About the Ring’s chromite: Wanted — Smarts, determination and a Northern Ontario refinery – by Don Wallace (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – June 4, 2016)


As time passes and we approach the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the Ring of Fire, there still remains a void of information about the intentions of senior government. Rather than celebrating a bonanza, both levels of government seem to be avoiding critical decisions regarding what to do about some $60 billion worth of chromite lying deep in the wilderness of Northern Ontario.

The feds and Queen’s Park blame one another and the continued silence is exasperating and provokes one to ask why pay taxes for governance when it doesn’t exist? Chromite, or chromium oxide, is the only ore of chromium. It is mined, concentrated and then transformed by smelting into ferrochrome. Then it is added to molten iron (one part of ferrochrome to six parts of iron) to produce a hard, lustrous, corrosion-resistant metal known as stainless steel.

Given its rare distribution and limited supply, most experts feel that the high-grade Ring of Fire chromite deposit will, sooner or later, find room in the world market. However, to derive full value requires a complex multi-stage process managed by skilled and experienced people.

In this regard the main chromite mining proponent, KWG, continues to shine in technical terms having developed several chromite mining innovations including more cost-effective smelting measures and transportation methods.

One very tricky situation facing government relates to Section 91 of the Ontario Mining Act which requires ore mined in Ontario to be processed in Ontario. If this provision is not upheld and the old time “rip and ship” method is employed, the number of future Northern Ontario jobs will be greatly reduced and most of the value-added jobs of the Ring of Fire will go overseas.

In short, to bring the Ring’s chromite to world markets will not be easy and will require smarts and determination with the private and public sectors working together.

The issue of where ore mined in Canada must be refined once generated huge controversy in this country. After the discovery of nickel in Sudbury in the 1880s, there was a bitter legal battle with the court finally ruling in 1918 that ore mined in Canada must be refined in Canada.

The Ring’s chromite, by itself, has no value. To create value requires a complex multi-stage process to create one of the many different varieties of stainless steel; ipso facto you have value added.

This rising value progression is known as beneficiation. One excellent example of effective beneficiation is the operation of the Finnish firm, Outokumpu. Since 1932 these folks have built a world-class fully integrated stainless steel production centre in the Far North Baltic port of Tornio, Finland.

Starting with ferrochrome smelted from local chromite, they use recycled iron plus the necessary additives to produce many diverse types of stainless steel. Quite remote, the Outokumpu operation then uses cost-effective marine transport to deliver their product to final manufacturers around the world.

In sum the Fins are getting impressive enhanced value from their nearby raw material.

Which begs question what is going to happen to Ring of Fire chromite. How much value is to be generated in Northern Ontario? For starters, is there going to be a stainless steel refinery in Northern Ontario? If not, why not?

For the original source of this opinion piece, click here: http://www.chroniclejournal.com/opinion/letters_to_editor/about-the-ring-s-chromite-wanted—-smarts/article_8604755c-29d3-11e6-a1ef-cfeb07e005cd.html