Economy

Ilmenite shortage hurts even as proven resource base idles

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on January 21, 2011 Published on January 21, 2011

State's reserves can feed demand for 400 years





The mad scramble worldwide for rare mineral resources, after flooding rains shut down mines in far-off Australia and China, may be playing out nearer home in Kerala as well.

Availability of ilmenite, an essential feed stock for at least three major industrial units, is emerging as a major issue even as the State sits on a proven vast resource.

IMPORT NEED

But the State is not able to monetise the same for a variety of reasons, leading many of the industrial units to explore the option of contracting imports from outside the State and even abroad.

The public sector Kerala Minerals and Metals (KMML), Travancore Titanium Products (TTP) and the private sector Cochin Minerals and Rutile Ltd (CMRL) are all hit equally hard by the shortage of ilmenite.

“We've been able to somehow manage thanks to the captive mining facility but the going may not be that easy, going forward,” Mr N. R. Subramaniam, Managing Director, KMML, told Business Line on Wednesday.

Supplies in the State, a ‘power house' that matches the best in the world in terms of capacity, have been tardy even during the best of times, say industry sources.

HUGE RESERVES

Independent estimates says the State has enough reserves of ilmenite to feed the current annual demand of just over three lakh tonnes for at least 400 more years.

But, according to Mr Subramaniam, mining prospects are restricted due to the pressure on land and attendant fears of displacing thousands of people.

In recent times, a team of high-level officials led by the Industries Minister, Mr Elamaram Kareem, had visited Vietnam to explore the possibilities of sourcing the mineral from that country.

Sri Lanka is another destination that the State Government would like to actively engage for sustained imports.

GOING ABROAD

KMML is now seeking clearances to depute a team to both these countries to conduct onsite consultations. Board approval is already in place for the programme, Mr Subramaniam said.

Sources with private sector player CMRL said they are finding it increasingly difficult to source their monthly requirement of 7,000 tonnes.

The company has since been importing large quantities from African destinations such as Mozambique.

The Atomic Minerals Directorate (AMD) is the agency responsible for locating and evaluating the minerals resources of not just nuclear raw materials but also of minerals such as ilmenite and rutile (titanium minerals).

COASTAL RICHES

These have been found to occur abundantly along the eastern and western coastal plains as well as in some inland places of Tamil Nadu, Bihar and West Bengal.

Of the nearly 6000 km-long coastal belt, nearly one third has been explored so far and large tonnages of these minerals established.

Amongst these, ilmenite, rutile, zircon and monazite are grouped as ‘prescribed substances' under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962.

Published on January 21, 2011
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