CHEMICAL INDUSTRY IN BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER 
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
July 19 - 25, 20
10

Balochistan has enormous potential for development of chemical industry including fertiliser, pesticides, cement, leather, dairy, fruit and food processing minerals and oil and gas based industries. The government needs to work out a comprehensive plan and strategy to set up chemical industries in the province. Balochistan is rich in mineral resources. There is a huge scope for setting up mineral-based industries in the province.

CHROMITE

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, has enhanced its importance as one of the essential elements of modern industry.

Stainless steel industry is the major consumer of Chromite. Stainless steel is the alloy of chromium and iron. The performance of the industry largely determines the demand of chromium. Development of value added projects utilising 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.

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, chromnite is lumpy in nature and of high quality.

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.

In 2003, Smeda Balochistan had estimated the project cost for a beneficiation plant, capable of producing 15,000 tones of the concentrates. 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

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 1950's. 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 if it is processed efficiently. The efficiency of marble processing industry depends on the quarry products.

Disorganised 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 organised on modern lines in the country. The induction of modern technology in marble sector will increase efficiency of processing units.

COAL AND IRON

Balochistan possesses huge reserves of coal at Hamai, Degari, Mach, Ziarat, Chamalang and Abegum. The estimated reserves of all coalfields in the province are 217 million tons. 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, which cost the country Rs6,000-10,000 a ton.

It is generally argued that it is not feasible for Pakistan Steel to use Balochistan coal with larger sulphur content, as sulphur gets accumulated indifferent parts of the boiler. Raw coal contains different impurities like sulphur, calcite, clay, rock and shale. This impure coal cannot be utilised 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.

Presently, bricks makers utilise 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.

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. 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.

Balochistan's vast coal reserves can be utilised for energy generation. About one percent local coal is presently utilised by coal-based power stations.

The iron ore deposits are found at Dilband, Chilghazi, Lasbella, Nokkundi and other areas of district Chagai in the province. Recently discovered Iron ore deposits at Dilband in Mastung district of Balochistan are considered the country's first ever economically exploitable deposits. According to an estimate, Dilband resource of over 200 million tones of iron ore contains between 30 to 40 per cent iron.

Pakistan Steel is reportedly exploring the possibility of using local iron ore available in the province as input. This will cut down the country's import bill and help in the development of iron ore mining in the area. The PSM is the country's largest and only integrated steel manufacturing plant, with an annual designed production capacity of 1.1 million tones. PSM plans to use coal and iron ore found in Balochistan to save $16 million.