Polish company – Baltic Ceramics Investments – aims to become the EU’s only ceramic proppant producer. Currently, the market for proppants – substances added to fracking fluids to ‘prop’ the fissures open to let the gas flow freely – is dominated by producers from China and the U.S.
Baltic Ceramics proppant factory in Lubsko, western Poland, is to be completed in the second half of 2015.The plant is to produce 60 thousand tonnes of proppant in the initial phase of production, rising to 135 thousand tonnes of proppant per year – amounting to approximately 5% of annual global demand for the product.
Ceramic proppants are an alternative to the widely used silica sand. Silica sand has many advantages over ceramic proppants – it’s widely available and very cheap. On the down-side, however, the silica dust, released into the air during the handling of sand causes serious health issues when breathed in. Studies show that even very small amounts of silica dust “enough, roughly, to cover Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s nose on a dime”, can cause a potentially fatal condition of the lungs called ‘silicosis’. For someone suffering from silicosis, breathing has been compared to trying to suck air through a straw while underwater.
This is why using ceramic proppants should be the preferred option for unconventional gas developers. Dariusz Janus, the chairman of IndygoTech Minerals – a majority shareholder in Baltic Ceramics – points out that over the last decade the market for ceramic proppants grew by 20-25% per year. This rate of expansion is believed to continue due to the active search for unconventional energy deposits worldwide.
This year, San Leon is to carry out its first hydraulic fracturing operation in Poland using ceramic proppants – said the chairman of Baltic Ceramics, Piotr Wozniak, adding that the proppants produced in Lubsk will fill the gap in the market between market leaders from the U.S. and poor-quality Chinese products.
“We would like to sell as much of the product as possible in Poland, due to high profit margins, but we expect the majority will be sold abroad. The markets with the biggest potential are Romania, the United Kingdom, or – outside Europe – Argentina and Saudi Arabia.” said Wozniak.
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