
By the time the aluminium is passed through the rolling mill and taken down to its final thickness, the metal takes on a glossy white appearance, thanks to the TiO2 still in the metal. That in turn has saved on painting the metal before final use.
“It’s a huge breakthrough” said one senior representative from Ford Motor Company. “With us switching to aluminium panels in our F150 series, having white metal will save us an enormous amount of money on painting. He went on to say, “This move takes us back to our roots. We all know the story of Henry Ford and the Model T. Now, starting from when the new panels are introduced, you will be able to buy any colour F150 you want, as long as it’s white.”
We have been able to get this sneak preview of the Ford F150 showing the new white panels.
Chalco has confirmed its February guidance and posted a loss of RMB16 billion (US$2.6 billion) for the 2014 year. It takes total losses over the last 3 years to RMB25 billion (US$4.1 billion.)
It’s easily the largest loss posted by any Hong Kong A share company.
2014’s result comes as a result of low metal prices in China, which in turn is due to severe over-capacity and over-supply in the China market.
The loss was made worse by the company taking an impairment charge of RMB7.5 billion (US$1.2 billion) for write downs of assets and reduction of head count.
Even so, the annual report showed almost no gross profit on its base sales, with RMB600 million gross profit on sales of RMB142 billion, for a GP margin of 0.4%. But look further in the books, and you find that the company was the recipient of RMB800 billion in cash grants from the government.
Last year the company sold its downstream assets to its parent company Chinalco in order to avoid a loss. Right now Chalco’s best hope is to use the impairment charge to shut some capacity in hope that enough metal exits the market to cause a sustained lift in metal prices. Then they just need for the industry to hold its nerve and keep idled capacity closed. The events of 2014, when local governments provided subsidies in return for plants reopening, tend to suggest that keeping plants closed will be harder than shutting them in the first place, and that’s not an easy decision either.
One last post from TMS, this one involving intrepid brothers Morten and Klaus Simonsen.
Well known for their bold exploration of all corners of the globe, Morten and Klaus decided to explore a bar while at TMS. I was lucky enough to hear their conversation…
Morten: “This place is what is called a ‘bar’.”
Klaus: “What does one do in this place?”
Morten: “Apparently, one orders alcoholic beverages, then drinks said beverages in the company of friends and business colleagues.”
Klaus: “Is that it? That all seems a bit simple and inefficient. A bit of a waste of time, if you ask me.”
Morten: “You’re right. These places are not for us. Let’s get out of here.”
It’s good to see them trying everything at least once… I repeat, at least once.
That’s it. Finished. Most commercial people have wrapped up their meetings, leaving only a handful of people to continue proceedings tomorrow. Plus the technical papers, which continue tomorrow. But for the majority of us, we are heading to the bar or the airport to close the TMS 2015 chapter.
We will see you in Nashville next February for TMS 2016.
Normal transmission on this blog will resume next week. There’s been a lot happening, so we will bring the news as soon as we can.
Begorrah and begosh, it’s certainly lovely to celebrate St Patricks Day in O’Lando. And who better to celebrate with than some very well known Irishmen here at TMS – none better than the O’Simonsen’s, and Mr O’Wrotniak and his Irish matey Mr O’Lerer for a drink, followed by dinner with National Champions of the Irish Jig, the O’Ehrenreichs.
Matt Powell was at the bar as well, but with a name like that, he’s clearly not Irish.
Frivolity has its place. In a light moment, some of us were contemplating some rumours that would be fun to spread. One of them was that Shell would buy BP.
Of course the real reason for such a fictitious M&A is, what would the new company call itself?
Which is your choice?
BSHell or B S Hellp?
An interesting undercurrent has been developing here this week.
Some people have been privately expressing their disappointment at the quality of the discussions in the various meetings. “What’s the point of coming all this way, just to make glib sunshine statements?” said one senior executive to me yesterday.
This is not a problem in most of my meetings, where I have been talking about a potential shortage of anode coke, but it does not surprise. A decade or more ago, a lot of the commercial relationships were just that – they were based on relationships, and both sides made it a point to maintain those relationships. Nowadays, that notion has gone, and it doesn’t matter if you take the guy out for a game of golf or a meal, or try to share meaningful insights into your particular business, the chances are the next buying/selling decision will be based on price, price and price. In that order.
Perhaps it is one reason why we see smaller corporate delegations attending in recent years, and why the number and size of the social events has diminished.
Good to see Tian Zhiqiang here at TMS this year. He is the young man going around with Tony Botelho. Mr Tian is taking on some of Tony’s role as the Marketing manager for Sinoway Carbon. Tony will focus on India and the Middle East, giving him the chance to slow down and spend more time at home in Goa India.
Which leads me to a question – what English name should Zhiqiang adopt? Let’s face it, we foreigners can get our heads around his family name, Tian, but when you were reading this, how did you do at pronouncing his given name? (For the record, it is pronounced as “Djer Chiang”.)
I suggested to him that in his new role as global jet setter selling CPC, he could call himself Howie, or Scott, perhaps Gord, or maybe Gerry or Ron. But he felt that those names were already taken.
Maybe he can just call himself Tony junior.
If you bump into Zhiqiang, he would be delighted to hear your suggestion. But keep it nice!
By the way, if you bump into Tony the elder, make sure you give him an extra warm greeting. Tony is planning to slow down and spend more time at home, and this will probably be his last TMS, so don’t let him go home without saying hi to him. (Yes, I know, he has said that before, but I think he’s serious this time.)
Probably the most talked-about subject here this year is not whether coke prices will rise or product specs will fall, but simply, where are the crowds?
It’s a difficult thing to measure, but at least in this environment just about all attendees are trapped here in the Swan/Dolphin or one of the Boardwalk hotels. So that gives us a chance to see the crowds coming and going. And that is exactly what we don’t see.
Someone told me that the official registrations are about 15% down on typical years. But it appears to be also true for the rest of us who don’t actually register. It’s now Monday morning, and the hourly lobby crawl is about to get under way, so we will see if it is any easier to find a nook in which to hold a meeting.
Speaking of the Swan/Dolphin, the other chatter here is that this is the last year TMS will be held here. Apparently there was a contract for another event in the 3-year cycle for 2018, but that has been cancelled. I don’t have confirmation but it’s said that the next East Coast TMS will be in Miami.
And 2016 will be in Nashville Tennessee.
One young lady spending the week at TMS is away from her family and friends on the day of her birthday. So let’s all wish her a very happy birthday – it’s today.
And who is this young lady? I won’t embarrass her by naming her here, but those of you who know anything about bath material will know who I mean.
So a big happy birthday Sonja, from everyone here.