Indian mica: A glittering past but an uncertain future

By IM Staff
Published: Saturday, 26 September 2015

Mica production in India has a proud history, but changes in end market demand have raised a question mark over the industry’s future. Sunder Singh, IM Correspondent, takes a look at trends in the domestic industry and how Indian suppliers are being encouraged to produce more value-added products for new markets in an effort to offset falling global demand.

India has for many years enjoyed a global monopoly on the production and export of mica, particularly sheet mica. However, in the last few years the country has seen a steady reduction in both its mica production and exports. This declining trend can be attributed to a fall in demand for natural mica in the world market, due to technological improvements that facilitate the use of reconstituted mica and the emergence of mica substitutes.

Table 1: USGS figures for mica production in 
India 2009-2013 (tonnes)

Mica type

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

Crude

1,750

1,700

1,689

1,265

1,191

Scrap and waste

12,500

12,000

12,095

7,508

7,495

Total

14,250

13,700

13,784

8,773

8,656

Source: USGS 2013

India is endowed with one of the largest mica reserves in the world. According to Indian Bureau of Mines data, the state of Andhra Pradesh has a 41% share of the country’s resources followed by the states of Rajasthan, at 21%, and Odisha with 20% of the reserves. The remaining 18% is located in the states of Jharkhand and Maharashtra. 

Although it is difficult to calculate exact figures for exports of mica from India due to variations in (and the withholding of) numbers given to IM by miners and exporters, evidence suggests that actual shipment figures are many times higher than the production data given by either the USGS or the Indian Bureau of Mines.There are conflicting figures for mica production in India. Table 1 shows estimates compiled by the US Geological Survey (USGS), while Tables 2 and 3 list figures from the Indian Bureau of Mines.  

Table 2: Indian Bureau of Mines figures for mica production in India 2010-2013


2012-13

2011-12

2010-11

Mica type

Volume (tonnes)

Value ($)

Volume (tonnes)

Volume (tonnes)

Volume (tonnes)

Value ($)

Crude

1,255

629,015

1,899

1.09m

1,333

706,428

Scrap and waste

14,469

-

14,186

-

7,311

-

Total

15,724

-

16,085

-

8,644

-

Source: Indian Bureau of Mines 

Geographical distribution of mica in India

India’s eastern coastal states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, along with the state of Rajasthan in the west, account for more than 95% of the country’s proven mica reserves.  

Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh is the largest producer of mica in India. The main mica belt lies in the coastal Nellore district and is 97km long and about 26km wide. The main mica-sites in Andhra Pradesh are located at Atmakur, Ravuru and Gudur in Nellore district. Large deposits are also found at Tiruvuru in Krishna district, Madhira in Khammam district, and at Ankannagudem in West Godavari district. 

Table 3: Production of mica (crude, waste and scrap) 
by Indian state

5.2 mm

2012-13

2011-12

2010-11

Mica type

Volume (tonnes) 

Volume (tonnes)

Volume (tonnes)

Crude

1,255

1,899

1,333

Andhra Pradesh

1,176

1,784

1,317

Jharkhand

-

1

-

Rajasthan

79

114

16

Waste and scrap




All India

14,669

14,186

7,311

Andhra Pradesh

6,944

7,313

4,648

Bihar

2,535

4,632

1,459

Jharkhand

1,312

-

-

Rajasthan

3,878

2,241

1,204

Source: Indian Bureau of Mines 

Rajasthan

In recent years, Rajasthan has emerged as an important base of mica mining in India. The state’s main mica belt extends from Jaipur to Udaipur and is 322km long with an average width of 96km. The widest section is in the middle of the belt, near Bhilwara. The main mica-producing districts are Bhilwara, Jaipur, Tonk, Sikar, Dungarpur and Ajmer.

Jharkhand

Although officially Jharkhand does not account for a major proportion of India’s mica production, unofficially the state accounts for about 40% of the mineral mined in the country. Mica is found in a belt extending for about 150km by 32km from Gaya district in Bihar to Hazaribagh and Koderma districts. Koderma, which is known as the mica capital of India, is a well-known centre of mica mining in Jharkhand. Dhab, Khalakatambi, Bandarchua, Dhanapahari, Suggi, Guthwa, Pesra-Uparchala, Domchach, Dashro, Kushana, Katiya and Jalahia are some of the most important mica mines in and around Koderma.

