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Base Paper‐ YP Chawla CEO Zoom Developers P Ltd.

 & National Jt Secy IIPE                         1 /  8 

Iron Ore Beneficiation: Challenges to Iron & Steel Industry - Base Paper
YP Chawla CEO Zoom Developers P Ltd. & National Jt Secy IIPE;

Steel, today a most important engineering material today , has seen several
centuries from Iron Age to acquire such a status in the society & made the mankind
dependent on its use even in the remotest corner of the World for a healthy survival.
The Steel Industry today plays a crucial role in the overall industrial and economic
development of any country and is today galvanizing the further growth.

Today, major industrial economics are characterized by the existence of a strong Steel
Industry and personnel associated with this Industry feel pride in the same. With time,
this Industry has progressed to become the second largest materials industry in the
world, next only to cement. Steel’s presence dominates key sectors of the economy
namely Construction, Transport, Defence, Engineering, Packaging…... Its applications
vary from items of daily use to huge infrastructure, Power Plants, Capital machinery,
Railways, Large Super Tankers, and Consumer Durables and so on.

Steel Industry has also played its role in Employement and contributed to the
Development of the Society. Social stability is a concern to the government; it’s always
been the top concern “Everything from delivering growth to holding down
unemployment, it’s all about stability.”

With its role it is playing, the Industry needs all inclusive growth. Do we have enough
Iron Ore to sustain our growth? Whatever we have, are we doing justice it its use?

All over the world, the best quality iron ore has so far been the first target for techno
economic reasons and the time has come that Lean Quality Iron Ore needs to be
favoured & Beneficiated as early as technological developments permit. Like the
OPEC are worried about the deplating resources of Oil, same concern is now, for the
Raw material- the Iron Ore.

Dynamics of Steel Industry, in the recent period, have engaged the attention of policy
planners more than ever. For the last one and half decade there is a perceptible shift of
economic growth from the developed to the developing countries, particularly to the
countries in Asian region.

Economic impact of Steel Sector based on the Indian input-output model through its
multiplier effect reveals high output multiplier of 2.64 and ranks 4th out of 115 sectors
into which the economy is divided.
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Economists have estimated that for every additional one lakh rupee output in the Iron,
Steel and Ferro alloys sector, an additional 1.3 man-years of employment are created.

Export of high-grade iron ore must stop and lean ore be made use of, if the Indian steel
industry is to survive has been echoed by many of the leading experts from Steel
Industry. Why export the Iron Ore ( Raw Material) without value addition.

"The personnel in Steel-making must accept the challenge (of depleting reserves) and
bring into steel-making the use of lean iron ore." The total amount of high-grade
hematite iron ore in the country, estimated at 1.054 billion tonne which is less than 10 %
of hematite iron ore reserve (ref. IBM data ) and its residual life is debatable. If we go on
exporting our good-grade iron ore, it is apprehended we will be in a soup in the near
future". There is a concern regarding depleating Iron Ore for future generations

At a steel production level of 100 million tonne per annum, Indian iron ore reserves are
estimated to last around 43 years, provided export is zero. India is projected to be
producing 150 mt of steel by 2015 and 200 mt by 2025 and needs the raw material- the
Iron Ore, all through.

The country needs to tap its huge deposits of lean iron ore. India has to put in efforts to
make it a competitive advantage in iron ore of what we have and we have to make the
best use of it.

Indian Industry has to take on a Challenge on effective use of the Lean Iron Ore. The
Challenge has to be taken equally seriously, as the Industry has efforts to bring down
the slag content in its blast furnaces to 'less than 250 kg consistently from 520 kg a few
years ago,' not merely by washing local coal to maintain a low ash content (13%) but 'by
understanding the characteristics of slag'.
Base Paper‐ YP Chawla CEO Zoom Developers P Ltd. & National Jt Secy IIPE                         3 /  8 

Competing Technologies are to be deployed making the Steel to be Cost Effective.

Pelletized low-grade taconite iron ore requires more energy and labor than rich
hematite. In blast furnaces, however, taconite pellets have proven efficient than
hematite. Pelletization of hematite has not worked as well, as anticipated. Many
hematite mines are in problem and miners have relocated or looking for relocation to
taconite plants.

