First Bauxite LLC is a natural resource company engaged in the exploration and development of bauxite deposits in Guyana, South America. Its wholly owned subsidiary, Guyana Industrial Minerals Inc. (GINMIN), is the mining arm producing washed bauxite at the rate of 30,000 MT per month. First Bauxite is marketing the high-grade bauxite globally as a raw material for refractories, for aluminum sulphate production, as a UHSP deep-well proppant in the oil industry, plus as an abrasive and steel making slag conditioner.
John Karson is currently Vice-President Sales and Marketing for First Bauxite LLC, where high grade Guyanese bauxite is his top priority. He has over 40 years of experience with industrial minerals, metals and refractories. Starting off as an end-user he has worked his way back to the mine. His career began as Steel Plant Superintendent and Meltshop Manager, then worked with large refractory suppliers, researching, and selling hundreds of refractory products, then industrial minerals. His time with such companies as Foseco, F&S International, International Minerals, Puyang Refractories, and more recently, FX Minerals, has led to a vast network of international sourcing, sales and contacts from China to South Africa. The latest product is the highest grade non-met bauxite supplied from Guyana. Mr. Karson has a wide variety of technical and entrepreneurial skills including supply chain and logistics, finance, business development, metallurgy, engineering and manufacturing.
Refwin: Mr. Karson, thank you for accepting our interview. We know you have 40 years of experience with industrial minerals, metals and refractories. What lessons helped mold or impact your work personality?
Mr. Karson: Two ideas come to mind. It is not so prevalent in today’s world but learning by doing or even trial by fire, as I call it, can bring out the best in people. My first job in steelmill operations was to learn and write full procedures for every management position in the mill. When the superintendent retired, I was the only person with experience in every department, so at age 21, I became General Foreman. Later, while working for a refractory supplier for only a few days, I had a meeting with high level British Steel officials and found out that I was called in as the “expert” to help solve a problem. With listening, common sense and some luck, we had a satisfactory conclusion. Give people the chance to succeed.
Refwin: We know that Bonasika bauxite project is a direct shipping ore (DSO) project being developed in Guyana and First Bauxite is the project developer. Would you please start with an introduction of the project and the mine, such as the reserves, development and current state of mining?
Mr. Karson: Since this high grade mine was discovered more than a decade ago by some industrious visionaries, there have been many iterations of scope and direction. For years it was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, but in December 2018, it was de-listed and is 100% owned by Resource Capital Funds (RCF). RCF is a long-term investor and has deep experience successfully taking junior mining companies from late-stage exploration through feasibility and commercial development. Their input has created focus and direction, and now with a solid team on board, we are the fastest growing impactful source of non-met bauxite in the world.
The mine, with the addition of a new wash plant, processing equipment and a new shipping wharf in 2019-20 has pushed capacity of high-grade ore to about 360,000 MT. It is a simple open cut operation that is run by FBX’s fully owned subsidiary Guyana Industrial Minerals, Inc. (GINMIN). We are currently producing close to 1000 MTPD. It is possible to create slightly lower alumina grades with low impurities that could double the capacity in the near future. The current reserves from the Bonasika Mine site are estimated at least 20 years, but the surrounding area is being developed which will lengthen that time considerably.
Bird's eye view: First Bauxite's operations in Guyana: the open pit mines (left) and wharf facilities (right)
The new wharf can handle direct shipments to North America and Europe with the largest shipment so far of 9500 MT. To handle larger vessels, we will rely on transloading in Georgetown, Guyana or in Trinidad, where we can handle larger bulk shipment in the range of 30,000-40,000 MT.
I would also like to mention that First Bauxite is a good steward to the community. The government has praised the work ethics, environmental concern, and local infrastructure improvement. We work closely with the local community and initiated a community investment program in 2016 covering playground, solar panels, library, water tanks and other improvements for the local school. We finished construction of a new school in 2020 and now supply the local population with electricity.
Bonasika Mine: First Bauxite's location in Guyana (left) and the plant (right)
Refwin: We know Bonasika bauxite is rich in high-grade bauxite ores for non-metallurgical markets. Would you please share with us the differences between Bonasika bauxite and others and describe the advantages?
