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Growth of Beach Sand Mineral Industry in Odisha – Calls for urgent attention by the State Govt

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Odisha not only possess huge mineral deposits of Iron, Coal, Bauxite and Chromium; but also has a substantial quantity of Beach Sand deposits. The effective mining of Beach sand, beneficiations and conversion to value added products within Odisha will accelerate the industrial development of the state. R C Patnaik, the Former Executive of Indian Rare Earth Ltd, Chatrapur in Ganjam district of Odisha enumerates the application of rare earth minerals, which Odisha is endowed with.

 

As one walks along the Ganjam coast at Gopalpur and Arjipalli (Chatrapur), one will find sand dunes along the 18 kms long coastline. The average height of the dunes is as high as 15 m from mean sea level. If you observe minutely, you will find existence of several sand particles in various colours viz. Black, Brown, Red, Cream Color etc in the dunes. These minerals are Ilmenite, Rutile, Zircon, Monazite, Garnet and Sillimanite. These are valuable minerals for industrial applications and are called heavy minerals. These are in a mechanical mixture form and the average percentage of these minerals in the dune sand is about 20% by weight, the balance being silica and quartz which are of no commercial value due to salinity. Hence these heavy minerals containing 20% by weight is to be separated first from the bulk reserve and is to be separated to individual minerals based on their properties such as, grain size, specific gravity electrical conductivity, magnetic susceptibility, surface properties etc.

About the deposits:

Mineral sands are obtained from disintegration of rocks and are washed down into the sea by rivers and also from erosion of coastal rocks by wave action. They are again transported to the coast by high tidal waves. Wave actions have led to formation of big dunes along the coast/beach and hence called Beach Sand Minerals.

In India, beach sand minerals are existing over a coast length of about 2400km along both East and West Coast touching Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Mining and production of these minerals depend on the extent of deposits, its concentration and economics of its production as well as environmental and ecological issues. Hence mining at all these places may not be feasible.

Beach sand deposits along Odisha Coast:

The heavy mineral contents of Kerala and Tamil Nadu deposits contain about 50 to 60 percent of the raw sand and such deposits do not exist elsewhere in the country. Though Ilmenite and associated other minerals occur in the Ratnagiri coast of Maharashtra and in some parts of Andhra Pradesh, both in terms of reserves and richness, the Odisha deposits in east coast rank next to Kerala and Tamil Nadu deposits.

Atomic Minerals division of Govt. of India have done extensive investigation during the nineteen sixties and proved the occurrence of large deposits of Beach sand along the South Odisha Coast over a stretch of about 100 kms. Of the several deposits located, the one close to Chatrapur town in Ganjam district is the most extensive single deposit with the highest content of Heavy minerals. It runs over a coast length of nearly 18 kms covering a total area of over 26 sqkms between Gopalpur in the South and the Rushikulya River in the North. The total raw sand deposit estimated at that time was 230 million tons with 20 to 25 percent Heavy minerals such as ilmenite, garnet, sillimanite, Rutile, Zircon & Monazite. This deposit was the single largest and contiguous deposit in the world. Extensive deposits have also been found along Rambha Coast in Ganjam District. Rich deposits have also been identified along the Puri Coast near Satpada located between Chilika Lake and Sea coast. However, so far it is only the Chatrapur deposit which is being mined and separated to individual industrially applicable minerals by M/s Indian Rare Earths Ltd (IRE Ltd), a central PSU under Dept. of Atomic Energy. The State Govt of Odisha has granted lease of the deposits to IRE Ltd.

Industrial Application of Beach Sand Minerals:

  1. Ilmenite:

It contains approximately 50% TiO2 and 50% Iron Oxide. This Iron Oxide exists as an impurity and by chemical process, if removed will enhance the TiO2 content. By chloride route as well as sulphite route, technology has been developed and established to get 92% pure TiO2 known as Synthetic Rutile. Iron Oxide, the byproduct has several uses. The Synthetic Rutile is used as an input for Titanium Dioxide Pigment Plant.

