To tackle the shortage of iron ore, JSW Steel plans to use low-grade iron ore dumps, with 46 per cent iron (Fe) content, at its Bellary steel plant. This would be the first time an Indian steel company would use such low-grade haematite iron ore as raw material. So far, JSW Steel has used iron ore with 52 per cent iron content.
The company has set a production target of nine million tonnes (mt) for this financial year.
“We have had a tough time in the last two years, when we were stabilising our 10-mt steel plant. Our requirement is 15 mt a year. For us, securing such a large quantity is tough. We have created capacity of 20 mt at our benefication plant, used 52 per cent Fe iron ore and survived for the last two years. Now, we are targeting 46 per cent Fe grade iron ore,” Deputy Managing Director Vinod K Nowal said at a conference on the mining in Karnataka.
He added JSW Steel’s in-house research and development team was in advanced stages of using very low-grade iron ore, called banded haematite quartzite, or BHQ ore (with Fe content of less than 40 per cent), in case iron ore wasn't available. “In the Bellary region, very big deposits of BHQ ore are available,” he said.
Currently, JSW’s steel plant is running at 80 per cent of installed capacity. The company plans to raise this to 90 per cent this financial year. The company is awaiting the announcement of e-auctions for iron ore dumps.
“Once the monitoring committee releases dumps for e-auctions, we would procure and use it. We have the relevant technology to beneficiate very low-grade ore and enrich it to our requirement,” said P K Murugan, vice-president (commercial).
The Supreme Court had appointed a monitoring committee to supervise e-auctions in Karnataka. However, the committee is yet to decide on the price and the date of auctions.
Recovery from such low-grade iron ore is very low. “To produce one tonne of 61 per cent Fe fines, we require 2.5 tonnes of 46 per cent Fe ore. Considering the cost of logistics and conversion to 61 per cent Fe, the price of iron ore dumps would have to be very low to make it cost-effective. We are awaiting the final word from the monitoring committee in this regard,” Murugan said.
Currently, NMDC sells its 61 per cent Fe grade iron ore at Rs 2,000 a tonne. “If the cost of iron ore dumps is more than Rs 100 a tonne, it wouldn't be viable for anyone to beneficiate it and use it as feedstock for blast furnaces,” he added.
It is estimated iron ore dumps are in the range of seven and 10 mt at various mines in Bellary district. It is expected Chitradurga and Tumkur districts have an additional three to four mt of such ore.
Apart from JSW Steel, other steel companies such as BMM Ispat and Janaki Steel also have benefication capabilities to use low-grade iron ore.