Slurry transportation of iron ore concentrate through pipelines is an environment friendly method for ore transportation. In recent years, iron ore transportation through slurry pipeline has captured attention of not only Indian steelmakers but also of the Indian government. Considering the bright prospects of steel output of ASEAN, MENA regions and India, steel demand in these parts of the world is expected to gain momentum given the increased stress on infrastructure development and manufacturing capacities. With that in mind, alternative modes of transporting raw materials, such as through slurry pipelines will go a long way in reducing the problems of congested transportation network in mining areas.
Slurry Pipeline Working Mechanism
The concentrate of the ore is mixed with water and then pumped over a long distance to a port where it can be shipped for further processing. At the end of the pipeline, the material is separated from the slurry in a filter press to remove the water. This water is usually subjected to a waste treatment process before disposal or return to the mine.
Cost-Benefit Analysis of Slurry Pipelines
According to Slurry Pipeline: CostEffective Solution for Steel Industry, a report prepared by former CMD of MECON India, investment cost for setting up a slurry pipeline is INR 4.5-5 a tonne for a km (for minimum distance of 100 km and capacity of 10 mnt pa). Operational cost of the slurry pipeline is around INR 0.6/t/km.
Operational cost in case of ore transportation through slurry pipelines is comparatively quite lesser than rail and road transportation. Thus, pipelines are an efficient mode of transporting iron ore over longer distances where transportation through rail and roads is much costlier.
Apart from being an environment friendly means of easy, bulk and distant transportation of iron ore concentrate, slurry pipelines offer following other advantages – reduces dependency on railways, minimum social impact, insensitivity to surface conditions like storm etc and easy operation & maintenance.
Significance of Slurry Pipelines in India’s 300 mnt Crude Steel Target
The Indian government has set a target to increase India’s steel output to 300 million tonnes by 2025. According to the Infrastructure Study Report for 300 mnt Steel by 2025, to achieve such capacity by 2025‐26, the processed iron ore requirement would be of the order of 450-490 mnt pa. The proposed projected growth of steel industry would impart tremendous pressure on railways with respect to inward and outward traffic, loading and evacuation of raw materials & finished products. Major identified iron ore resources in India are located in environmentally fragile zones, far away from the steel plants and ports. Many potential sources such as Rowghat in Chhattisgarh, Chiria in Jharkhand,
Gandhmardan‐Daitari‐Malangtoli region of Odisha, Bababudhan of Karnataka and Ongole region of Andhra Pradesh are still not adequately supported by railway infrastructure. Development of slurry transportation facilities is a more feasible option in these regions.
Steel Ministry’s Outlook on Slurry Pipelines
The Indian steel ministry has been emphasizing on development and usage of slurry pipelines for iron ore transportation. As per recent reports, Steel Secretary Dr Aruna Sharma has suggested that the industry should focus on setting up slurry pipelines to transport iron ore and other raw materials to save on movement time & freight cost.
Slurry Pipeline Vs Other Modes of Transportation
According to National Council of Applied Economic Research, iron ore freight movement by Indian Railways is anticipated to grow from 117.8 mnt in FY16 to 120.1 mnt in FY17. Thus a y-o-y growth of 1.95% is expected. Hence with growing steel output, rail infrastructure needs augmentation with additional railway lines to be set up from mines to steel plants.
In present times, low grade iron ore exports have gained momentum in this fiscal after the government removed 10% export duty. In addition to it, pellet exports from India is also witnessing an upward movement in this fiscal. Increased railway movement for exports has slowed down the domestic movement and rake availability for domestic consumption has become a matter of concern.
Inadequacies in railways transportation system in handling bulk transportation needs of the expanding Indian steel industry has led to increased importance to road transportation. However poor quality of roads, inadequate network and low road density remains a concern area.
With 12 major ports, India handles iron ore for both exports and domestic consumers. As per a recent data released by the Indian government, the major ports in India handled 315.4 mnt cargoes in H1 FY17 compared to 299.5 mnt in the same period last fiscal. Iron ore cargo handling has exhibited an astounding increase with a growth of 142% y-o-y. Major problems associated with port transport are – inadequate depth at ports, slow evacuation at ports and higher congestion on berths. Thus, owing to the drawbacks associated with other modes of transportation, the industry is looking forward to cost reduction techniques and slurry pipeline is one of them.
Present Scenario of Slurry Pipelines in India: Presently there are only three operational iron ore slurry pipelines in India. The two slurry pipelines of Essar Steel has provided cost effective measure of ore transportation to the steel maker to its two pellet plants. The 267 km slurry pipeline helps iron ore fines movement from Kirandul mines located in Chhattisgarh to its Vizag pellet plant of 8 MnT pa capacity. While the 2nd pipeline which is 253 kms long connects its beneficiation facility at Dabuna (Keonjhar) to its Paradeep based pellet plant with 12 MnT pa capacity. Apart from these two, BRPL’s slurry pipeline carries high grade iron ore concentrates in form of slurry which is transported to its pellet plant.
In addition to this, many steel makers and pellet makers have their plans in place for setting up slurry pipelines.
There are two ongoing slurry pipeline projects of NMDC and JSPL.
Indian Government Promoting Slurry Pipelines
A deduction of 100% is available for capital expenditure (other than expenditure incurred on the acquisition of land, goodwill or financial instruments) incurred by specific businesses including laying and operating a slurry pipeline for the transportation of iron ore.
Hence, it appears that iron ore transportation through slurry pipelines has brighter prospects in India and gradually more steelmakers may look at it as a more convenient option for iron ore supply from mine heads.
Source: Steel 360 Magazine DEc’16 Issue