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Tunisian Phosphate Sector: The New Take Off

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<p style="text-align: justify;">Tunisia has a vital human, geological and industrial potentiality related to the phosphate industry. The key factors that strengthen the Tunisian Phosphate industry are:</p><ul><li style="text-align: justify;">Cumulative know-how in phosphate mining of more than 130 years and phosphate transformation of more than 70 years</li><li style="text-align: justify;">Huge phosphate reserves of more than 800 million tons in the active mining basin of Gafsa and around 5 billion tons of raw phosphate rocks in the northern deposit of Sra Ouertane (Feasibility study being updated)</li><li style="text-align: justify;">Highly reactive phosphate rocks suitable for direct application in acidic soils</li><li style="text-align: justify;">An extensive commercial network all around the world</li><li style="text-align: justify;">Two well-established state-owned operators have reached a high technological level in their achievements<ul><li style="text-align: justify;">Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa (CPG) for mining and beneficiation, has generalized surface mining in all its sites and has increased the ore recovery rate through flotation of the fine phosphate fraction while reducing its environmental footprint.</li><li style="text-align: justify;">Groupe Chimique Tunisian (GCT) for phosphate transformation, has developed its process of phosphoric acid and Triple Superphosphate (TSP) manufacturing, along with an appropriate technique to eliminate hazardous impurities from phosphoric acid. &nbsp;</li></ul></li></ul><h2><span style="font-size: 14pt;">The Installed Capacity of the Phosphate Industry&nbsp;</span></h2><p style="text-align: justify;">The installed production capacity of the Tunisian phosphate sector is 8.5 million tons of phosphate rocks and 1.6 million tons of P2O5 per annum. The proportions show that the local transforming share is one of the highest among the other operators.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Until 2010, around 85 % of the phosphate rocks were processed to produce phosphoric acid and phosphate fertilizers. The remaining 15 % of the phosphate rocks were exported for chemical processing or direct application as a natural fertilizer.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The installed capacity of GCT plants is:</p><p style="text-align: justify;">1.3 million tons of MGA&nbsp;<br />1.3 million tons of DAP&nbsp;<br />0.9 million tons of TSP&nbsp;<br />0.33 million tons of AN&nbsp;<br />0.12 million tons of DCP&nbsp;</p><h2 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 14pt;">Tunisian phosphate industry since 2011</span></h2><p style="text-align: justify;">During the last decade, the activities of the phosphate industry in Tunisia &nbsp;did not exceed 35 % of its installed capacity because of strikes, sit-ins, and social unrest due to the Tunisian Revolution between December 17, 2010, and January 14, 2011.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Consequently, the Tunisian phosphate rocks and its derivatives were almost absent in the international market, where some of the other major competitors supplied some the traditional customers.</p><h3 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 12pt;">Current Situation&nbsp;</span></h3><p style="text-align: justify;">Export of phosphate rocks and their derivatives resumed after many years. However, during the first half of 2022, a clear take-off is witnessed at both CPG and GCT.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The phosphate extraction and beneficiation records reached 2.2 million tons, whereas the phosphate that stockpiled at GCT plants exceeded a historical record of 1 million tons.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The expected figures for 2022 are around 5 million tons of phosphate rocks for local transformation and 300,000 tons for export. Besides that, 400,000 T may be added if the two washing plants of Redeyef and Moulares restart, as they are in stand-by since 2021.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">The prevailing favorable prices encourage the operators to increase the production and export levels of phosphate &nbsp;and to overcome any difficulties that impede the targeted achievements.