The Fort Madison Climax Molybdenum Company marks 40th Anniversary.

January 24, 2017
Fort Madison Daily Democrat
Jeff Hunt

The Fort Madison Climax Molybdenum Company is the world’s largest chemical molybdenum conversion facility. It produces lubricant-grade molysulfide, metallurgical tech oxide and six different kinds of chemical-grade moly products. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the plant in Fort Madison.

This has been an exciting time for the Climax Conversion Plant.

It was about 40 years ago that the company began production operations in Lee County, and for four decades the stand-alone plant that processes molybdenum concentrates has made itself known as a part of the community.

 It is a long-term employer of over 140 people and helps the community in many aspects.

“We have very good relationships with the community, and governmental and regulatory agencies as well.  We continue to be active on many fronts in the community, from supporting things like fireworks demonstrations and music in the park to engaging the schools, to engaging teachers in projects,” said General Manager Kurt Markkola.

Markkola said employees participate in volunteer events that support several organizations and causes including Big Brother, Big Sisters, area humane societies, and food, clothing and toy drives. Many employees also serve as board members for community events, coaches for Little League baseball and football programs and are overall active participants in building strong communities.  

Climax has made investments in the community to support organizations including providing funding to the Iowa Colleges Foundation for 25 years, long-standing support for the Tri-State Rodeo and supporting the Lee County Economic Development Board and Chamber of Commerce.  

Forty years ago marks the first year of chemical plant production at Fort Madison.  However, the history for the Fort Madison operation goes back a bit farther to May 9, 1974 when the operation was officially welcomed as a new member of the Fort Madison industrial community.  There began a five-year process of constructing the world’s most modern molybdenum conversion facility.  

According to Eric Kinneberg, Communications Director at Climax, Fort Madison’s conversion capabilities provide Climax Molybdenum Company, a subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan, with the world’s premier source for upgraded molybdenum chemical products.  Climax Molybdenum Company owns and operates the Climax open-pit and Henderson underground mines in Colorado, the primary site for mining molybdenum.  

“In the 1970s, iron and oil production drove global molybdenum market growth and the demand for molybdenum products” Kinneberg said. “Climax Molybdenum was looking for a plant site between Colorado and major markets for molybdenum products such as Chicago and Pittsburgh.  Fort Madison was the ideal location to construct the plant.”

Iowa’s receptivity to environmentally acceptable industry and the cooperative attitude of the Iowa Economic Development Commission, as well as with the Fort Madison Economic Development Corporation, were favorable for beginning the operation.  Kinneberg said making the area more attractive to the company is that Fort Madison has excellent rail facilities, a productive labor force, and a sound industrial economy.  

In 1993, the facility expanded and developed to position it as a world-class conversion facility well into the 21st Century.

Today, molybdenum concentrate originating primarily from Freeport-McMoRan mining locations arrives by truck and is converted into both technical grade molybdenum for metallurgical uses and high purity molybdenum for the chemical market, processing upwards of 65,000 pounds of contained molybdenum per day. According to records from Climax, the facility here is the largest producer of several molybdenum products in the world, including lubricant grade molybdenum disulfide, sublimed pure molybdic oxide, calcined pure molybdic oxide, ammonium dimolybdate, ammonium heptamolybdate, ammonium octamolybdate and sodium molybdate.

The acid plant, which recovers the sulfur dioxide created in the molybdenum conversion process, produces sulfuric acid that is sold throughout the Midwest for such purposes as battery acid, chemical applications, fertilizer production and steel pickling. This plant began operations in August 1977 and was upgraded to handle additional capacity in 1995.  Another portion of the plant processes high purity molybdenum disulfide to make Molysufide lubricant grade molybdenum disulfide products and is the largest facility of its kind in the world.

Other production facilities within the Fort Madison operation include the sublimation plant and the chemical plant, important companions to the conversion and operating facilities. These highly specialized facilities further refine soluble technical grade molybdenum oxide produced by the roasters.  

Molybdenum products have a wide range of uses in the steel, automobile, chemical and petroleum industries. An example of early uses for molybdenum was as a replacement for tungsten in some metallurgical applications and its primary use was in the Allied efforts to produce armor plating and large gun barrels during World War I. Since then, the uses have grown to include making stainless steels that better withstand erosive atmospheres, molybdenum chemicals used in the refining industry to make safer gas, among other uses. Annually, global molybdenum demand amounts to about 250 million pounds.

Markkola said recently the plant is looking at opportunities to continue being well-positioned for success in the natural resources industry.  

“For example, Fort Madison historically processed material primarily from the Henderson underground mine operation in Colorado,” Markkola said. “Now, the plant is looking at ways to reduce dependency on a single mine and process material from other mining operations, including by product molybdenum from copper mines in Arizona.  Previously, the plant did not have the equipment to engage in this type of processing, but is now investing in the chemical plant to handle varying feedstock.”  

Markkola said another core belief at the Fort Madison plant is that industrial processing operations can be used for human progress in harmony with conservation and recreation.  

“Environmental considerations have received priority attention dating back to the earliest planning and construction activity and continuing today,” Markkola said. “For example, over the past 40 years, projects have included wetland improvements, reforestation, timber enhancement and the creation of wildflower and butterfly habitats. In 1997, the plant received a certification by the Wildlife Habitat Council for its efforts in wildlife enhancements and has since been an active WHC member. More recently, in 2011, the plant earned the Prairies for Tomorrow award for its management of 200 acres of landfill as native prairie grassland.  Other biodiversity initiatives include tracking migratory birds, tagging monarch butterflies and monitoring food plots and duck boxes.”

Markkola said Climax could not have flourished as it has on its own.

“Thanks to the hard-working employees and the support of the community, the Fort Madison conversion plant has reached this milestone anniversary,” Markkola said. “For 40 years, the plant has established a rich, proud past and looks forward to a bright future as the world’s largest facility of its type in the world.”

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