Published September 2016
Sodium cyanide is used throughout the world, primarily as a reagent in the mining industry for the isolation of precious metals. Close to 90% of sodium cyanide is used for gold and silver processing in the North American markets and around 78% is used for this purpose worldwide. However, it is also used as a chemical intermediate, especially in locations where there is no local supply of hydrogen cyanide, since sodium cyanide can be transported and stored. In Japan and Europe, chemical uses predominate, while in North and South America, Australia, South Africa, and China, use for gold extraction is the major application. There is substantial world trade in solid sodium cyanide, with the United States, South Korea, and Australia as the major exporting nations. Mexico, China, South America, and Western Africa are exhibiting relatively higher growth than the rest of the world.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of sodium cyanide:
In recent years, there have been great fluctuations in gold prices, resulting in sharp growth and decline in sodium cyanide consumption. The price of gold reached an all-time high in 2011, but then declined into the beginning of 2016. A rebound is forecast to the end of 2016, which will help stabilize gold production and in turn drive growth for sodium cyanide.
The sodium cyanide market has changed in recent years because of the fluctuations in gold prices. Gold mining companies have been investing capital into new grassroots exploration projects, as well as prolonging activities in mines that had been winding down. This has resulted in increased demand for sodium cyanide and growth is expected to continue during the forecast period, depending on continuing operations at the gold mines. However, it is possible that consumption could decline over the next five years because of a combination of factors. Increasing delays and impediments in starting up large-scale projects could impact consumption, as would investment in capital costs. The ongoing global financial situation may cause people to invest more in gold, thus creating demand, but mining companies may find it difficult to finance projects. Exploration efforts for both expansions and new projects continue, but there are relatively few new areas that are available for gold exploration and production. A decrease in gold production also increases the potential of higher long-term gold prices.
There is pressure in many regions worldwide to ban the use of sodium cyanide in the recovery of gold. Montana and Wisconsin have legislated that there can be no new operations involving sodium cyanide but existing operations are allowed an exemption. Instances of accidents and spills involving sodium cyanide prompted a voluntary industry program known as the International Cyanide Management Code for the Manufacture, Transport and Use of Cyanide in the Production of Gold (ICMC). The ICMC was developed under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the International Council on Metals & the Environment (ICME). Signatories to the code agree to the highest standards of practice for manufacturing, transportation and use of cyanide. Major global gold producers, transporters, and suppliers of cyanide products have signed the ICMC, which includes third-party auditing and certification of the facilities every three years. Currently, 121 mines, cyanide producers, and transporters are signatories.
Looking ahead to 2020, the supply situation will change globally. New capacity is due to come onstream in Central and Eastern Europe, Kazakhstan, and Russia over the next few years. This region may become a little less dependent on imports from South Korea and China. Plans to build new capacity in Saudi Arabia are on hold, so the Middle East, particularly Turkey, is still going to be reliant on imports, mainly from Germany and South Korea. China is also likely to increase capacity over the next five years.
In Western Europe and Japan, consumption for gold mining is less important, and demand for NaCN is driven by chelate production, dyes and pigments, methionine for animal feeds, and other pharmaceutical and chemical intermediates.