Author Archives: Sohrab Darabshaw

India’s mining sector has the potential to contribute as much as $70 billion to the country’s economy by 2030 and generate about 6 to 7 million jobs, believes the country’s industry association, the Confederation of Indian Industry.

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A report titled, Mining Opportunities – Realizing Potential was recently released by the CII, though with an added a cautionary note: clearances “still remain an impediment for a smooth transition from auction stage to implementation stage.”

Mining Reforms Having an Effect

The current Modi government initiated reforms in the mining sector, which underperformed during the previous regime, many say, due to red tape. One of the most important steps was the clearance of the National Mineral Exploration Policy (NMEP) by the government in.

NMEP has the following main features for facilitating exploration in the country:

  1. The Ministry of Mines will carry out auctioning of identified exploration blocks for exploration by the private sector on a revenue-sharing basis. If exploration leads to auctionable resources, the revenue will be borne by the successful bidder of those auctionable blocks.
  2. Creation of baseline geoscientific data as a public good for open dissemination free of charge.
  3. A National Geoscientific Data Repository was supposed to be set up to collate all baseline and mineral exploration information generated by various central and state government agencies and also mineral concession holders and to maintain these on a geospatial database.

While these policy changes have been welcomed overall, there has been some criticism over the implementation. The CII report, for example, talks of the “inordinately long time that is required for obtaining this clearance and the cumbersome process involved therein.”

Why Can’t Companies Start Mining Faster?

The report was recently released at the International Mining and Machinery (IMME) and Global Summit 2016. It said that the Environment and Forest clearance processes take a long time and added that there was significant room for improvement in the clearance system in terms of efficiency, speed of decision making, predictability and transaction.

There’s also unexpected criticism from another quarter on the new mining policy. A report in the DNA newspaper, quoting global miner Anglo American PLC, said the Indian auction system discourages foreign direct investment as the auction process does not provide adequate risk-reward incentive.

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In the report, John Vann, group head of exploration at Anglo, said the auction system makes it difficult to see India competing with other countries where Anglo American invests. According to him, the granting of licenses rather than auctioning off mines would give confidence to foreign investors.

Tata Steel’s Canadian subsidiary recently signed definitive agreements with Resources Quebec and Investment Quebec, the investing arms of the provincial government for investment of $92.46 million (125 million Canadian dollars) in equity and $36.98 (50 million Canadian) dollars in debt, giving an 18% stake in Tata’s Canadian susbsidiary to Resources Quebec.

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Tata Steel Minerals Canada (TSMC) is a joint venture between Tata Steel and Canada’s New Millennium Iron Corp. It will start mining iron or in Quebec, Newfoundland, and Labrador Peninsula, and set up multiple processing facilities, including a beneficiation plant.

After the transaction is completed, Tata Steel and New Millennium’s iron or stakes will be reduced to 77.68% and 4.32%, respectively.

The deal aims to advance development of the Direct Shipping Ore (DSO) property, which straddles the border between Quebec and Labrador, with mineral deposits on both provinces.

Tata Steel Group has invested over $1.35 billion (1 billion Canadian) in the direct shipping ore project to date.

Tata Steel Executive Director, Finance and Corporate, Koushik Chatterjee was quoted saying the investment signaled the Government of Quebec’s cooperation in supporting sustainable development in line with the objectives of its Plan Nord Initiative.

After inking the deal, Tata is positive it will lead to increased production, improving cost competitiveness and the development of the mineral deposits in Quebec.

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Tata said the project — which involves mining, crushing, washing and drying the run-of-mine ore near Schefferville, Québec, — will produce 4.2 million meric tons of sinter fines and pellet feed annually.

The finished product will be shipped to Tata Steel Europe’s steelmaking facilities.

For some time now, a debate over the use of rebar, specifically or Glass-Fiber Reinforced Plastic (GFRP ), instead of other forms of steel reinforcement, has been on in Asian industry circles.

