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Setting up of mineral-based units in Balochistan: time to reap benefits

There is a great scope for setting up small and medium enterprises in mineral sector of Balochistan, a famously rich province of Pakistan in number of mineral resources i.e. chromite, barytes, sulphur, marble, iron ore, quartzite, limestone and coal. Gold, silver, iron and copper are more well known and important minerals available in the province, mostly found in Chagai district. The country is currently producing 50 minerals and effectively about 40 minerals are exploited in Balochistan. Ironically, despite of these rich resources and time-to-time investment by the foreign countries into the province, the full utilization of natural resources for the country’s economic benefit is still lacking as the most of the time the province is remained unsettled due to security, political and culture fear. The government is seriously needs to work out a comprehensive plan and strategy to set up more mineral-based units in the province. There is dire need to set up more mineral-based units provided making advancement in the existing units for the future well being of the indigenous and for the growth of the country’s economy. Though there are number of foreign firms having their projects in the province but currently the huge investment by China under $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, will usher into remarkable boost for the economy of Pakistan.

CHROMITE RESERVES

The province is endowed with huge reserves of chromite. First discovery was made in 1901 at Muslim Bagh and Khanozai in district Kila Saifullah. Other occurrences of chromite include those of the Ras Koh Range in western Balochistan and Wad deposits of Khuzdar district. Zhob deposits were first discovered by Vredenburg in 1901 during the course of regional reconnaissance mapping of the province. Chromite deposits are characterized by variable sizes and forms. The ore bodies are generally small and average 5,000 to 10,000 tons. In Wad area, chromite is lumpy in nature and of high quality. Chromite is the critical ore, which is used in manufacture of strategic materials. It’s wide-range of uses in metallurgical, chemical and refractory industries today, have enhanced its importance as one of the essential element of modern industry. Stainless steel industry is the major consumer of Chromite. Stainless steel is the alloy of chromium and iron.

In 2003, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) Balochistan proposed a chromite beneficiation plant, capable of producing 15,000 tonnes of the concentrates by conducting a detailed study on chromite. The performance of the industry largely determines the demand of chromium. Development of value added projects utilizing indigenous ore, can meet at least the domestic requirements of chromite. The imports of various value added products such as basic refractories, metallurgical products and chromite chemicals far exceeds the earnings from the exports of raw materials.

Basic refractory bricks industry is also the major consumer of chromite. It is used in the production of refractories for its high melting point and high resistance against acids and bases. The chromite refractories have major applications in steel processing, cement processing and glass-making. Chromite is also used as molding medium in foundry industry. Pakistan still meets her domestic requirements by importing ferroalloys, basic refractory bricks and chromite chemicals. With the exception of producing small quantities of chromite chemicals, entire requirements are met through imports. Generally, the higher and medium grade ore is exploited and low grade is left behind for having no value in export market. The low-grade ore can be upgraded to produce value added concentrates. High grade concentrates produced through beneficiation can either be exported at higher prices or be consumed by local industries.

The experts stress the need for setting up chromite beneficiation plants, which enrich the chromium content of the ores making it physically and chemically suitable for its marketing. Such beneficiation plants should be set up close to the areas where mining operations are being carried out. This will ensure availability of raw material at hand saving the transportation expenditures. The process of beneficiation of chrome ore for high grade basic refractory involves the following stages: crushing, sizing, conveyers belts, concentrating tables and drying.

MARBLE – A VALUED MINERAL

Marble is the most valued mineral bestowed by nature upon Balochistan. Commercial marble occurs at a number of localities in Lasbela, Khuzdar and Chaghi districts of the province. Commercial marble is defined as “any crystalline rock capable of taking a polish and suitable for decorative and structural purposes”. Marble is largely used in construction and handicrafts sectors. Amongst the building stones, marble occupies a unique position. Since time immemorial, marble has been used in temples, mosques, palaces, monuments etc. as an ornamental and decorative stone because of its pleasing colors, attractive patterns and designs. Marble slabs and handicrafts have great demand in national and international market.

Marble in Chaghi district is of onyx variety and is being mined since 1950s. The term ‘onyx’ signifies a banded variety of quartz, highly prized as an ornamental stone.

For its vast applications and uses, onyx marble has great demand in the international market. The onyx marble from Chaghi can meet the international standards and needs more support if it is processed efficiently. Disorganized and mismanaged scheme of the things, poor technology and shy investment in marble sector are the main reasons for low growth in this sector in Pakistan. The sector needs to be organized on modern lines in the country. The induction of modern technology in marble sector will increase efficiency of processing units. SMEDA can play a role in setting up marble processing units, which depend on the quarry products.

COAL INVESTMENT

Coal washing plants can be established in Balochistan, which possesses huge reserves of coal at Hanai, Degari, Mach, Ziarat, Chamalang and Abegum. The estimated reserves of all coal fields in the province are 217 million tonnes. Coal is the cheapest source of thermal energy used in industrial sector. It has the potential to replace other expensive fuels such as furnace oil. Unfortunately, Pakistan Steel is still importing coal from foreign countries. It is generally argued that it is not feasible for Pakistan Steel to use Balochistan coal with larger sulphur content, as sulphur gets accumulated in different parts of the boiler. Raw coal contains different impurities like sulphur, calcite, clay, rock and shale. This impure coal cannot be utilized in the industry hence impurities must be washed out. For saving energy and cost, there is a need to set up coal washing plants in the province. It is economically no longer cost-effective for the Pakistan Steel to continue relying on imported coal, as its price has increased in the international market. It would be cost-effective for Pakistan Steel to mix the cheap local coal with the imported one. The quality of Chamalang coal is better than the rest of coal being mined from different coalfields in Balochistan.

Presently, bricks makers utilize over 80 percent of the local coal and the rest are being consumed by cement makers to blend it with the imported coal to reduce the cost of production. Pakistan Steel should buy Chamalang coal. This will not only increase the demand of local coal, but also give a further boost to the mining operations in the area.

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