Other states

Besides these major producers, approximately 4% of India’s mica is mined in the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

Table 4: Exports of mica from India by country of destination

Country

2012-13

2011-12


Volume (tonnes)

Value ($'000) 

Volume (tonnes)

Value ($’000) 

China

68,865

24,129

71,309

20,127

Japan

7,129

6,525

5,849

5,149

US

4,509

3,875

6,244

3,453

Belgium

4,367

1,600

10,226

3,656

Germany

2,360

958

3,790

1,037

France

2,661

2,067

2,221

1,449

Russia

973

1,137

1,022

881

Netherlands

4,426

2,057

704

762

South Korea

1,509

949

919

611

Mexico

71

2,218

53

540

Other Countries

30,759

9,405

29,440

8,160

Total

127,629

54,920

131,777

45,825

Source: Indian Bureau of Mines

Official mica production figures in India

According to official data from the Indian Bureau of Mines, crude mica production in India in the financial year 2012-2013 stood at 1,255 tonnes, a decrease of about 34% compared to the preceding year. The bureau stated that there were 32 reporting mica mines in 2012-2013, down from 35 in the financial year 2011-2012. Three mines, each producing above 100 tpa, accounted for 49% of the total output and 10 mica mines and one quartz mine, producing 20-100 tpa, together contributed another 49%. The remaining 2% came from 19 mica mines and one feldspar mine, each producing less than 20 tpa. 

The state’s entire production was reported from private sector mining companies. Six principal producers accounted for 71% of the country’s total mica output. Andhra Pradesh producers reported 94% of India’s total crude mica production in 2012-2013 and the remaining 6% was reported from Rajasthan.

Table 5: Principal mica mining companies in India

Company

Location

State/Province

Dwarakananad Reddy and others

Nellore

Andhra Pradesh

Mica Mines Private Ltd

Chennai

Tamil Nadu

Yashoda Krishna Mica Mining Co.

Nellore

Andhra Pradesh

Mahanta Mica Mines

Nellore

Andhra Pradesh

Seetharama Mining Co.

Nellore

Andhra Pradesh

Venkata Krishna Mining Co.

Nellore

Andhra Pradesh

Meenakshi Sundram Mica Mine Co.

Nellore

Andhra Pradesh

Baldurga Raja Gopal Mica Mine

Nellore

Andhra Pradesh

Rabi Venkatesan

Nellore

Andhra Pradesh

Jai Balaji Mines

Chittor

Andhra Pradesh

According to Indian Bureau of Mines data, a total of 127,629 tonnes mica was exported in the financial year 2012-13, a decrease of 4,148 tonnes compared to the prior year period. Almost all exports were in the form of crude mica, which accounted for 126,773 tonnes (comprising blocks: 2,559 tonnes; splittings: 1,559 tonnes; powder: 91,185 tonnes; and waste and scrap: 31,468 tonnes). Exports of processed mica were 856 tonnes (comprising washers and discs: 90 tonnes; sheets and strips: 39 tonnes; micanite and other built up mica: 15 tonnes; other worked mica: 705 tonnes; and a small quantity of mica bricks). Nominal quantities of condenser films, plates, and cuts were also exported. 

The wide discrepancy between production and export figures, mentioned above, is due to three factors.  Neither illegally mined nor reclaimed exported mica are included in the production figures. Crude mica sold directly to dealers or traders is also rarely included in the output numbers.

Since most mica products, however produced, are exported, export figures are a more reliable index of total mica output in India. 

Table 6: Mica prices in India (July-August 2015)

Specification number

Description

Prices ($/tonne)

1

Indian sheet mica, FOB Chennai, Kolkata, Kandla

1,000- 1,200

2

Mica, Indian wet ground, CIF Europe

550- 850

3

Mica, mine scrap, ruby, FOB Jharkhand

450- 500

4

Mica , mine scrap, ruby, FOB Andhra Pradesh

300- 400

5

Mica, India, scrap, green (Andhra Pradesh), FOB Chennai

350- 450

6

Mica, calcined mica powder, FOB Kolkata

400-800

Source: Survey of Indian mica exporters

Applications 

As outlined above, mica possesses excellent basal cleavage, meaning that it can be easily and accurately split into very thin sheets or films of any specified thickness. Mica also has a unique combination of elasticity, toughness, flexibility and transparency. It is chemically inert, stable and does not absorb water. It can withstand high temperatures as it is a poor thermal conductor. These properties have made mica indispensable in the production of many types of electrical equipment. High-quality muscovite film mica, which is also referred to as Indian ruby mica or ruby muscovite mica, is used as a dielectric in capacitors. The highest quality mica film is used to manufacture capacitors for calibration standards. Intermediate and lower grade mica is used in transmitting and receiving capacitors.

Muscovite and phlogopite have both dry and wet-ground applications. The dry-ground form is used to bond, strengthen and fill in the seams in drywall (gypsum board); as a paint additive; as a filler and extender in plastics and in moulded electrical insulation. Additionally, dry-ground phlogopite mica is used as an asbestos substitute in automotive brake linings and clutch plates to reduce noise and vibrations and in sound-absorbing insulation for coatings and polymer systems.