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Recently, two events seemed to inflame this ongoing debate. Galvanized rebar was part of the topics taken up for discussion at an international meeting on galvanized steel in India, while a research report, released about the same time, talked of the latest trends in the market in the increased use of GFRP rebar.

rebarforconcretepour_550

Galvanized steel is the gold standard for construction rebar such as this rebar web waiting for a concrete pour. Can glass-fiber reinforced plastic seriously compete? Photo: Jeff Yoders.

The second international galvanizing conference in Kolkata in eastern India saw participation from a cross section of zinc and alloy industries, including the U.S. Delegates talked about ways to expand the zinc market in India and also how to use zinc in automobile industries, fertilizers, and in rebars.

Zinc in Construction

The Indian Government is showing some interest in the role of zinc in building important infrastructure such as bridges. India’s demand for galvanized steel structures will keep rising because of its growing infrastructure. Steel becomes rust-proof (or corrosion resistant, as the industry says) when coated with a layer of zinc, hence galvanization. If done properly, galvanization extends the useful life of rebar and other products for decades. Read more

Just when life was getting good for Indian steelmakers, the price of coking coal goes up.

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The increasing price of global coking coal, a key ingredient in steelmaking, may squeeze Indian steelmakers’ profitability and deepen financial risks, according to a Fitch Ratings report. Prices had crossed the $190-a-metric-ton mark recently. The steel companies risk will also increase if the high prices persist while domestic steel demand growth remains low. Which essentially means that the increase in raw material costs for Indian steel producers may shrink their margins, if the rise is not passed on to consumers.

Coking Coal Imports

The bulk of India’s coking coal is imported to compensate for the lack of good quality coal from the country’s own mines. In addition to steel plants, the raw material used by coal-based power plants, cement plants, captive power plants, sponge iron plants, and almost all depend on importing non-coking coal.

Coke is imported mainly by pig-iron manufacturers and iron and steel sector consumers using mini-blast furnaces. India imported around 200 million mt of coal last financial year to top domestic production of 640 mmt.

Steel mills Molten iron smelting furnace production line

Steel mills in India are turning to new suppliers and reopened mines to provide coking coal with prices up. Source: AdobeStock/zjk.

So India, despite efforts by the government to reduce its dependence on foreign coking coal, has to import it from countries like Indonesia, South Africa, Russia and Australia. Coking coal prices in Australia have surged in the last few months, so what’s good news for that nation is bad news for India’s steel makers. Read more

Like steel, there has been some positive news about aluminum consumption in India. A research report said aluminum intake is poised to grow from 3.3 million metric tons in 2015-16 to 5.3 mmt in 2020-21.

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The report, “Indian Aluminium Industry: Geared for Growth,” is by global research and ratings agency Crisil and Mtlexs. It forecasts growth based on a combination of government initiatives such as “Make in India,” Smart Cities, Housing for All, and an increase in the transport of freight across the country.

Electrical Power Demand

The analysts say aluminum’s main demand would come from the power sector, since the white metal was now often used as a cost-effective, lightweight substitute for copper in transmission and distribution. In the coming five years, investments from state utilities and central government schemes worth millions of dollars are being planned to expand India’s transmission and distribution network.

The other sector that would drive the uptake is the automotive sector. The tightening of vehicular emission standards has forced automakers to look at aluminum to reduce vehicle fleet weight. India’s automobile sector is poised for heavy growth in the next five years.

As has become the norm, any news of increased consumption is accompanied by a downside: cheap imports. Like producers in the U.S., whose interests are being harmed by China’s exports of semi-finished products, India’s aluminum sector, too, as reported earlier by MetalMiner has been dogged by such imports. In India, imports make up almost 50% of the total consumption, largely from neighboring China. Just between 2011-2016, imports of aluminum increased 14%.

Smelters Want Tariffs

Aluminum majors such as Hindalco, Vedanta and Nalco have been urging the Indian government to impose a Minimum Import Price (MIP) to enable the domestic industry to take on what is being called as a “foreign economic invasion.”

Hindalco’s Managing Director Satish Pai was quoted saying such a government move would help the domestic industry compete with the cheap imports. He was addressing the recent World Non-Ferrous Conference 2016.

