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Leading Gypsum Producer Moving Toward Renewable Energy

By Paloma Duran | Wed, 04/14/2021 - 12:04

Q: What does COMSA specialize in and what is your added value?

A: In 2023, COMSA will celebrate 100 years of gypsum production and exports. What we offer is gypsum, calcium sulfate, which is used mainly in the construction sector, especially with the wallboard industry where most of the finished product is gypsum. Due to its inherent fire resistance, gypsum board, commonly known as drywall, is the premier building material for wall, ceiling, and partition systems in residential, institutional, and commercial structures. It is also used in the cement industry, helping to prevent the mix from turning to stone quickly. Gypsum is also a logistical business because it is a commodity that is not indexed like silver, gold and lead; and its price is based on supply and demand. In addition, we believe that our logistics is one of our greatest added values since we reach markets in the US, Canada, Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Japan by sea freight, which gives us a competitive advantage in the market.

Q: What factors have allowed COMSA to become a leader in gypsum production in Mexico and Latin America?

A: Our gypsum mine in San Marcos is the largest in Latin America and the third largest in the world. It has a production of 2 million tons per year and its capacity is 3 million tons. Three factors have made our company relevant worldwide: the logistics with which we carry out the ship-loading process with 55,000 tons of gypsum; our proximity to the important US market; and our high purity gypsum.

Q: What processes does the company carry out to ensure the highest quality of its products?

A: We produce gypsum rock from an open pit mine. Before we go into an area, we perform exploration diamond drilling where we sample the core and check its purity, salinity and other specifications. This is followed by sampling of blast-hole cuttings produced by down-the-hole hammer drills and the classification of bench faces into high purity, low purity or waste material. We also have the capacity to test sulfites by titration method and recently we have added a gas chromatographer to be able to analyze for SO8.

Q: How does the company take advantage of its location?

A: Being on an island makes it easier for ships to arrive and depart. The company has its own port terminal, where we receive around 60 ships per year. Economies of scale allow us to reach the whole Pacific coast and even Japan. This has been one of the most important factors for our success. We have a community of more than 600 people and we provide them with free housing, energy, water, schools, hospital, a chapel and employment.

Q: How did the demand for gypsum evolve in 2020 and what measures did the company take to adapt to the pandemic?

A: We saw demand fall more than 18 percent due to COVID-19, particularly as the US construction industry had to stop many projects and the main economies in Latin America had stringent lockdowns. During these uncertain times, our priorities became the safety of our people, keeping them employed and reducing costs in terms of efficiency in our processes. COVID-19 opened our eyes to many areas of opportunity. One of our competitive advantages is the COMSA team. Without them the company would not be where it is now.

Q: What are the company’s projections in terms of demand for 2021?

A: In 2021, we are better prepared to face the COVID-19 crisis and we are on the right track. We expect to see higher demand this year, as the US and Latin American industries are recovering. Our projections for 2021 are very good for the company and at the same time challenging for the volumes that we export each month.

Q: What are the company’s primary export destinations and what other markets does the company want to reach?

A: Our main clients are on the Pacific Coast. We export gypsum from Canada to Chile and our largest market is the US. North America demands gypsum for the construction sector, while Central and South America demand the mineral for the cement industry. There are other interesting markets. We have a sister company that manufactures agricultural gypsum with our San Marcos gypsum. This is an additional process where the incorporation of gypsum into the field improves the soil and benefits the agronomist, since it allows a better harvest. Gypsum is abundant on all continents and the factor that decides its potential is logistics. We would like to look for other destinations, but sea freight costs are a determining factor when exporting. Last year, costs were lower due to the pandemic, so we were able to reach the East Coast of the US and the Panama Channel. However, this always depends on the cost of freight because if it is high, that prevents us from reaching other markets. Nevertheless, we are happy with our position in the market, as it is very strong on the Pacific Coast.

Q: Why did COMSA decide to develop a solar project and what does it hope to achieve in the short term?

A: Our goal is to be autonomous in terms of energy and water. One of our main values is our commitment with the environment and its best practices. This will be a game changer because the cost of energy is the most important cost in our process and into the community…This project will produce the energy needed for our process, community and desalination plan from a 100% renewable source. We expect the first stage of the project to be ready in 3Q21, with more than 4,000 solar cells with bifacial modules and tracking devices combined with a lithium battery that will allow us to generate and store 60-70 percent of our energy. This is a big step as we previously used diesel, which is difficult to transport to the island and is no longer desirable given our strict emissions controls.

Q: What are the company’s plans after the San Marcos mine reserves are depleted?

A: We are in the final phase of the mine, with 10 to 15 years of reserves left. Today, more than ever, we are focusing on delivering the best gypsum quality to our clients. In addition, COMSA has another site off the island where we have significant reserves. We plan to continue our work after the closure of the San Marcos mine. We have gypsum concessions in other parts of the Mexican coast that we want to develop and we are also interested in exploring other minerals.

COMSA is the leading mining company in the production of gypsum in Mexico and Latin America. It has international certifications and is globally recognized for its high-quality products. Its gypsum mine is located on San Marcos Island in Baja California Sur, which has been in operation since 1923.

Paloma Duran Paloma Duran Junior Journalist and Industry Analyst