On the way up: Industrial minerals in India

By IM Staff
Published: Thursday, 22 February 2018

India has recorded economic growth of around 7% per year in the past three years. But while it has significant resources of some of the most widely used industrial minerals, this sector has shown only modest growth, as Industrial Minerals correspondent Sunder Singh discovers.

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India holds the prospect of great mineral wealth but it is all underground.
Source: iStock 


India has achieved 100% self-sufficiency in the supplies of industrial minerals including barites, chromite, feldspar, fireclay, limestone, magnesite, rutile, sillimanite, silica minerals, talc and wollastonite.

The country also exports barites, bentonite, feldspar, garnet (abrasive), ilmenite, mica, sandstone and wollastonite in significant volumes.

Yet India is a significant importer of key industrial minerals or their value-added products. These include asbestos, ball clay, fluorspar, graphite, gypsum, limestone, magnesite, marble, rock phosphate, sulfur and potash.

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Barites

India is the second-largest producer of barites by volume after China, making it a major exporter to the global market. Total reserves or resources of barites in India are estimated at 86.67 million tonnes, according to the United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC), of which 59% constitutes reserves and 41% remaining resources.

India’s barites are made up of 64% oil-well drilling-grade material, followed by 6% chemical-grade (chemical-A and chemical-B), 1% paint grade and 27% low-grade. About 3% of resources are of other, unclassified and not-known categories.

The state of Andhra Pradesh alone accounts for 92% of the country’s barites resources.

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Beach sand mining has now been banned in India, leading some to
speculate that this is a lost opportunity for the country.
Source: iStock 

Graphite

India’s estimated graphite resources stand at around 188.67 million tonnes. Resources containing more than 40% fixed carbon constitute about 2.51 million tonnes and resources with 10-40% fixed carbon make up 36.31 million tonnes. The remaining 149.85 million tonnes fall under others/unclassified and not-known grades.

Arunachal Pradesh accounts for about 39% of the total resources, followed by Jammu & Kashmir (33%), Odisha (10%), Jharkhand (9%) and Tamil Nadu (4%). The remaining 5% of resources are distributed across Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.

Dolomite

India has about 8.085 billion tonnes of dolomite resources. Sintering grade accounts for 24% of resources, followed by steel smelting shop (20%), refractory (9%), blast furnace & steel smelting shop mixed (5%) and glass (3%). Other, unclassified, not-known and refractory mixed grades together account for the remaining 39% of dolomite resources.

The largest share of resources, about 89%, is distributed in eight states: Madhya Pradesh (28%), Andhra Pradesh (13%), Chhattisgarh (11%), Odisha (10%), Karnataka (8%), Gujarat (7%), Rajasthan (7%) and Maharashtra (5%). The remaining 11% is distributed among the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Haryana, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

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Rajasthan is an important minerals hub, which has bentonite, garnet,
talc, graphite and wollastonite deposits. 

Kaolin

Kaolin resources in India total about 2.705 billion tonnes, according to UNFC. The resources are spread over the following states: Kerala with around 25%, followed by West Bengal and Rajasthan (16% each), and Odisha and Karnataka (10% each).

Of these resources, about 22% or 608 million tonnes are ceramic grade, 4% are classified under chemical, paper filler and cement grades, and about 73% or 1,980 million tonnes fall under mixed grade, other, unclassified and not-known categories.

Quartz, silica sand

At around 3.499 billion tonnes, India holds significant quartz and silica sand resources. Foundry and molding-grade material make up approximately 19% of this figure, while glass grade, ceramic grade and ferro-silicon grade make up 14%, 11% and 5% respectively.

The majority, some 52%, of these resources are found in the state of Haryana, followed by Rajasthan (9.5%), Tamil Nadu (6.5%), Andhra Pradesh (6%), Maharashtra (5%), Jharkhand (4.5%), and Karnataka and Gujarat (3% each).

Talc

There are approximately 269 million tonnes of total reserves of talc (including steatite/soapstone) in India, with the states of Rajasthan (49%) and Uttarakhand (29%) holding the largest shares. The remaining 22% is distributed throughout Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu.

