November 22, 2019: Nyrstar Port Pirie announced on November 11 that it was in the final stages of restarting its primary Top Submerged Lance furnace and peripherals to allow the site to return to full production.
“The required approvals for restart have been received from the regulator, SafeWork South Australia,” a company statement said.
“The sinter plant was shut down on November 6 to facilitate the work required to restart the TSL. The warming up of the furnace to ‘cure’ the newly replaced refractory bricks has begun. It will take several days before the furnace will be ready for the first feed, which is expected on November 14.”
Nyrstar official Victoria Dix would not say if production had begun, claiming it was ‘commercially sensitive’, as was all other information requested by BESB.
The news appears to have affected lead prices, which have dropped 13% since their late October peak, says Farid Ahmed, principal lead analyst at Wood Mackenzie.
“Lead was due a price correction once the artificial support of problems at Port Pirie were gone and the markets could give a collective ‘phew!’ that a major supply headache appeared to be over,” he said.
“However, Nyrstar has yet to prove that it can operate the TSL furnace at capacity for a sustained period, so the industry should keep a weather eye over this issue.”
Nyrstar, which is majority-owned by the Trafigura Group, has been plagued by failures since June, when an unplanned production outage caused lead prices to soar by around $250 per tonne. At one point it reached $2,100 per tonne.
“The Port Pirie outage has caused some inconvenience for battery makers, especially in Asia, where most of the refined lead output goes,” said Ahmed.
“Primary smelters elsewhere in Asia and also Europe noticed a marked uptick in requests for spot lead while Port Pirie was down. Much of the concentrate originally intended for that plant was instead sold into China, but deliveries to Port Pirie had resumed some time ago.”