Mr. Karson: I won’t use my words…I will use the description of our bauxite I have received from alumina experts, researchers and even competitors when they describe our bauxite. Comments like, “best bauxite I have ever seen…” “…this is the cleanest bauxite I ever used…” “Gorgeous bauxite…,” and so on. The reasons are simple--high alumina content and low impurities. The washed bauxite at our Bonasika mine is gibbsitic with 63% alumina content. When sintered, this becomes a clean 93% alumina, excellent refractory aggregate. Add to this, Fe2O3 levels at about 0.8%, virtually no CaO and the alkalis, K2O and Na2O, both around 0.01%. Note that I did not say 0.10%, which is good, but 0.01%. Those making castables can appreciate those low levels.
Another advantage is consistency. When we do wash our bauxite, it is to remove fine kaolin clay particles. There is quite a physical size difference between the clay and our bauxite nodules, so after washing, we arrive at the same result, time after time. I found it interesting that a customer asked if he could come to Guyana to “claim” his pile and make sure it did not get mixed with others. I understood his thought process as he previously worked with Chinese stockpiles of bauxite at the port where there were many grades in close proximity.
I mentioned that we may be able to produce lower grades by blending in some clay. But this would be post-blending washed bauxite, not mining a lower grade for distribution. I will update your readers on any developments in this regard.
Regarding advantages for the end user, I again call on the words and comments of customers. High alumina, low variability, stable pricing, better properties, low impurities, high corundum, low quartz, and superb density are most often mentioned. Depending on the kiln capabilities used for sintering, resultant densities of 3.45-3.50 g/cc are attainable while less capable kilns can achieve 3.30 g/cc on a regular basis.
Bonasika Bauxite typical specifications
Refwin: What markets will be First Bauxite’s main revenue growth points? What would be your strategic development plans or growth strategy in the following years?
Mr. Karson: The bauxite we mine is a natural for refractories. It does take time for the qualification of new products, especially when they are a premium grade. Our bauxite is also an excellent feed for producing BFA with superior specs and properties. Other markets seeing benefits for high quality bauxite are as a welding grade flux, aluminum sulphate material, in construction and flame retardant markets, EBT sands, and probably the highest grade Ultra High Strength Proppant for ultra-deep wells, though that market is down at present.
As far as our development, we obviously need to get to the point of calcining/sintering in Guyana, a project that gets closer to reality each day. Though the gas discovered off the coast of Guyana will be a game changer when brought onshore, we will have to rely on imported fuels in the meantime.
Refwin: First Bauxite’s customers may come from many regions of the world. Recently logistics has been a big issue for market players. What are your issues in logistics affecting sales?
Mr. Karson: As we look at the regions of the world, each has its set of fulfillment processes. For Europe and North America, they are well served by smaller vessels directly from our river wharf. Container shipments are an excellent choice for trials and smaller shipments. And because they need containers back in Asia, they are extremely cost-effective. However, there are just not enough scheduled vessels to fill the pipeline with containers alone. Our goal is to ship larger bulk vessels to the regions that are best suited…India, for example. We are developing regional facilities to calcine and distribute our bauxite delivered by larger bulk carriers.
Refwin: The sudden Covid-19 pandemic has caused a significant decrease in global demand for refractories. What measures have you taken to achieve your sales targets?
Mr. Karson: The Covid-19 pandemic had more of an influence on our marketing plans as dozens of conferences, papers, meetings and customer visits were cancelled. However, we have seen a 400% increase in sales during the pandemic year so the word is spreading.
Refwin: Any final thoughts to share regarding First Bauxite and your high grade product?
Mr. Karson: As I see the supply problems from China, the geo-political troubles between China and other countries, the stronger steel market over the next few years, bauxite quality issues and so on, I believe we will see the table tilt back to high grade Guyanese bauxite like before the Chinese flood of bauxite in the 1990’s. We have a stable quality, stable price, and on-going efforts to improve our current product offering though research, new processes and new capital projects, which should include calcination and sintering capabilities plus a greater variety of product options.
Refwin: Thanks for the valuable sharings with us.
For more information, please visit the website of First Bauxite.
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