Ore Beneficiation : The practice in other countries emphasise on optimum ‘Fe’ up-
gradation and high recovery of concentrates using the state of art technologies. The
technological improvements include introduction of Air - Pulsated jigs, spirals and slow
speed spiral classifiers, hydro cyclones, log washers, recuperators, floatex density
separators and wet high intensity magnetic separators and a wide range of process
controls. This coupled with the computerised mine planning and blending through
intermediate stockpiles and stackers, allows mining of low grade ores with 50 to 54% Fe
content and yields iron ore lumps and fines with 64% Fe and recoveries as high as
90%. Iron Ore recovery from tailings using high gradient permanent magnetic separator
is one of the recent process. (If we upgrade a low grade iron ore with 52% Fe to 64 %
Fe, theoretically the maximum recovery would be 81.6 % ie 0% Fe in slime .Normally it
is expected that with 52 to 64 % Fe improvement recovery would be in the range 75% )

Currently the demand of high grade Iron ore is being met, basically by selective mining
of high grade ore and / or by simple method of washing. The method of washing results
in minimal quality up gradation and high loss of values in slime posing environmental

According to a report of Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) on new cut-off grade to help
work out the exploration strategy of iron ore off grade, the total resources potentiality of
hematite iron ore is yet to be known in the country. Currently the resources and
reserves are calculated based on arbitrary ‘55% Fe’ as cut off to produce mineable ore
(the lowest grade, economically exploitable at a particular time, is the cut off grade). The
level of cut off grade varies and is determined by market conditions keeping obviously
the conservation point in view, as these are non-renewable resources. As a result,
earlier, enriched banded iron formation (BIF) containing ‘45-55% Fe’ was not
considered as ore. With advanced development of Ore Enrichment techniques has
made the use of lower grade ore possible. The quantum availability of such type of ore
was never estimated in the past as these were considered as non-ore. The assessment
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of the new prospects and re-assessment of the existing mines is a must to optimize
production, to cater to the demand of the market, based on economic grade and
scheduling. Such exercise would obviously enhance the resource base.

In lease free, non – forest areas, assessment of low-grade iron ore (+45% Fe) is being
undertaken by GSI to augment resources at both 45 and 55% cut off grade. GSI may
initially (through P I and P II stage investigation) identify new areas with UNFC-G4 type
resources and wherever needed (through E-I stage investigation) establish UNFC G-3
type resources of hematite iron ore of +45% and +55% Fe, separately. Along with
exploration, petrological studies are also required to be taken up to find out
mineralogical assemblage to establish suitability of low-grade iron ore for beneficiation.
The Entire quantity of hematite iron ore is confined to Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand,
Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa programme will have to be initially restricted in the
potential geological domain of these states which can be extended to M.P. and A.P
subsequently. This can be expected to be completed in a five to seven years time frame
based on availability of manpower. Upgradation of resources from 334 to 333
categories can be a continuing process.

Magnetite is also an important ore of iron. Magnetite ores are generally restricted in
Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Rajasthan and Assam. Small
resources have been established in other States also. As per IBM, total resources of
magnetite ore in the country is 10.61 billion tones of which reserve is only 58.50 million
tones and the rest is resource. Out of total resources, 6.28 billion tones is under 333
category of UNFC system. There is ample scope to carry out regional exploration for
magnetite ore in the country. This can include tracing of BMQ bands with or without
scout boreholes as well as exploration by drilling of partly explored/unexplored large
deposits which may bring additional resources under 334, 333 and 332 categories of
UNFC system. At present GSI is engaged in two items of magnetite ore exploration, one
each in Tamilnadu and Rajasthan.

A new agenda needs to be expedited by IBM. Proposal for GSI to undertake matching
revaluation of low-grade iron ore resources in freehold areas in grade iron ore resources
in freehold areas in India” i.e. GSI may need to carry out exploration in lease free
areas. The task is huge and requires additional exploration to come to any meaningful
resource evaluation. In the leasehold area, low grade (+45% Fe) iron ore occurs in one
Base Paper‐ YP Chawla CEO Zoom Developers P Ltd. & National Jt Secy IIPE                         5 /  8 

of the following modes: i) As partings within high grade ore (Shaly ore) ii) In the hanging
wall or footwall side of ore zone or as separate bands iii) on top in the lateritic profile
(lateritic and limonitic ore), iv) As the bottom of established ore within zone of
enrichment above proto ore. It is understood that , Exploration of data are likely to be
available shortly ,for lateritic profile and partings because such zone were intersected
during earlier exploration but fresh data have to be generated for evaluation of the low
grade ore occurring at hanging wall, footwall and bottom of existing ore zones. This will
require a well-designed exploration programme.

Thus, the process requires a detailed working in respect of

• Innovative research to utilize lean and complex ores, Objective oriented research
to tackle complex Lean ores
• Development of advanced equipments in mineral processing
• Pilot plant studies to collect the design data for commercial plants.
• Development of processes to recover valuables from wastes and by-products.
• Characterization and resource evaluation of ores and coal
• Agglomeration of ore fines and concentrates
• Iron Ore Beneficiation Plant audit and performance improvement
• Simulation and optimization studies
• Energy reduction in unit operation
• Environmental pollution studies related to Iron Ore Beneficiation.
• Basic and fundamental research to support the above activities.
• Use of Technology remote voice and high-speed data connectivity for all stages
of the mining cycle, exploration, Raising productivity and reducing travel costs by
transfer of data from the field to the lab immediately, Better control site
establishment progress and management - status reports with images, follow
up with suppliers and contractors from remote Mine Sites, conduct event-driven
research , Increasing the speed and quality of decision-making with the use
video multiple views of images, maps and plots for expert input from sub-
contractors, geological engineers, geologists and industry consultants located
back at base , Improve asset monitoring and site security - remote site
surveillance with CCTV cameras to protect Mine site, as well as monitoring
assets and personnel

