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

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. Steels 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; its always been the top concern Everything from delivering growth to holding down unemployment, its 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'.

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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 upgradation 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 problems. 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

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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 subcontractors, 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, its easy to forget that supplier balance sheets are weakening and that bankruptcies are

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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. Indias 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 Worlds 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 Projects 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

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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. CONSERVING INDIGENOUS RAW MATERIAL: Indias vast but limited 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

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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.