Economy, Business And Markets

Chromite Potentials Untapped

Chromite Potentials UntappedChromite Potentials Untapped

Iranian chromite miners are going through a tough time. High extraction costs, depressed domestic demand and global prices as well as unrestrained imports of the mineral have brought many of the country’s mines to the brink of bankruptcy.

Iran is home to 96 chromite mines, 20 of which are currently inactive, as more are expected to follow suit. “The country’s proven reserves stand at about 10 million tons, with the miners extracting 375,000 tons of the mineral every year,” Behrouz Borna, deputy for exploration at Geological Survey of Iran, said.

Chromite is the most industrially important mineral for the production of metallic chromium and is used as an alloying ingredient in stainless and tool steels.

Most of Iran’s chromite reserves are located at Kerman, South Khorasan, Khorasan Razavi, West Azarbaijan, Kermanshah, Sistan-Baluchistan and Hormozgan provinces.

According to Mohammad Reza Moqbeli, deputy head of Kerman’s Industries, Mining and Trade Organization, Kerman Province, which is home to most of Iran’s chromite mines, has borne the brunt of the crisis in the sector.

“The producers are struck with a double whammy of skyrocketing extraction costs and falling global prices, with many no longer able to continue operating,” he said, adding that high mining royalties have only exacerbated the situation for the cash-strapped miners.

Mining royalties (the rate the government charges on mineral extractions) on chromite jumped from 800 rials ($0.02) per ton in 2012 to 5,000 rials ($0.14) a year later. They continued the surging trend to reach 6,000 rials ($0.17) per ton in 2014.

This is while low domestic demand for chromite and its alloys, in addition to the producers’ lack of access to modern processing technologies, has led to the export of nearly all of Iran’s chromite to China and India.

“Processing chromite and manufacturing ferrochrome has no economic justification in Iran,” Moqbeli believes.

Borna, however, thinks differently. He believes Iranian chromite, if processed and made into alloys, can not only be of immense help to the domestic steelmaking, oil and pharmaceutical industries, but it can also significantly raise the industrial material’s value in export markets.

Ferrochrome is produced by concentrating, pelletizing and sintering the chromium ore. It is an alloy of chromium and iron containing between 50% and 70% chromium.

Over 80% of the world’s ferrochrome are utilized in the production of stainless steel, creating considerable demand for the alloy worldwide. Also, Iran currently meets nearly all its stainless steel demand through imports, primarily from India.

Chromium-molybdenum alloy steel is intended for use in high temperature and high pressure services. CrMo is used in the power generation industry and the petrochemical industry because of its tensile strength, corrosion resistance and resistance to rupturing at high temperatures and pressures.

Furthermore, chromium is used for improving blood sugar control in people with diabetes and high blood sugar due to taking steroids and HIV treatments. A number of over-the-counter products, including pills and nutritional drops, promote the use of chromium.