  1. Rutile / Synthetic Rutile:

Rutile contains about 94 to 96 percent Titanium Dioxide. Synthetic Rutile is a Rutile like material containing about 90 to 92 percent Titanium Dioxide and is produced from Ilmenite, containing about 50 percent Titanium Dioxide. Rutile and synthetic Rutile are used in the manufacture of Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) Pigment, coatings of welding electrodes and in the manufacture of Titanium sponge and metal. TiO2 Pigment is mainly used for paints, its other uses being for paper, plastics, rubber, printing ink, ceramics etc. Titanium metal which is a silver white light metal, a little heavier than aluminium but about half as heavy as alloy steel and having better corrosion resistance than stainless steel, is used where stainless steel is not suitable. Its main uses are in aircrafts, missiles, chemicals and de-salination plants, marine equipments etc.

  1. Sillimanite:

The theoretical composition of this mineral is about 60 percent Alumina (Al2O3) and 37 percent Silica (SiO2). Its properties are similar to that of Kyanite and are widely used for light to medium temperature resisting refractory bricks, monolithic.

  1. ZIRCON

Zircon is a Silicate of Zirconium, containing about 65 percent Zirconia (ZrO2) and approximately 35 percent Silica. It is used in foundries, refractories, ceramics, porcelain and pottery industry. It also finds use in the manufacture of Zirconium compounds such as acetate, oxychloride, hydroxide, carbonate etc. Small quantities are also utilized for the production of Zirconium metal, the alloys and compounds of which are used in nuclear energy plants.

  1. Monazite:

Monazite is a phosphate of rare earths and thorium and contains about 60 percent rare earths expressed as oxide (Re2O3) and 27 to 29 percent phosphate expressed as phosphorus pentaoxide (P2O5). It is used for production of rare earths chloride and other rare earths compounds, tri-sodium phosphate, thorium hydroxide and thorium nitrate. These chemicals find extensive application in the incandescent gas mantle industry, in starters of fluorescent tubes, carbon arc industry, optical glass composition, picture tubes of color TV etc.

  1. Garnet

It is an Iron Aluminium Silicate, Fe3Al2 (SiO4), with Al2O3 approx 21%, FeO 27%, Fe2O3 2.4% and SiO2 38% by weight. It is very hard and is used in grinding stones, Abrasive papers etc. It also is used in garnet tiles.

Generation of downstream industries:

             The minerals have got wise range of industrial applications. Based on the utilities the following major Industrial units can be set up:

  1. Synthetic Rutile plant or Titanium Dioxide Plant based on Ilmentie.
  2. Paint Pigment Plant based on Titaium Dioxide (From Rutile or Ilmenite) and paint unit from the pigment.
  3. Titanium metal/Titanium Sponge Unit, Ferro Titanium Unit.
  4. Welding electrode Units.
  5. Refractories based on Sillimanite and zircon used in steel industries.
  6. Zircon micronizing units to produce zircon flour and Opacifier used in Ceramic Wall Tiles, Insulator, foundry chemicals.
  7. Zirconium Oxide and other Zirconium Chemical Units, partially stabilized and stabilized Zirconia Unit.
  8. Silico Aluminium Unit.
  9. Zirconium metal and Zirconium alloy plant.
  10. Monazite processing unit to manufacture Rare Earth Chemicals as well as detergents based on Trisodium phosphate.
  11. Garnet powder, graded garnet unit.
  12. Separation of garnet and Sillimanite from reject sand of mineral separation plant.
  13. Garnet Tile unit.
  14. Zircon frit making units which can be supplied to Nuclear Fuel complex, Hyderabad.

 Present Activities of IREL:

IREL has set up a mining plant to mine the minerals for which it has adopted dredge mining technology. After mining the sand deposits, the valuable minerals of approximately 20% of the mined quantity is separated in a pre concentration plant using gravity separation methods with spiral concentrators. This 20% which is a mechanical mixture of heavy minerals are individually separate in a minerals separation plant to get all the above 6 minerals.

The main constituent   mineral, Ilmenite, is a low value product & was initially utilized in a plant called synthetic Rutile plant. Iliminite which is having about 50% Titanium dioxide was upgraded to synthetic rutile of about 90% Titanium Dioxide i.e appropriately every 2 tons of processed ilmenite was to give one ton of synthetic rutile which is a high value item. However IREL could not operate this value added plant even for a single continuous year with the rated production capacity. Hence the entire plant with its auxiliary facility of Acid Regeneration plant was shut down & later utilized as scrap for disposal. There after IREL did not sincerely try for putting up a plant with state of art technology for upgrading ilmenite and get value added products. On the contrary IREL happily sells our raw ilmenite to various traders in the world.