Markets are softening. Steel Prices are fluctuating. In the rush for savings, it’s easy to
forget that supplier balance sheets are weakening and that bankruptcies are
Base Paper‐ YP Chawla CEO Zoom Developers P Ltd. & National Jt Secy IIPE                         6 /  8 

skyrocketing. The organizations have to adopting suitable technologies without risking

to the supply base of Raw material for their Steel Manufacturing in the current economic
environment and the time of depleting High quality Raw Material resources.

Action Plan

Industry Cooperation Needed & Spending on R&D : Steel producers to adopt a

collaborative approach towards sharing of best practices, skill development,
environmental protection and beneficiation of raw materials. India presently has a fairly
matured steel industry. The experience and knowledge gained through years can be
leveraged to develop advanced technology for meeting stringent norms for critical
requirement. India’s expenditure on R&D was only 0.27 per cent of turnover in the year
2008 as against 1 per cent in the European companies. R& D needs to be increased at
respective group level.

Government Support Required: Under the evolving scenario the following

suggestions are made, in order to make the Indian steel sector competitive in the global
market place, bench marked against the World’s best practices for the Growth of the
Sector at Government level ,the following issues need a priority:

- An Infrastructure Requirements and Environmental Concerns in Steel


- Providing enablers to ensure the Availabilty of Raw Materials and Energy

Inputs to Steel Sector, providing the appropriate mining leases & business
opportunities for the development of these sectors.

- Policy enablers to provide Competitiveness & Investment in Indian Steel

Sector , including Cost of Mining.

- Cost of Mining: The Cost build up on Iron ore like any other mined resource
is essentially dependent upon the location of the resource and the efficiency
of mining process. With the projected increase in the steel making capacity in
the country there will be manifold increase in the demand of these raw
materials. The government needs to facilitate achievement of this by
formulating and implementing a robust and workable policy for granting
Base Paper‐ YP Chawla CEO Zoom Developers P Ltd. & National Jt Secy IIPE                         7 /  8 

leases/ownership of mines of world class size so that (a) the cost of mined
Iron Ore and (b) the cost of mining are comparable with the best in the world.

- Investment in Infrastructure development : has been identified as one of

the most important requirement for the development of steel sector , & India
requires Roads , Railway & Ports. Railway Freight Corridor is a major
initiative of the government and early completion of the project will be a major
support to supply chain of the entire steel industry. The freight corridor along
with supporting infrastructure will at the same time give a major boost to the
demand for steel. Port connectivity to the hinterland and handling capacity in
the ports should be given equal emphasis for quick evacuation of ports.


natural resources would require to be conserved for meeting the rapidly
growing domestic demand. Uncontrolled export of iron ore should be
discouraged as these resources are essential for anchoring industrialization
and inviting large investment into the country. Iron ore deposit is the single
most important factor for drawing investors to India and confers a competitive
advantage. Shift of value adding activity to other countries will amount to
losing large-scale employment and investment potential. Hence a framework
for curbing and eventually phasing out export of iron ore from India has to be
put in place and meticulously followed.

- India has the lowest per capita availability of iron ore at only 21 tons as
against 2000 tons in Australia and 333 tons in Brazil. With lowest per capita
resources India is exporting about 90 million tons of iron ore every year.
States of Karnataka and Goa have alarming annual mining rates of 4.36%
and 3.57% as (percentage of in-situ reserves) with little or no concentration of
steel industry. This anomaly needs to be corrected.

- PROCESSING COST : The conversion of iron ore to finished steel is both an

energy and technology intensive process. In view of the impending
competition from foreign countries, domestic steel producers are keen to
Base Paper‐ YP Chawla CEO Zoom Developers P Ltd. & National Jt Secy IIPE                         8 /  8 

emulate latest technologies in order to attain techno economic parameters,

benchmarked against the world standard, in terms of energy consumption per
tonne of steel, yield percentage, productivity etc. In the evolving market there
is much greater requirement as regards physical strength and quality
requirement of steel.

It is therefore suggested that the government incentivises technology development

which will further facilitate R&D initiatives. This will in turn enhance the
competitiveness of the Indian steel industry. Our technologies have to work towards
utilization of low- grade iron ore, magnetite ore, and iron ore fines etc.


About the Author: BETech. MBA from Delhi University. Over 3 Decades of Experience
in diversified sectors covering Energy including Solar & other Renewable Energy, ( Ex.
BHEL) , Water Sector, Agriculture, Infrastructure. Widely travelled abroad & in India
including Foreign Postings.

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