Wet-ground mica, which retains the brilliance of its cleavage faces, is used primarily in paints by the automotive industry and its reflective and refractive properties make it an important ingredient in cosmetics, such as eyeliner, eye shadow, body glitter, lipstick and nail polish. 

Mica1  

The brilliance of mica’s cleavage faces make it an 
important ingredient in cosmetics such as eyeliner, 
eyeshadow, body glitter and nail polish. (Source: Wendy Nelson)

Competition from substitutes

Globally, mica consumption has come down by several percentage points in recent years. The popularity of substitutes and lightweight alternatives, such as diatomite, perlite, and vermiculite, which can be substituted for ground mica when used as filler, are the main reasons for the decline in demand.

Many materials can be substituted for mica in electrical, electronic and insulation applications. Acrylic, cellulose acetate, fibreglass, fishpaper, nylon, nylatron, phenolics, polycarbonate, polyester, styrene, vinyl-PVC and vulcanised fibre are some of the alternative materials which have replaced mica in a number of these applications.

Global consumption of sheet mica has seen a sinificant contraction and is expected to decline further in coming years, however this is being offset by demand for scrap mica and other mica-based products. To take full advantage of these shifts, the Indian mica industry needs to diversify to manufacture and export fabricated value-added products, such as mica paper and micanite sheets.

Mica prices

Competition from substitutes, the general slowdown in the global economy and slower growth in China, India’s largest export market for mica, has put downward pressure on Indian mica prices. According to official data, prices have fallen by around 10% in the last year.

Harshit Tiwari, managing director of Jaipur, Rajasthan-based Yashoda Mica and Mining Co., which exports around 8,000 tpa scrap mica, told IM: "For the last year, Chinese mica buyers have not been accepting higher prices. These buyers are demanding higher quality at lower prices, which has created great uncertainty in the mica industry." 

Kolkata-based ICR Mica Co. has closed down its mica business due to the uncertainty regarding the health of the mica market. "A tough business environment, lower profitability and cut-throat prices in the export market has forced us to leave the mica business," R Rajgarhia, sales manager at ICR Mica, told IM.

Illegal mining and trade

A large volume of mica is mined and exported from India by illegal means. Unofficially, the state of Jharkhand is referred to as India’s biggest producer of mica, according to mica resellers and exporters. 

Although none of the miners, dealers, processors or exporters in the state were willing to speak publicly about the issue when contacted by IM, according to various estimates, around 30,000 people are engaged in collecting dhivra (small mica pieces) or mica in the Jharkand’s Koderma and Giridih districts.  

Jharkhand’s mica exporters agreed that the number of legal mines in the area has fallen since the 1990s, as mining licences have expired and not been renewed. Mica production declined drastically in the state during the 1990s when its extraction in Jharkhand, and what at the time was the unified state of Bihar, was temporarily prohibited because of child labour issues, conflicts with the local population about land rights and problems with militant Maoist groups, which are still active in the state.

Mica2  

The Indian mica industry needs to diversify into 
value-added products such as micanite sheets to 
overcome contracting demand. (Source: Jai Balaji Mines)

Outlook for India’s mica industry

India has sufficient resources of mica to meet both domestic and export demand. According to a report by the Planning Commission of India for the government’s 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17), there is robust demand for wet-ground mica, especially in the manufacture of pearlescent pigments, which are increasingly used in the automotive industry. Accordingly, the establishment of wet-ground mica plants constructed using international expertise and technology is likely to be encouraged. 

The quality of Indian ground mica powder is presently acceptable to foreign buyers, however, in recent years, international consumers of the mineral have started to emphasise that the material should be free from iron and that there should be more consistency in the mesh size of the powder. 

Increased manufacturing of fabricated and value-added mica-based products, such as mica paper and micanite sheets, will help the country to reduce exports, while a crackdown in illegal mining will help legal producers to solidify their position in the market.

Indian ruby and green muscovite mica

Indian muscovite mica is available in two qualities, ruby and green. Ruby muscovite mica is far superior to green in terms of its dielectric strength, low power loss and other electrical properties. Because of its higher quality, ruby mica is more expensive than green mica of the same visual quality and size. Ruby mica is harder than green mica and has excellent cleavage, allowing it to be split into very thin films without the risk of cracking.

Green mica is produced in Andhra Pradesh and usually exported from the port of Chennai in southern India. Green Indian mica varies in colour, from pale to dark brown or green. It is usually softer than ruby mica and contains a certain amount of moisture between its laminates. Some green muscovite mica is flatter than ruby muscovite mica and is valuable for its optical quality in clear sheets. The crystal structure and electrical properties of green and ruby muscovite mica under normal working conditions are very similar. Green muscovite is equally suitable for use in most electrical applications. However, it is not recommended for applications where high dielectric properties and lower power loss is required, due to its low insulation resistance and variable power factor. At high temperatures, the structure of green muscovite is more stable but less perfect than ruby muscovite mica.