What does your company do?
We are the representative office of Basalt Projects Group in London, this is our main activity. We promote the construction and development of continuous basalt fiber production facilities. In addition, we occasionally participate in projects, create joint ventures with local companies in different countries and participate as owners of these projects. We have potential projects in the UK (the launch of composite enterprises), Saudi Arabia (construction of a plant for the production of continuous basalt fiber), America, Canada. We are currently conducting negotiations to build factories in South Africa and Nigeria.
In addition, we develop business on trade in products from basalt fiber and cooperate in this direction with the Basalt Trade company, certify production and promote it in the world market.
According to analysts’ reports, the interest in basalt fiber in Europe and the world is growing. Is it true, according to your opinion?
The objective difficulty in the development of the basalt fiber industry is that it is part of the market of continuous fibers and composite materials based on them. And that is, first of all, glass fiber and carbon fiber. The basalt fiber produced in the world is not enough to interest serious customers. For a standard project, you will need, approximately, 10,000 tons of rebar, and the volume of the world market of basalt fiber is about 15,000 tons. In addition, different manufacturers have different fiber quality. Firstly, it does not always correspond to the declared, secondly-jumps.
However, over the past two years, there has been much more information about basalt fiber, it is noticeable even on YouTube videos of various companies. Construction, engineering firms tell what a wonderful product it is and how they use it. A lot of information comes from America.
Now in America, by the way, there is an interesting trend – the basalt fiber is used more actively. And, there is such nuance: today basalt fittings are certified on a par with glass fittings, but various additional qualities of basalt fittings are not registered in the specification. If the company, which is going to build some object, gets acquainted with various regulations, for it the reinforcement of basalt composite will look the same as the reinforcement of fiberglass. Although in fact the quality of it in various parameters is 30-50% better. However, the price is also higher. Without knowing the benefits, no one will pay an extra 30% for it. So now in America, several institutions are working on a new certification, which is a very important development.
So, the first objective reason that inhibits the widespread use of basalt fiber is insufficient production. The second is very vague certification in different countries. We see great promise for basalt fiber in the coming years. But we need to make efforts, spend some money, especially to promote the product and obtain the necessary certification.
If the issue of certification is easier to solve both in terms of time and financial costs, what to do with the insufficient number of manufacturers?
The situation here is twofold. It seems that the market is not developing because there is not enough fiber. But at the same time, no one wants to invest in production, because there is no market.
Of course, it’s all about funding. For ourselves, for example, we have chosen the following approach. We are the co-founders of the project to build a continuous basalt fiber plant and manufacture composite materials at its base in Saudi Arabia, where it is easier to finance industrial projects. There are both public programs and private funds. We participate in these programs. Additionally, there is a market for basalt fiber based composites because of the natural conditions: the high salt content in the soil creates an aggressive environment for metal reinforcement. Plus the cost of production there is low.
I want to say that the construction of a plant for the production of continuous basalt fiber in Europe is unprofitable in principle, because the cost of gas is very high. For such projects, we should consider countries where energy resources are inexpensive and have their own raw materials. Therefore, for us, the potential interest was immediately represented by the middle East, with its low cost of energy, labor and very low taxation (only since January 2018, Saudi Arabia introduces VAT of 5%). Also of interest is America, but there are nuances. Yes, there is cheap gas, but labor is more expensive.
South Africa is potentially very interesting, but there are problems with gas. And another potentially interesting country is Nigeria. There is also cheap gas, but there is virtually no infrastructure and the specifics of work in this country are very complex, as there are big problems with personal security.
And in Europe, it is promising to build composite enterprises that will use continuous basalt fiber as a raw material. This requires only electricity, besides in European countries there are many government programs that support non-primary production. The production line for the production of composite products is fully automated, and the finished products immediately fall under the European certification. And the quality of the product produced in Europe, will always be a little more “premium” than if it is produced in China or Russia.
A very attractive country for basalt fiber is China.
And how do manufacturers of composites from other fibers, such as glass, relate to basalt fiber? It seems that they are not very enthusiastic to try something new.
Yes, they don’t believe in basalt fiber. I spoke to local manufacturers in Britain who decided to try basalt fiber. The seller promised them the quality of carbon fiber, but the final product did not correspond to the declared characteristics. Burned once, manufacturers do not want to risk again. They do not know where to get this fiber, it is difficult for them to communicate with Russian companies, and the Chinese quality does not suit. Therefore, glass is clearer to them, and business on fiberglass is easier.
There should be a company that understands the benefits of basalt fiber initially. And why switch to a new one when the business is already developing? Buyers also need to explain why do they need basalt composites. Now only if there is a customer who clearly knows what he wants and why it is basalt fiber, there is a deal.
In the last two years, compositors have started using chopped basalt “noodles”. We cooperate with a company from Norway, which has developed a composite mini-valves of small diameter with a length of 6-7 cm and was able to obtain a DIN-certificate for its products. This armature is produced under voltage. They mix it with cement and use it to reinforce the walls of underground tunnels by gun pollination.
If you look at the global reports and forecasts on the market of basalt fiber, it seems that China has decided to become a world leader in the industry.
Yes, but, in fact, there are no productions. As far as can be seen, all their enterprises are working on first-generation technologies. These are small single-module furnace units. Therefore, it seems to me that while the Chinese cannot make a big competition. But in five years the situation may change. They have a program to use basalt fiber for the military and space industries. And this is not the private sector.
In my opinion, today Russian “Kamenny Vek” and “Russky Basalt” – are the main enterprises that supply fiber of very good quality. The rest currently do not stand up to this competition. Although various pilot projects are being launched, for example, the same Mafic plant in the States. And the more capacity is built, the better.
If we could start production with a total capacity of 100-150 thousand tons, it would only have a positive impact on the market. There would be no great competition, but, on the contrary, the market would revive and demand would grow. We believe the market is prepared for basalt fiber products.
Persons: Yuri Ganfeld