Mining & Resources

Strength in a collective voice for the Global Zircon industry

12 Jan 2017, by Thomas Beauchamp

keven-harlowAs with many commodities Zircon and its derivatives are faced with a number of threats from thrifting and substitution, as well as increasing regulatory demands. In 2012 the Zircon Industry Association (ZIA) was conceived with an aim to bring to together the global industry and use the power of a collective voice to respond to the threats and join forces for new research and development.

Dr Keven Harlow, the newly appointed Executive Director of the Zircon Industry Association speaks about the association’s plans for 2017, what he believes are the emerging opportunities for the global industry and why visiting his Australian Zircon peers in 2017 is a must.

Q: The Zircon Industry Association is a relatively new industry body, having formed in January 2013. What were the key drivers of forming a global association specifically for the Zircon value chain?

KH: In fact, the ZIA was conceived in 2012 with a vision based around zircon demand expansion through education, information and promotion. At the same time, like all commodities, zircon and its derivatives faced a number of threats from thrifting and substitution, as well as increasing regulatory demands. The creation of an international association was therefore seen as a way by which the industry, as a whole, could focus on these challenges and any new issues that developed.

In short, without the collective voice and consistent support of an industry body, these challenges would be tackled by each player in the market, likely in a different way and with variable outcomes. Membership currently represents around 80% of globally- produced zircon / zirconia by volume, so I am comfortable in stating that the ZIA does now represent the global industry.

Q: What are the primary objectives and activities for the Zircon Industry Association in 2017?

KH: Our focus is three-fold: 1) market support & development, 2) regulations and 3) communications. Each of these pillars is overseen by a dedicated committee of like-minded member participants.

One major project is a life cycle assessment, a first for the zircon industry, driven by the ZIA’s Technical Committee and scheduled for completion later this year. Elsewhere, regulations are impacting all commodities in areas of international chemicals management and ocean shipping, so the ZIA helps to demystify the complexities of these regulations as well as support members’ compliance.

ZIA has launched the ‘Zircon Academy’, a growing library of factsheets and tools that allow members to better understand the intricacies of these regulations. And our Communication Committee, another new initiative, aims to develop clear messages for all stakeholders, both within and outside the association.  Finally, we are planning our next annual conference during September, which is a forum for members to listen to expert analysis of global trends and technical developments for the whole value chain. So, overall, quite an exciting and demanding year ahead.

Q: Can you share your thoughts on the most exciting, emerging opportunities that you see for the future of the Zircon industry?

KH: There are many! Of course, in ceramics, where zircon acts as the most efficient opacifier to enhance whiteness, is by far the largest volume demand worldwide, but zircon is used in numerous applications of distinct technological level and complexity including precision casting of metals, refractories, glass fibre reinforced concrete, biomedical uses and nano material applications. Its properties of thermal resistance, refractory behaviour and bio-compatibility, to name a few, all support extensive R&D for zircon and its derivatives.

The ZIA closely monitors emerging R&D and, in fact, is looking to issue an award on an annual basis for the most promising research. All of this is summarised in our Zircon Technical Handbook, which is freely available from our website.

Q: This is the first year that the Zircon Industry Association has supported the annual Mineral Sands Conference in Australia. What are the unique factors of Australia’s Zircon industry and value chain?

KH: Quite simply, Australia is the world’s leading producer of zircon, with any trends and changes that occur in its zircon mining activity impacting on other producing regions as well as down the supply chain. Continuous exploration of mineral deposits in Australia has led to exciting project developments and new players to the market. It’s a must for me to visit the industry in Australia!

Q: What are the conversations that you are most looking forward to having with your Southern Hemisphere based peers at the17th annual event in Perth this March?

KH: Despite a steep learning curve over the past nine months, I still have gaps in my industry knowledge so I am keen to debate market development and technical trends as well as catch-up on local regulatory issues, and, of course, take the opportunity to visit Australia’s famed Eucla Basin mining area.

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