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Change of status

Brazil starts to produce manganese of high purity for the electronic industry

Manganese carbonate of high purity, one of the most demanded raw materials by the electro-electronic components industry, has started to be produced in Brazil. A company called Fermavi, located in Suzano, in Greater São Paulo, has developed its own technology for processing manganese and is reaping the first commercial results from the product. Small quantities are now being supplied to Thornton, from Vinhedo, in the Campinas region, a company that makes magnetic ceramics (manganese-zinc ferrite). These ceramics are used in the production of inductors, transformers and filters for electronic devices, such as computers and TVs, as well as for telecommunications and lighting equipment.

Fermavi is today the only company in Brazil to produce manganese carbonate, a material relatively new to industry. It is produced by dissolving manganese in a solution of ammonia (carbamate of ammonia), which afterwards undergoes a process of purification and precipitation (solidification) to become manganese carbonate of high purity. The company is a traditional supplier of minerals to the chemical sector and for fertilizers, and it developed carbonate under a project financed under FAPESP’s the Small Business Innovation Research(PIPE).

Mastery of the process
The conclusion of its industrial installations, forecast for the end of 2002, will allow Fermavi to change Brazil’s status as a simple supplier of the crude ore, to one of a producer and exporter of magnesium carbonate of high purity. “This is a project for the mastery of a technology that will bring a guaranteed return and will allow the transfer of this knowledge to other companies in the sector, besides opening up new jobs”, is the analysis of engineer Sílvio Benedicto Alvarinho, who coordinates the project at Fermavi.

In the 70s, as a researcher with the Institute of Technological Research (IPT), he carried out the first laboratory tests to obtain a product of high purity from manganese. Alvarinho followed a line of research based on a process developed in the 50s, in the United States, to deal with minerals used in the manufacture of steel. Afterwards, the process was supplemented, in the USA, by a stage of purification that resulted inacarbonate of high purity. The idea of the current project began with research into the market for new materials, which Alvarinho carried out in 1995.

Substantial reserves
Talking about magnesium carbonate of high purity is still a novelty in Brazilian business circles, but abroad, it is an expensive and much demanded product in the electronic component market. The main producers are Belgium, the United States and Japan. Crude manganese reaches these countries at US$ 90 a ton, and the end product (manganese carbonate of high quality) is sold to the electro-electronic industries for US$ 1,500 a ton. One of the main effects of this product is the enhancement of the Brazilian mineral, classified as being of high quality, extracted in large quantities, in particular from the mines at Carajás, in Pará, by Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, Urucum, in Mato Grosso, and in a few regions of Bahia and Goiás, still little exploited.

“In our calculations, the new industrial plant, if conceived for a production of 4,000 tons a year, will achieve annual sales of US$ 6 million”, Alvarinho forecasts. It was he who invited Fermavi to be his partner, in 1997, when the proposal for the production of carbonate was presented to FAPESP. Over the last three years, the Foundation has released R$ 208,000, which has made it possible to set up a pilot plant for the production of carbonate and two laboratory units.

In the first few months of laboratory studies, the company restricted itself to producing 50-gram batches of manganese carbonate of high purity. Afterwards, it started to make 1 kilo, and it produces about 100 kilos a day at the pilot plant today. “It is still experimental production, but it has made it possible to draw up the parameters for the processes needed for the factory project. “The world market for manganese carbonate of high purity amounts to some 25,000 tons a year. To enter this market, Fermavi has a target of producing about 5,000 tons a year, or 20% of the world market. “The work carried out so far gives us the assurance to say that we can reach this level of production”, adds engineer Oscar de Nucci, who works together with Sílvio Alvarinho.

Another product
The production of carbonate opens up another path. It is important for the production of chemical manganese bioxide, or gamma manganese bioxide, a raw material used in the make-up of batteries. It is an extremely sophisticated product, above all for the complex technology that is needed to be used to make it, which is now being developed by Alvarinho’s team. “This theme is the subject of another project, under the same PIPE, which will be brought to a conclusion within one year.”

The dimensions of the world market for this dioxide are very ample – around 200,000 tons a year – against the 25,000 tons of special carbonate. Optimistic with the results achieved so far, Alvarinho lets it be known that Fermani will also be able to grab an important share of the market for dioxide. “Brazil today produces this mineral in quantity and of good quality, and our teams now masters part of the technology necessary for the development of this product.”

For both the projects, processing lines were set up that incorporate strict concepts of environment protection. Despite these concerns, the company will have to look for another place to set itself up. The area it occupies at the moment is a source of drinking water and does not allow any industrial expansion.

Ideal moment
Alvarinho explains that the continuation of the laboratory tests and their perfecting have made it possible to consolidate the operational parameters for the company and to define a flowchart to be used at a later stage, in a project for an industrial or semi-industrial plant. With this expansion, the company aims to reach a scale of production of 5,000 tons of manganese carbonate and 10,000 tons of gamma manganese dioxide a year. According to Alvarinho, the moment is ideal for developing projects of this nature, because there is an evident call from the market for manganese carbonate of high purity, and for manganese dioxide as well. A moment that will be taken advantage of.

The project
Production of Manganese Carbonate of High Purity (nº 97/06574-4); Modality Program for Technological Innovation in Small Companies (PIPE); Coordinator Sílvio Benedicto Alvarinho – Fermavi; Investment R$ 208,365.00