Dr. Farid A. Malik |
After reading two articles on the development of Chiniot minerals, I was motivated to write this note. Ansar Abbasi’s article appeared on April 14, 20, 7 titled, “Chiniot – from a dream treasure trove to steel mills promise” followed by Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan’s write up on Chiniot minerals: “Sifting fact from fiction” in the Nation on April 29, 2017. As I have been involved in all the major mining projects of the country, I consider it my national duty to present my professional viewpoint. The bottom line is that the country has no large scale commercial mining experience, which is why quackery prevails. Even nuclear scientists have joined the bandwagon for personal glory and benefits.
Chiniot/Rajoa is undoubtedly the best iron ore deposit of the country with total iron contents in the range of 63 to 65 percent.
In April 2014, a Chinese company was awarded a contract for Geophysical Surveys, Drilling and Modeling to estimate the iron ore and other precious metallic minerals at the Chiniot/Rajoa deposit. It was a two-year contract. Even before the completion of the report, a grand show was organized in 2015 at the site in which tall claims were made. It was hailed as a game changer for the development of the mining sector of the country. As expected, no such bonanza has been achieved; it proved to be an over-projected hoax.
Chiniot/Rajoa is undoubtedly the best iron ore deposit of the country with total iron contents in the range of 63 to 65 percent. An up-country steel mill of one million ton per annum capacity can be established here once the mining starts. The real challenge is in the extraction, not the processing of this high-grade deposit. Credible local steel making companies are willing to procure this ore provided availability of ore is guaranteed through large-scale commercial mining. Newspaper articles and TV shows cannot produce the desired results.
Where did we go wrong…
Punjab Mineral Development Corporation (Punjmin) was created for this purpose. During 1996–99, under a PC-II scheme, a detailed exploration work on Iron ore deposits of Chiniot was carried out. A report published a report titled; “Prospective project on Chiniot & Rajoa Iron Ore deposits” in which a joint venture offer was made for prospective investors was also published. There was no need to create new organizations like the Punjab Coal Mining Company or Punjab Mining Company. PUNJMIN should have been tasked to develop mining operations at selected sites to initiate large-scale commercial mining in the province.
Despite local steel requirements of 5 million tons per annum, Pakistan was unable to produce this basic building block of the nation.
The Kalabagh Iron Ore deposits are the oldest, largest and the most researched discovery of the country (450 million tons). In the fifties, Krupp Renn process of Germany was used to produce iron. A pilot plant was also established by Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC). As the iron contents were low (around 32%) with high silica (around 22%), the energy requirements were high.
Despite local steel requirements of 5 million tons per annum, Pakistan was unable to produce this basic building block of the nation. It was the elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) which established the first Steel Mills in 1974 at Port Qasim outside Karachi with an annual capacity of 1.1 million tons. The traditional Blast Furnace Process was adopted based on imported ore and coal. The plan was to gradually switch to local raw materials. As the blast furnace is able to accommodate marginal ores available in Pakistan the switchover was possible. Due to mismanagement the mill is currently shut and waiting for a buyer. Pakistan Steel Mill (PSM) can be turned around if the holes are plugged and professional management is introduced. Baboos, khakis and political appointees have played havoc with this national asset.
As Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) and Coordinator Planning Commission’s Committee on Mineral Development, I started the following projects for the development of this sector in 2004: Production of Iron & Steel from Kalabagh Iron Ore through Direct Reduction Process, Development of Directly Reduced Iron (DRI) from various indigenous ores of Pakistan (Chiniot, Chichali, Nokundi), Development of Spring Steel in Pakistan, Use of indigenous ores in Pakistan Steel Mills, Pilot Scale Study for the Development of Ferro-Chrome, Commercialisation of indigenous Coal Deposits.
Pakistan urgently needs to develop this sector to benefit from these large unexplored mineral deposits. It is time to call in the commercial mining experts and get rid of the quacks.
The Metals and Minerals Section of PCSIR Lahore was able to produce Iron from Kalabagh Iron Ore using local coal in a reverberatory furnace. It was termed a modified Krupp Renn Process. A credible local steel company was interested in picking up the development. The commercial application a Pilot Plant test was required but the PCSIR ran out of funds. Through the Punjab Board of Investment and Trade (PBIT), a meeting was arranged with the Chief Minister (CM) on May 14, 2011, to solicit funding for the Pilot Plant. As I had initiated the Project, I was invited as an expert to participate in the meeting. Our request for funds was turned down, CM directed that foreign consultants should be invited to develop the deposit. It was a poor decision, what could have been achieved locally with meager funding and in a short span of time remains unaccomplished to date despite the investment of millions.
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Unless local expertise is developed with the involvement of credible local private sector entities, the mining sector will not develop. From laboratory to full-scale commercialisation, the most important step is the scale up to pilot level in which the government has a major role. Saindak Copper-Gold Project was the first major challenge to establish large-scale commercial mining in the country. Despite warnings and objections, the project was handed over to the Chinese contractor. The same blunders were repeated at Thar, Reko-Dig, and Chiniot. Pakistan urgently needs to develop this sector to benefit from these large unexplored mineral deposits. It is time to call in the commercial mining experts and get rid of the quacks.
Question for discussion: Should we wait and develop local expertise or should we be focused on economic growth of the country and use foreign skills to extract?
Dr. Farid Malik is a prominent technical and management expert in mining, materials, engineering and high-tech industry; he is a regular columnist for The Nation and Pakistan Today. He is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. This article was first published in The Nation and is republished with the permission of the author. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.