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He said in the last five years, the imports from the ASEAN (free-trade agreement countries including Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) had increased from 6% of the total refined imports to 31%. The Indian Mines Secretary has indicated that the government is examining the aluminum sector’s demand and would make a decision on the imposition of an MIP in the next 15 days.The Mines Ministry already held several rounds of discussions with aluminum industry leaders.

It may not have been a very good year so far for India’s Tata Steel but things seem to be looking up. It’s also looking good for former Tata Steel companies.

Former Tata Operations Turn a Corner

While Tata continues to report consolidated losses, although it hopes to recover in the short term, there’s plenty of cheer for its former European operations. British Steel, after being spun off from Tata is back in the black, just a few weeks after the completion of the sale of Tata’s steelworks at Scunthorpe.

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Greybull Capital is the new owner of Tata Steel’s long products business and British Steel now plans to pump in about $65 million (£50 million) of investment this financial year.

This steel plant at Port Talbot in South Wales, U.K., could close if Tata Steel can't find a buyer. Even as steel prices increased last week. Source: Adobe Stock/Petert2

Tata Steel is supposedly in pension talks with its union to save this steel plant at Port Talbot in South Wales, U.K.. Source: Adobe Stock/Petert2

In nearby Scotland, the Dalzell plant at Motherwell, Glasgow, reopened recently after the India-native businessman Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty House Group acquired the steelworks from Tata earlier this year. Read more

So, will aluminum receive a similar tariff shield as steel has enjoyed in India? The shield refers to a minimum import price (MIP) that is generally imposed on cheap commodities entering India, just like cheap steel from China.

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In the case of aluminum, too, the main “culprit” seems to be China. Yet, the stance of the Indian government vis-à-vis an MIP is still not clear, as various ministries concerned with the development have given divergent opinions. Read more

India will complete the second phase of its mining auctions later this month, after the first round last year received a lukewarm response. Going under the hammer will be gold, diamond and iron ore mines.

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Mines in five provinces — Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand — will be auctioned. This time, there are 14 iron ore mines, 12 blocks of limestone and one block each of gold, diamond and copper. While some analysts have predicted a better response than last time to the iron ore mining auction, the limestone blocks may not see much action because of the cement market slump.

Round One

In the first round of the auction, the states offered 47 mines bearing minerals such as gold, iron ore, bauxite and limestone.

They were able to auction seven mines in that phase, earning the government billions of dollars over the next 50 years. However, 17 blocks were not sold due to an insufficient number of initial bids on account of factors such as quantity and grade of ore and low quality of the mineralization studies, among other reasons.

The first round also came under scrutiny when the comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG), a body that audits all government expenditures, passed certain adverse observations. It said in a report tabled in the Indian Parliament that competition may have been restricted in the auction of 11 coal blocks on account of multiple bids by corporate groups made through joint ventures or subsidiaries.

What Does This Mean For India’s Steel Exports?

The iron ore auction comes at a time when the Indian government is contemplating a relaxation of export duties on iron ore. This has led to protests from the domestic steel industry.

In a representation to the steel ministry, the Indian Steel Association asked the government to continue with a 30% export duty on all grades of ore, to preserve natural resources for domestic use.

The government already cut the export duty on low-grade fines to 10% earlier this year but continued with a 30% levy on lumps.

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India’s ore production is lagging its growth of steel production. Production, according to steel ministry data, fell at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.5% in the past five years.

She’s been described as the “green lady,” and The Guardian once called her the “woman who loves garbage.”

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Veena Sahajwalla, a native of Mumbai, is the director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology at the University of New South Wales in Australia

Last weekend, Sahajwalla was on one of her many visits to India, where she addressed a high profile seminar at the Scrap Recycling Conference: Emerging Markets. There, she told delegates about her pioneering effort in making “green steel” from, guess what? End-of-life rubber tires.

Polymer Injection Technology (PIT), a technology that Sahajwalla invented, can be used to recycle tires to replace coal and coke in the making of steel. While the two-day conference saw almost 300 delegates from the scrap and steel industry confab on issues ranging from the world business of recycling to automobile recycling in India, Veena’s presentation seemed to have created the most buzz.

