With the possibility of high-grade iron ore getting exhausted in Karnataka over the next 20 to 30 years, the mining and steel industry here is exploring opportunities to tap very-low-grade iron ore (Banded Haematite Quartzite or BHQ) for commercial use.
JSW Steel and Hospet-based mining firm MSPL Ltd are conducting research to make use of BHQ ore, which contains 35-45 per cent iron (Fe). While JSW Steel is still trying to see how to use such low-grade ore in steel making, at its Toranagallu factory, MSPL has developed an in-house technology to beneficiate BHQ ore up to 63 per cent Fe grade fines. It also plans to use it for making pellets.
"BHQ ore requires a lot of R&D efforts to extract the metal and once we achieve and stabilise the use, the life of mines and industry in India can be extended from 100 years to 200 years," said Vinod Nowal, Director & CEO, JSW Steel.
Though there are no official estimates to measure the quantity of BHQ in Karnataka, experts say billions of tonnes of very-low-grade ore with 35-45 per cent Fe content is available across the country. If such ore is put into commercial use, the life of existing high-grade mining reserves can be saved for future generations and the life of the steel industry extended for at least 100 years.
BHQ ore is found in Bellary, Chitradurga, Tumkur and Hassan regions of Karnataka and is also abundantly available in most other mining regions in the country. "It is economical to beneficiate such ore only if we can export it, because of the higher cost involved. By separating silica from BHQ, we can beneficiate it to the levels of 63 per cent Fe grade. The recovery is about 45 per cent. But, beneficiation alone is not viable and we must have a pellet plant to make use of it," said Meda Venkataiah, executive director-mining, MSPL.
He said MSPL had planned a beneficiation-cum-pelletisation factory in Bellary district - a four million-tonne per annum beneficiation unit and a 4.8 million mtpa pellet plant, at an investment of Rs 3,000 crore. "We have already secured approval from the State High Level Clearance Committee of the Karnataka government for this project. We would approach the (Union) ministry of environment and forests for the approval once regular mining resumes in Karnataka (it's presently held back by Supreme Court order)," Venkataiah told Business Standard.
MSPL, an exporter of iron ore, already operates a 1.2 mtpa pellet plant in Koppal district and uses high-grade ore there. It is currently storing BHQ ore at its mines at Vyasanakere in Bellary district, to be used as raw material to extract iron ore fines. As beneficiation of BHQ ore is water-intensive, MSPL plans to bring water from the Almatti dam in Bijapur, he said.