Salt And Deicing Update

Salt And Deicing Update

The latest on the status of salt and deicing materials and what product availability means for the remainder of Winter 2021-22.

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December 16, 2021

I am both happy and sorry to report everything I warned about in the preceding State Of Salt columns for nearly the past year are coming true and then some.

First, I’d like to clarify the rock salt increase of $20/ton being reported by a number of media outlets is taken a bit out of context. Salt is up about $15/ton and freight (dump trailers) are up another $5 in this market. To my knowledge, that is in all markets and some more so.

The premium dry melters supply from overseas have indeed dried up. There is very little calcium chloride and little to no magnesium chloride. And adding insult to injury, there is a global shortage of magnesium chloride driven by multiple factors, such as

  • Ocean freight costs exceed the value of the product alone;
  • Production problems in Germany have taken the German producer of magnesium chloride, DEUSA, off line for an indeterminate amount of time – perhaps 3-6 months;
  • Mining permit renewal slowness in Europe have continued to limit production in the Netherlands;
  • And while China does have these products, they are extremely challenged to reach the US competitively at this time.

Innovators will out think market challenges every day, and we’ll see how long this goes on. There is plenty of liquid magnesium chloride that should carry the industry for well over a year but suppliers are now nearly sold out of dry and will likely not reload this season as a result of five-fold increases in ocean container freight putting the sea freight substantially above the value of the product.

Calcium chloride is hanging on with domestic production, however Vitro, the producer in Mexico, is now on tight allocation to only existing customers. Oil markets are coming back and trying to buy product with oil prices in the $75/barrel range. In addition, they are very close to resuming production in North Dakota’s oil sands, which will consume a lot of calcium chloride … if they can get it.

Salt supplies are good, but not great. However, all indications are for a warm winter, so this may not be an issue. It’s difficult to predict, but I’m unconcerned with salt supplies for this season in all areas – baring another 2015 run-down where unrelenting storms every few days will clear any salt piles to the ground.

The increases on all deicers are almost exclusively coming from freight – ocean, truck, rail, etc. It’s all up and significantly so.

I do not see any of this abating until second or third quarter of 2023. With commodities like this, it is supply and demand tempered by what people will be willing to pay. We’ve seen record inflation in a short window because people are paying up, but that is unsustainable for more than a brief window.

Snow Magazine contributing editor Robert S. English is President of Chemical Solutions, Inc., Franklin, MA. You can reach him at rob@meltsnow.com.