Cemex Jamaica pushing limestone for construction
But builders prefer river gravel, cite quality issues
Avia Collinder, Business Reporter
Cemex Jamaica Limited has launched a campaign to sway demand away from river gravel towards limestone for use in construction in a push for additional business and new market share in the aggregates sector.
Country Manager Rafael Villalona Gonzalez says Cemex invested upwards of US$10 million in "safety, environmental impact mitigation, static plant, excavators, front end loaders, trucks, scales and laboratory equipment" to position for new business.
Villalona estimates total market demand for aggregates in Jamaica at 4.2 million tonnes per year. The company, which is owned by Cemex of Mexico, supplies boulders, road mix, and sand to the construction sector through its aggregates unit.
Reserves of limestone have been estimated at 50 billion tonnes, but actual production has been falling.
According to Planning Institute of Jamaica data, while earnings from limestone grew by US$1 million to US$2.5 million, production dropped by 13 per cent to 1.95 million tonnes relative to 2012.
And the Mines & Geology Division said Thursday that the total size of the limestone sector by annual sales is 1.88 million tonnes.
With the hope of stoking demand, Cemex Jamaica has been touting parent Cemex's worldwide network, comprising 377 quarries and 1,921 concrete plants which produce ready-mix concrete from limestone. And Villalona insists the local operation can produce "excellent" quality limestone, which has long been a mitigating issue for builders.
Alongside aggregates, Cemex Jamaica produces and sells quicklime, hydrated lime, concrete and white cement, with total investments of nearly US$35 million to date. Its quicklime and hydrated lime plants are located at Halse Hall; it has one concrete plant and an aggregates quarry in Woodside - all in Clarendon.
Villalona said his company is targeting 10 per cent of the limestone market.
Mines & Geology lists 48 limestone mining operations, some of which include Shagore Limited, Four Rivers Mining Limited, which is a partnership of Lydford Mines and Jamaica Producers Group, Jamaica Aggregates, and Coast to Coast Aggregates.
Cemex's production capacity for limestone is 500,000 tonnes per year, Villalona said. The product can be delivered to end users at half the price of river aggregates, he insists.
"The difference between limestone and river aggregate is around US$3 to US$6 per tonne - limestone being more economical," said the quarry operator.
But president of the Incorporated Masterbuilders Association of Jamaica (IMAJ), Carvel Stewart, told the Financial Gleaner that use of limestone aggregate in construction is bedevilled by quality issues.
"The limestone varies from a powdery form to the substance known as marl, all the way up to a very hard igneous rock. If they are speaking to the very hard igneous, then I would agree with them," Stewart said of Cemex's quality assertions.
"However ... over the years I have experienced fairly soft material being sold as gravel."
The price of river gravel and limestone are already fairly close, said the IMAJ president, adding that builders "end up paying the same amount of money because they see the prices in the market place ... hedging off each other."
Leo Cousins of Lydford Mines said the price of each product ranges from J$600 to J$750 per tonne, and that there might be some shortage of river aggregate at this time.
However, Stewart said that due to the recent spate of heavy rain, the river beds are likely to have been replenished.
Still, Villalona is holding firm to the quality of Cemex's limestone output, and is bullish on growth for its lime products sold to export markets in the Caribbean.
"Because our limestone is one of the purest in the world at 99 per cent calcium carbonate, we can also produce hydrated lime. We are the only producer in Caricom and are looking to export to all the islands," he said.
"We have already started with Trinidad, The Bahamas and Suriname."
He noted that while many persons know hydrated lime as 'white-wash', the product is "extremely versatile" and can be used for water treatment, agriculture, soil stabilisation, to improve the durability of asphalt, desulphurise fuel and gases, paint, and rendering and wall crack repairs.
Cemex Jamaica has capacity to produce 35,000 tonnes of hydrated lime per year. Growth for this segment in Jamaica has been slow due to the fact that "few know about the product and creating awareness takes time," said Villalona. "We are expecting for exports to increase at a higher rate and surpass the local consumption."
For limestone as aggregate, he said, the biggest challenge is changing the culture and educating consumers.
"We also need for the public sector - National Works Agency, National Housing Trust, Housing Association of Jamaica and Mines & Geology - to promote its own use of limestone which is one of Jamaica's greatest resource," said the Cemex executive.