Gypsum supply opportunities from Mauritania

Gypsum supply opportunities from Mauritania

Mauritania is a country in Northwestern Africa,  home to 4.3 million people. It is the 11th larg-est country in Africa, with an area of 1,030,000km2.  The country is rich in natural resources, particularly  minerals. It has extensive deposits of iron ore, which  account for almost 50% of its total exports. It also  produces copper and gold from one of the largest  mines in Africa. In addition, the country holds enormous de-posits of highly pure gypsum, located 50km north  of the capital Nouakchott. The occurrence of such  gypsum deposits in a marine basin called ‘Sebkha  Ndaghmecha’ has been known since the 1960s, but it  was not until the 1980s that geological surveys were  thoroughly conducted. These studies showed that  gypsum occurs over an area approximately 80km  long and 50km wide. The ‘sebkha’ can be divided into  two main zones: one active and regularly flooded  and one fossil and dry that can be easily accessed by  road. Gypsum is found on the surface in the form of  moving dunes or translucent crystals with a size of   1-15cm. It is also found in huge quantities 20-50cm  below the surface as a form of ‘varved’ or banded  gypsum.    The gypsum varieties differ  in their appearance, chemical  composition, and the magni-tude of the reserves. The varved  gypsum deposits with a purity  of 70-96%, depending on the  bed depth, have been estimated  at 1.7Bnt, whereas the dune  gypsum deposits are approxi-mately 50Mt. The highly pure  crystalline gypsum selenites  (>  95%) cover a large area, where  the deposits are estimated to  be around 7Mt.1 Table 1 shows  chemical composition of differ-ent types of gypsum found in  the Sebkha of Ndaghmecha. Industrial exploitation of  gypsum quarries started in 1985  by SAMIA, a Mauritanian-Ku-waiti company, equally owned  by the national mining conglomerate SNIM and the  Industrial Bank of Kuwait (IBK). SAMIA has per-mit rights for gypsum quarries and extracts mainly  varved gypsum from open pit quarries. The mecha-nised exploitation is relatively simple. An overburden  of 20-50cm is usually removed before accessing the  gypsum, which occurs as a thick layer 1-2m deep. The gypsum covers a bed of sand and shells. Once mined, gypsum is transported by a fleet of  trucks to SAMIA’s plaster plant in Nouakchott or to  local cement factories. For the gypsum to be shipped  abroad, it is transported to a storage area near the  Port of Nouakchott.  In 2017, total gypsum production of the coun-try amounted to around 200,000t, of which about  30,000t (15%) was processed to make plaster of Paris  and 170,000Mt (85%) was consumed by the cement  industry, both locally and in the West African sub-region. Of this 170,000t, about 25% was consumed  by local cement factories, whereas the remaining  75% was exported, mainly to West African countries  such as Senegal, Guinea, Ghana, and Mali.


Market opportunities

Gypsum is essential in the production of cement,  where it acts as a set-controlling agent. For every 1t  of cement made, 30-50kg gypsum is needed. There  is no suitable alternative at this time and the sector is  set to be a large consumer of gypsum for the foresee-able future. In total it consumes 60% of the 250Mt of  gypsum produced worldwide every year.2 In Sub-Saharan Africa cement production is  growing very rapidly, fuelled by increasing demand  as a result of rapid urbanisation and GDP growth.  Gypsum demand is increasing in parallel, currently  around 3Mt/yr. In 2016, the cement industry in  West Africa imported 1.5Mt of gypsum from Spain  alone.  Nigeria received more than half of this amount   by itself.3 Although there are reported gypsum deposits in  some West and Central African countries such as  Mali, Nigeria and Angola, there are, to date, no com-mercially exploited gypsum mines in the western  part of Africa. All gypsum consumed by the cement   industry in this region is currently imported, mainly  from Spain. To capture a share of this market, SAMIA has  developed a marketing strategy and has acquired  the necessary equipment. With the opening of new  cement factories in neighbouring Mali in 2013, the  company started by exporting its gypsum by trucks  over a 1500km distance from its quarry to cement  factories near Bamako and Kayes.  Then, in 2015, it made its first 35,000t gypsum  shipment to Senegal. Since then, it has shipped  gypsum from the Port of Nouakchott to many other  destinations, including Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon,  and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to these west and central African  countries, the company plans to become a major  gypsum supplier for the cement industry in the   Atlantic region, a region that includes the western  part of sub-Saharan Africa and the eastern parts  of South America and the US. This latter region  currently imports more than 2Mt/yr of gypsum   from Spain.


In the future, part of this 2Mt/yr could easily  be supplied from Mauritania. Indeed, Mauritania  has many comparative advantages. Firstly, it is geo-graphically much closer to these markets than Spain.  Secondly, the nature, quality, and extent of its gyp-sum reserves represent clear advantages. Last but  not least, the gypsum quarries are only 50km from a  deepwater port in Nouakchott, with a draft of 12m, at  which vessels of up to 45,000t can be loaded. Despite, these clear advantages, there are, however,  some supply challenges that need to be addressed  before the country and the company can reach their  full potentials. These include outbound logistics such  as inland transportation, storage, handling, and ship-loading. The availability of ships at Nouakchott and  freight rates also constitute major challenges.

Other opportunities

Mauritania’s annual production of plaster amounts  to about 30,000t, from two gypsum processing plants  in Nouakchott. These manufactured products are  intended mainly for the local market, but part of the  production is also exported by truck to neighbouring  Senegal and Mali. These countries are like all West  African countries in that they are net importers of  plaster and other manufactured gypsum products.  Mauritania is thus well positioned to become a major  supplier of gypsum manufactured products to these  West African markets given its geographical location  as well as the agreements it has with the Economic  Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Another potential market for Mauritanian gyp-sum is in the agricultural sector of West Africa, where  gypsum can be a valuable source of both calcium and  sulphur for plant nutrition. It can improve crop yield  of locally grown cultures such as peanuts and rice.  Gypsum can also be used to treat and reclaim soils  polluted by salt water spills as is the case of the Sen-egalese river banks in Senegal and Mauritania or by  hydrocarbon spills as is the case of the Niger delta   in Nigeria.


Mauritania has enormous deposits of highly pure  gypsum that are still largely under-exploited. Open  pit gypsum quarries have been exploited by SAMIA,  a Mauritanian–Kuwaiti company, since the 1980s to  produce gypsum and gypsum products, mainly for  the local market. However, it was not until recently  that this company has carried out successful export  operations to the West and Central African countries. Mauritania has the potential to become a major  global supplier of gypsum. It has indeed many  comparative advantages, including its geographical  location on the Atlantic Ocean, the nature, quality,  and extent of its gypsum reserves as well as the loca-tion of its gypsum quarries close to a major deepwater  port. However, there are some supply challenges that  need to be addressed before the country can take full  advantages of these market opportunities.


By Global Gypsum Magazine