The Indo-Australian scientist insists that her technology could be the answer to the growing global problem of disposal of waste tires globally. The United States, for example, was the largest producer of waste tires at about 290 million a year, but now China and India are giving the U.S. a run for its money because of increasing sales of new vehicles.

Automobile tires are made from a mix of natural and synthetic rubber, and various structural reinforcing elements including metal wires and chemical additives. The PIT introduces a modification into the conventional manufacturing process for steel. The technology precisely controls the injection of granulated waste tire material in conventional electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking, partially replacing non-renewable coke. Tire rubber, like coke, is a good source of hydrocarbons, which means they can be transformed in EAF steelmaking.

New South Wales University researched the replacement technology for years and, today, millions of waste tires are being transformed into high quality steel in Australia.

Recently, the same university also showcased a pilot micro-factory that safely transforms toxic e-waste into high-value metal alloys, offering a low-cost solution to what to do with the millions of phones, computers and other e-waste products plaguing India. Sahajwalla was involved in this project, too.

She told the Asian Scientist Magazine recently that a ton of mobile phones (about 6,000 handsets) contained about 130 kilograms of copper, 3.5 kg of silver, 340 grams of gold and 140 grams of palladium, worth tens of thousands of dollars. Sahajwalla explained that she used precisely controlled high-temperature reactions to produce copper and tin-based alloys from tossed out printed circuit boards (PCBs) while simultaneously destroying toxins.

All this is sweet music to the ears of Indian recycling industry. The country is the world’s second-largest mobile phone market, and the fifth-largest producer of e-waste, discarding roughly 1.9 million metric tons of such waste every year. Veena is confident that the PIT can solve India’s waste tyres problem.

India’s Recycled Metal Market

While the global recycled metal market is estimated to touch $476.2 billion by 2024, India’s scrap recycling industry is set to register an annual growth of 11.4% until the year 2020, according to a recent report by Frost & Sullivan. India’s annual scrap consumption was 20.40 mmt; it imports 6.48 mmt of scrap, and is the world’s third-largest importer.

But India’s traditional metals, ferrous and non-ferrous, recycling rate is about 20%, less than the world average. For some years now, the unorganized sector has been demanding that the Indian government accord it “industry” status and implement a metal recycling policy with a view to ensuring fast-track growth.

India has the potential to become one of largest car recycling regions, and the demand for policy was something that was even discussed at the two-day conference here. The Indian government recently proposed offering consumers an incentive of about $375 (almost 25,133 Indian Rupees) for a passenger car handed in to be scrapped in the hopes of boosting recycling rates.

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A few months ago, the state-run scrap metal trading firm MSTC Ltd. signed an agreement with the Mumbai-based Mahindra Intertrade, a part of the Mahindra Group, to set up an auto shredding and recycling plant in India. The joint venture will help meet India’s annual ferrous scrap usage requirement of about 6 mmt.

The onward march of an “aggressive” China, the world’s biggest supplier and consumer of steel, has virtually come to a halt in recent times due to a variety of reasons, but India’s steel sector has picked up speed, both in steel output and demand.

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A fresh report by Moody’s Investors Services said demand in India is set to outstrip the region’s average. It said the need for steel in India would outpace the regional average as the country’s GDP growth of around 7.5% in 2016 and 2017 was the highest in Asia.

As reported by MetalMiner, China’s steel production was predicted to contract this year and shrink even further in 2017. Li Xinchuang, Vice-chairman at the China Iron & Steel Association explained that was due to a drop in local demand.

So when the red dragon’s huffing and puffing, what’s added speed to the elephant?

Here’s why:

  • India’s reform and policy support for infrastructure and manufacturing, as well as increasing urbanization is driving steel consumption.
  • The Indian government’s protectionist measures over the last two years like anti-dumping tax are bearing fruit.
  • Recent commissioning of capacities by big producers such as Steel Authority of India Limited, JSW Steel and Tata Steel.

Moody’s said the profitability of Indian steel companies such as Tata would outperform that of regional peers owing to increasing domestic demand and measures like minimum import prices. Read more