Export of high-grade iron ore must stop and lean ore be made use of if the Indian steel industry is to survive.
"People into iron-making must accept the challenge (of depleting reserves) and bring into steel-making the use of lean iron ore," said TK Roy, Tata chair professor in the department of metallurgy & materials engineering, Bengal Engineering & Science University, at the international iron-making congress.
According to Roy, the total amount of high-grade iron ore in the country, estimated at 6.9 billion tonne, and its residual life are debatable. "If we go on exporting our good-grade iron ore, we will be in a soup in the near future".
At a steel production level of 100 million tonne per annum, Indian iron ore reserves are estimated to last around 43 years, provided export is zero.
India is projected to be producing 150 mt of steel by 2015 and 200 mt by 2025.
The country needs to tap its huge deposits of lean iron ore.
While the blast furnace route will continue to be the preferred one for iron making around the world (over the scrap-based electric arc furnace, open-hearth & other routes), most blast furnaces coming up today are, in order to achieve economy of scale, in the 2,000-5,500 cubic meter capacity range.
Tata Steel's latest 'H' blast furnace here, with an inner capacity of 3,800 cubic meters, and the one being put up in Kalinganagar, Orissa, of 4,000 cubic meters are following this trend, said Roy.
"India has competitive advantage in iron ore and we have to make the best use of it," said Dr T Mukherjee, Tata Steel deputy managing director (steel). He said the company was the only one in the country to have brought down the slag content in its blast furnaces to 'less than 260 kg consistently from 520 kg a few years ago,' not merely by washing local coal to maintain a low ash content (13%) but 'by understanding the characteristics of slag'.
According to Mukherjee, the world has been seeing a resurgence in iron-making through the blast furnace route from the year 2000 and several countries, including India, are putting up new blast furnaces.
Speaking on the occasion, IIM president B Muthuraman said it's the blast furnace that determines the competitiveness or otherwise of a steel plant, in terms of cost and quality.
Over the last 5-6 years, the steel industry grew in excess of 5-6%, compared with around 1% growth during 1970-2000. Such growth took place in China, India, Brazil and Russia, countries with high populations. Steel capacity will be increased mainly through the blast furnace route for several years to come.
Organised by the Indian Institute of Metals' (IIM) Jamshedpur chapter and Tata Steel, the two-day congress has been attended by 150 delegates, including producers, research institutes, mini-blast furnace operators, blast furnace designers, and manufacturers etc from various countries, including China, Austria, Australia, Luxembourg, the UK, France, Japan and Germany, among others.