The Real Reason Behind India’s Titanium Push? Rare Earths

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Indian Rare Earths Limited operates under India’s Department of Atomic Energy. When complete, the new $82 million titanium plant joint venture with India’s NALCO (National Aluminum Company) will make 100,000 tons (1 lakh ton) of titanium slag in the eastern state of Odisha. Some of it will also be used to make pig-iron. A feasibility study and technology selection on the project will soon be carried out.

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Rare-Earths_Chart_July-2014_FNLIncidentally, the MoU for formation of the joint-venture was signed between the two state-owned entities about three years ago but was revalidated last week. No explanation was forthcoming for the delay.

IREL has four plants that extract rare earths from India’s coast line. One of them called OSCOM currently produces 2,20,000 ton (2.20 lakh) Ilmenite per annum, most of which is exported to other countries.

India is part of the handful of nations around the world that makes titanium sponge. In April last year, as reported by MetalMiner, India had taken another step in the production of titanium sponge when the well-known public sector steel producer, the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), signed an agreement with the Kerala State Industrial Development Corp (KSIDC) and Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd (KMML) to jointly set up an approximate $458 million plant to produce titanium sponge and metals.

For many years, ISRO was dependent on other nations for its titanium sponge needs, but it will be able to source titanium sponge from this new plant, one of the few in the world being put up by KMML. India will be the seventh country in the world to have the technology to make titanium sponge.

According to this report in Forbes, the breakthrough was a result of pooling of resources among state-run organizations and companies. The technology was developed by Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory, a laboratory under India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, or DRDO.

India has vast reserves of Titanium ore because of its vast coast line, and India has been trying to be self-sufficient in this crucial material.

World production of the ore is about 150,000-200,000 tons, and China dominates the production and use of titanium. Nine out of 18 companies making titanium sponge are Chinese. The KMML plant will help India get parity in strategic affairs.

Like Ilmenite, there are other heavy minerals found on the beach sand in the Indian States of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa such as zircon, rutile, garnet and sillimanite. India has 360 million tons of Ilmenite reserves, or 18 percent of global deposits. Outside of the state-owned producers, there are some private players, too, involved in the extraction of these strategically important minerals.

The author, Sohrab Darabshaw, contributes an Indian perspective on industrial metals markets to MetalMiner.

Comment (1)

  1. T.J.Coyne jr says:

    The technology of processing ilmenite, ie., iron/tinanium is limited in methods of reduction and separation and the required reducing materials, like quality carbon or hydrocarbons, both of which India is also limited, I believe. Does anyone know what process steps they are going to employ?

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