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Output at Horsehead smelter on track

Keywords: Tags  zinc, Horsehead Holding, zinc smelter, Mooresboro plant, North Carolina plant, James Hensler, Prime Western, continuous-galvanizing grade Saranya Kapur

NEW YORK — Horsehead Holding Corp. aims to begin producing all grades and sizes of zinc at its Mooresboro, N.C., plant in two to three months, with full ramp-up slated in six months, president and chief executive officer James M. Hensler said.

"We are currently meeting high-grade specs, but haven’t reached special-high-grade yet. ... We expect to be at special-high-grade pretty soon," he told AMM.

"Once we’ve (demonstrated) that we can make high-grade slab, then we’ll commission the jumbo casting facility. We should be able to produce 1-ton jumbos in 30 to 45 days and (special-high-grade) jumbos in addition to slab," he added.

"We’re just getting started up, so it’s too early to say how the market for our products will be," Hensler said. "We are still servicing our existing (Prime Western) customers and expect to begin supplying steel mills with (continuous-galvanizing grade) soon, as well as alloyers and die casters."

The Pittsburgh-based company estimated last month that the plant’s initial capacity would be 155,000 pounds per year, which is expected to take up to six months (, May 22).

The facility in Mooresboro will "open up a much bigger market" for the company, Hensler said. While the extraction technology at its Monaca, Pa., facility restricted Horsehead to producing only the Prime Western grade, the Mooresboro plant will give it access to the full North American market, he added.

Horsehead, which continued to make Prime Western at its Monaca plant before shutting in May (, May 2), has sold all of the material produced there. "We made some sales to traders which are being resold, but we are not directly selling any of the Monaca material currently."

With a 117,000-pound zinc market deficit forecast for 2014 (, April 3), Horsehead is well positioned to capture the price increases that could follow.

"The deficit is certainly real, the market has been in a deficit for a little over a year. ... It’s the natural effect of having relatively low zinc prices. There just hasn’t been supply," Hensler said. "Demand is growing at a reasonable growth rate for the last several years, and is growing in step with steel demand. How deep the deficit goes and its impact remains to be seen."

However, with the recent move toward aluminum in the automotive industry (, June 10), the steel market—and consequently the zinc market—have faced a potential loss in demand.

"This is definitely a long-term threat, especially with the Ford F-150," he said. "However, there have been lightweighting measures in steel as well, with lighter-weight and higher-strength steel being produced."

The company is the first to use the solvent extraction process to extract zinc, and the second in North America—after Toronto-based HudBay Minerals Inc.—to use cell house technology.

"When you’re dealing with the kind of feed we use, which is derived from an arc furnace, it has impurities like chlorine and fluorine, among others. A conventional roaster-leach technology can’t keep these impurities out of the cell house," Hensler said. "Solvent extraction is the only thing that works with our kind of feed."

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