The paper and textile grades account for around 22% of the total resources, followed by insecticides (19%) and cosmetics (13%). Reserves of ceramic and paint grades are negligible, while other, unclassified and not-known grades account for about 45%.

Sillimanite

India has the second largest resources of sillimanite in the world, totaling nearly 67 million tonnes. There are four sillimanite mines in operation in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Kerala and Maharashtra.

India produced approximately 71,000 tonnes of sillimanite in 2015-16, up by about 6% from 2014-15.

In 2016, around 21% of domestically produced sillimanite was exported, with the majority headed to China, Nepal, Japan and Western Europe.

Other industrial minerals in India

There are other important industrial minerals with significant reserves in India, including bentonite (in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir), corundum (in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh), calcite (in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat), fuller’s earth (in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka), garnet (in Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala), pyrites (in Bihar, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh), wollastonite (in Rajasthan and Gujarat) and zircon (at the beach sands of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa).

Selected industrial minerals in India 
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Sources: Indian Bureau of Mines, Author’s own knowledge,
Industrial Minerals
 

Rare earths - an opportunity lost

India also produces large quantities of heavy-mineral sands associated with monazite production. Significant rare earths minerals found in India include ilmenite, sillimanite, garnet, zircon, monazite and rutile, collectively called beach sand minerals.

According to estimates by the Indian Beach Minerals Producers Association, the downstream rare-earth mineral industry could earn about 500 billion rupees ($7.71 billion) of foreign exchange if proper government support were provided.

"Government policy on rare earth minerals has blocked the development of this sub-segment of the industrial minerals industry," a senior management member at industrial mineral supplier VV Minerals told Industrial Minerals on the condition of anonymity.

"Rare-earth minerals were taken off the proscribed substances list in 2006. However, and for some reason, the government has again put these minerals on the proscribed substances list. So, in fact the country has actually gone backwards," the source added.

"No one is getting the licenses. [The have] been reserved specifically for Public Sector Undertakings [Indian Rare Earth Company and Kerala Minerals] through the department of atomic energy," the source said.

VV Minerals produces 700,000 tonnes per year of heavy minerals, including garnet abrasive, ilmenite, zircon, rutile, sillimanite and leucoxene. The company controls a 40km beach area containing continuous placer mineral deposits plus another 7,000 acres of land rich in heavy minerals.

Indian Rare Earths (IRE) operates a mineral sands separation plant at Chavara in Kerala to produce rare earth minerals. Kerala Minerals & Metals, a Kerala state-government undertaking, is also mining beach sands minerals.

In 2016, IRE ramped up capacity at its Odisha plant to 11,000 tpy of mixed rare-earth chlorides (MREC) from monazite concentrates.

India imported about 550 tonnes of rare-earth compounds and 450 tonnes of rare-earth metals in 2016. The country’s exports of rare-earth compounds were 440 tonnes in the same year.

Regulatory, infrastructure hurdles

Growth in several sub-segments of the industrial minerals industry has lagged the country’s overall economic growth. This is because India’s mining industry is confronted with several hurdles, such as inadequate infrastructural facilities in terms of transport or logistics facilities, regulatory challenges and policy gridlocks, corruption and social unrest.

Many planned projects have faced delays due to issues related to land acquisitions, mining leases, forest clearances, and relief and rehabilitation.

Industrial minerals are generally low-priced commodities compared with metals and are mined in bulk. To a large extent, their economic viability is highly dependent on transport costs. A large part of India, especially the resource-rich states, has very poor infrastructure, which has added to the total cost of extracting industrial minerals.

India’s share of industrial minerals in the international market is very low. But greater government attention to the development of industrial minerals and the provision of incentives could help the industry reach an export market worth 10 billion rupees per year by the end of the 2019-20 financial year, compared with 3 billion rupees in 2016-17.

Currently, only bentonite, barites and feldspar are exported from the country in sizable quantities.