</p><h2 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 14pt;">Partnerships in the Phosphate Industry</span></h2><p style="text-align: justify;">Tunisian phosphate sector is a shareholder in the following projects:</p><ul><li style="text-align: justify;"><strong>TIFERT</strong>: Located at Skhira, a coastal site in Tunisia<ul><li style="text-align: justify;">Installed capacity: 360,000 T of P2O5</li><li style="text-align: justify;">Shareholders: Tunisian sector: 70%; Indian partners (CFL and GSFC): 30%</li></ul></li><li><strong>SACF</strong>: Located in China (Khubei)<ul><li>Installed capacity: 1,200,000 T of NPK</li><li>Shareholders; Tunisian sector: 30%, Chinese CNCCc : 70%</li></ul></li><li><strong>GFCL</strong> (India):<ul><li>DAP / NPK</li><li>Tunisian sector share: 5%</li></ul></li></ul><p style="text-align: justify;">Partnerships in the phosphate industry are always investigated before starting any new transforming projects. This is also expected for the Sra Ouertane project whenever scheduled. Usually, collaboration with major consumers is preferred.</p><h2 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 14pt;">The Mid-Term Outlooks</span></h2><ul><li style="text-align: justify;">A new mining and beneficiation project has been scheduled, and it should be operational within 2 to 3 years. A relative increase in the production capacity is 2.2 million tons of phosphate rocks.</li><li style="text-align: justify;">A new TSP plant is in the commissioning phase with a capacity of around 400,000 T of TSP.</li><li style="text-align: justify;">A new mining project is under extraction trial and geotechnical study. Its washing plant should have a capacity of 500,000 T.</li></ul><h2><span style="font-size: 14pt;">Challenges for the Phosphate Sector in the Mid and Long Term</span>&nbsp;</h2><p>To restore its distinguished position and market share, the Tunisian phosphate sector should:</p><ul><li>Enhance the mining methods to fit the steeply dipping deposits having high moisture</li><li>Select the right phosphate &nbsp;mining equipment to afford the overburden removal at increasing stripping ratios</li><li>Improve the employee's skills through advanced training, mainly in blasting and mine planning</li><li>Strengthen the relationships between JV&rsquo;s to be concluded with the potential customers</li><li>Comply with any new standards related to quality and environmental footprint</li></ul><p><span style="font-size: 10pt;"><em>This article was contributed by our expert <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/amri-abdelhamid-1ba17a60/">Amri Abdelhamid&nbsp;</a></em></span></p><p>&nbsp;</p><h3><span style="font-size: 18pt;">Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Amri Abdelhamid</span></h3><h2><span style="font-size: 12pt;">1. Who are the primary producers of phosphate?</span></h2><p>The significant phosphate producers are:<br />China<br />Morocco<br />KSA,<br />Russia,<br />USA</p><p>In the coming years, new capacities are expected in Algeria and Iraq.</p><h2><span style="font-size: 12pt;">2. Is the world running out of phosphorus?&nbsp;</span></h2><p>There are still significant reserves of phosphate rock, sufficient for many centuries. Technological breakthroughs should increase the economically minable reserves. Besides, the geographical location of these reserves (more than 75 % in North Africa) may impede easy access to phosphorus fertilizers and add more pressure to the market.</p><p>Meanwhile, the world is still far from running out of phosphorus. However, there is an increasing price to be paid. &nbsp;</p><h2><span style="font-size: 12pt;">3. What are the latest techniques used in phosphate mining in Tunisia?</span></h2><p>The latest technique used in Tunisia are:</p><ul><li style="list-style-type: none;"><ul><li>100 % of mining is surface mining.</li><li>Heavy mining equipment (29 cm shovels and 179 T capacity trucks)</li><li>Use of flotation beneficiation process to recover the fine particles,</li><li>Hydraulic transportation of phosphate (along with seawater desalination) to the transforming plants (studied).</li></ul></li></ul><h2><span style="font-size: 12pt;">4. What is the future of the Tunisian phosphate industry?</span></h2><p>The future of Tunisian phosphate mining is promising, owing to the essential reserves of the Sra Ouertane deposit and its low stripping ratio.</p><p>Tunisian know-how and its well-established commercial network are also its major strengths.</p><p>The high agronomic effectiveness of Tunisian phosphate rock used in direct application makes it a cost-effective natural fertilizer in acidic soils.&nbsp;</p><h2><span style="font-size: 12pt;">5. What steps do companies in the phosphate industry follow to reduce their ecological footprint?</span></h2><p>The most significant action consists in decreasing waste transportation distance. Next, the priorities are dust control and water use (recycling). Last, the effluent management is to be controlled and managed to reduce the environmental footprint.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
KR Expert - Amri Abdelhamid