OTHER THERMAL PROCESSES
About 85% of the world’s magnesium is currently made in China using an indirect route known as the Pidgeon process. Pidgeon is a silicothermic process pathway that requires the use of ferrosilicon. Ferrosilicon is produced by heating carbon with silica and iron, thus requiring two major steps.
China’s mining, labor, and energy rates are highly subsidized to drive the cost floor far below their competitors. Because of Pidgeon’s high energy and labor burden, this process is prohibitively expensive to implement in Europe and North America.
However, the low initial capital cost of Pidgeon plants makes them attractive for rapid implementation.
Overall, due to this global supply imbalance and the environmental impact of Pidgeon processes, the need for new, low-capital alternatives has never been more vital.
Electrolysis of magnesium chloride is performed industrially in the U.S., Israel, and Russia. Electrolytic processes require enormous capital investments, chlorine gas handling operations, and expensive dehydration techniques. Yet, most electrolytic processes have substantially less emissions and waste than Pidgeon.
North America has witnessed three major electrolytic plant closures or failures over the past 25 years. Total global market share for electrolytic processes has fallen from 75% to less than 15% since 1998.
Today, China is commissioning a large electrolytic facility as a means of replacing much of their Pidgeon-based capacity. After driving away competitors with cheap Pidgeon magnesium, China is now planning on using the technology that could not compete because of the heavy environmental toll from Pidgeon processing.