It is a paradox that the Atomic Energy Department, which comes under the Prime Minister, has not been trying to go for any value addition, by establishing plants based on ilmenite though they have strong technological back ground and financial support. It’s only the lack of will power by IREL management, which does not try sincerely for value addition of Ilmenite.

IREL has only made several MoUs with NALCO & other countries like Russia for Production of Titanium Dioxide / Titanium Sponge etc. Only the MoUs are being extended without any end result. Same is the case of Sillico Aluminum plant; for which one MoU was signed between IREL & NALCO almost a decade back.

During the past, more than 30 years of operation by IREL, more than 50% of the deposits have been mined and exhausted. There has been no value addition in this area nor has any downstream industry been setup in the state. To be more precise, there is no contribution of IREL for the economic growth of the state of Odisha. Only value added products would generate huge revenue as well as employment & there would be a chain of downstream industries and hence efforts are to be made in this direction. As of now one private party M/s Saraf Agencies have setup a small titanium slag plant based on IREL Ilmenite.

Only a paltry royalty is given to the state for which the valuable minerals are mined and slowly the resources are getting exhausted. The balance deposits in the existing lease area will last for another 20-25 years and thereafter this area will be a barren land without any minerals and without any contribution to the locality.

Future plans of IREL & State Govt:

Govt. of Odisha through Industrial Development Corporation of Odisha has entered into an MoU with IREL for setting up of a Mining and separation plant in the Rambha Coast. It is proposed to have initially a separation plant & to sell the minerals and later to go for a value added plants based on Ilmenite. Looking into the back ground of IREL during the past more than 30 years, it is apprehended that IREL may not go for any value added plants and go for sale of individual minerals. In the process, state will continue to lose heavily and in a couple of years of the commercial operation, the mineral wealth of the state will get depleted as is being done in Chatrapur deposits.

IREL also plans to acquire the sand deposits in the Puri coast at Satapada. State Govt should auction the deposit and lease out to such parties who would be willing to setup value added plants like Titanium dioxide plant based on Ilmenite as well as other plants based on Rutile, Zircon & sillimanite instead of selling the minerals.

Govt. Norms on Beach Sand Minerals:

In the initial years of IREL’S operations the beach sand Minerals were Governed by Atomic Energy Department. However in the year 2008 onwards these deposits have been declassified and were removed from the purview of Dept. of Atomic Energy and now these deposits are under the control of state Mining Depts. Hence in various states like AP, TN & Kerala private players have already started mining activities. However in Odisha its only IREL is holding the lease. It was expected that IREL will contribute substantially to the state’s growth & development in Beach sand industry. Contrary to that it has belied the expectation. The basic reason is that people at large and State Govt. officials are of the opinion that, IREL being a PSU under DAE is engaged in the utilization of its minerals in the nuclear application; some officials even feel that IREL minerals are used in defence production. It is just a misnomer. 100% of the minerals produced are used by private industrial houses in the country while only one mineral i.e. Monazite after processing, a small quality of Thorium product is produced which is probably kept for future use. From monazite processing plant, several products are sold in the open market. Hence state Govt. should consider the interest of the state & take up with IREL and insist for its value addition or else should stop renewal of lease which is probably due in 2019 i.e. 40 years after the first lease in 1979. State Govt. also should review the 40 years of lease period vis-a-vis the contribution to the state. By auctioning the deposits, Govt. will get more revenue and enforce value addition clauses which will be in the interest of the State. IREL is simply taking the advantage   of being a PSU under DAE & state Govt. should not be taken for a ride by IREL.

Conclusion:

             Odisha state not only possess huge mineral deposits of Iron, Coal, Bauxite and Chromium; but also has a substantial quantity of Beach Sand deposits. All these Beach Sand minerals have diversified industrial application. Similarly the Paint Industry will also grow significantly. Hence its effective mining beneficiations and conversion to value added products within Odisha will accelerate the industrial development of the state.

Since the Steel industry is poised for a massive growth in India, the refractory industry will also grow proportionately. Hence there is an urgent need for development for Beach Sand Mining industry which has a direct contribution in the Steel related refractory and ceramic units. The State Government should concentrate on value added products within the State based on Beach Sand Minerals instead of allowing export of Ilmenite mineral.

 

About R.C. Patnaik, FIE,

Past Chairman, Berhampur Local Centre The Institution of Engineer (India), Former Executive, Beach Sand Industry of IREL, Chatrapur

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