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"We are making all efforts to keep our operations running… resorted to closure only after exhausting all other viable options," Dr Mukesh Kumar, President & Group Head - Technology & Innovation, Vedanta Limited
Interview05/Nov/2015AlCircle.comVedanta Limited, a Vedanta Group company is one of the world's largest global diversified natural resources company, with operations across zinc-lead-silver, oil & gas, iron ore, copper, aluminium and commercial power. To remain competitive in the recent global melt down condition due to low metal prices and non-availability of raw materials, Vedanta Limited is plunging into cost cutting, capacity cut and technology innovation drives.
Dr. Mukesh Kumar is the President & Group Head – Technology & Innovation, Vedanta Limited. He is looking after Technology/ Projects of Vedanta Resources, developing innovative culture in the group with a focus on zero discharge, zero waste and zero harm through implementation of state of the art technologies. He spoke to AlCircle about Vedanta's waste utilization programme, technological innovation drive and how Vedanta is planning to keep its operations running smoothly.
AlCircle: You have played a significant role in developing Zero Waste concept in Vedanta Aluminium. Tell us something about the waste utilization projects initiated and implemented by you.
Dr Mukesh Kumar: Mining and Metallurgical operations generate huge waste which not only increases long term environmental liability of any organization but also become a major point for social-environmental conflict. Realizing the fact that all industrial wastes can be a good resource and utilization of the same can help in improving the profitability of the business as well as building strong relationship with the surrounding community, concept of zero waste and zero harm was initiated. The major achievement made so far are recovery of vanadium from process liquor and thus substituting import, producing red mud powder and utilization of the same in cement industry as an Alternative Raw Material (ARM), development of cement free green concrete technology by converting fly ash into geo-polymer . We are committed to make our entire Aluminium business as zero waste business by utilizing all other wastes also like Spent Pot Lining, Dross, used ESP/filter bags, etc. in future.
AlCircle: What is the role of technological innovation and upgrade for the alumina/Aluminium sector?
Dr Mukesh Kumar: The global Aluminium industry is facing the major crisis of continuous fall in commodity prices without much reduction in raw material cost. LME prices have been slashed by almost 40-50%. Technology and Innovation appears to be the only way that can help in mitigating such risks. Besides, stricter environmental rules and regulations are forcing industries to think out of box to minimize energy consumption, reduce specific consumption of various raw materials, improve productivity, minimize land requirement for Greenfield as well as Brown field projects, reducing dependency on external source of water by recycling, adopt advanced controls to minimize Perfluorcarbon (PFC) to support ozone mission and above all improve social connectivity to retain social license to operate.
AlCircle: Do you think it is commercially viable to recycle red mud and extract various minerals in optimum quantity for industrial use?
Dr. Mukesh Kumar: Yes, it is. There is an urgent need to start utilizing red mud for recovery of alumina, titanium, and iron as iron ore or pig iron. The entire alumina refinery can be made as zero waste refineries. In china, some plants have already started recovery of iron oxide using magnetic separation but such projects are not picking up in India due to abundant availability of high grade iron ore. With the continuously falling aluminium prices, sustainability lies in promoting by-product industry. Alternatively, red mud along with fly ash can be used for producing aggregates for the construction and nuclear industry, making various products for the construction industry.
Earlier, it was not possible because of the difficulty to produce red mud in dry powder form. After our success, more alumina refineries across the globe are now switching over to red mud powder technology. We are making all efforts to achieve our vision of zero waste by making 100% use of red mud at the earliest but it may take some time for cement industry also to align to such alternate raw materials. A lot of research is underway to convert red mud directly into pig iron using non-coking coal so that balance of the material can be used as clinker in the cement industry.
AlCircle: Despite having rich deposit of quality bauxite and other minerals, major Indian aluminium producers are still importing ores and other raw materials. How do you think this issue can be solved?
Dr Mukesh Kumar: India is blessed with over 3 billion tons of bauxite reserves and approx. 300 billion tons of coal reserves, thus making India one of the most preferred destinations for setting up integrated aluminium complexes across the globe. East coast bauxite deposits are considered as gold mines for Aluminium sector because of its Gibbsitic nature and low silica content. This not only helps in reducing the capital cost and cost of production for any Greenfield project. Among the three major Indian players NALCO is self-sufficient and HINDALCO is by and large in a position to meet its requirement from captive mines, but Vedanta is fully dependent on external sources. Although, 150 million tons of Bauxite was committed for the project but none of the identified mine could be commissioned till date. Hence, we are forced to operate the refinery with outsourced bauxite.
Although east coast bauxite deposits were discovered in the late seventies, no new bauxite mine could be made operational in the last 3 decades. After Panchpatmali bauxite mine was commissioned by NALCO in 1986-87, only Baphlimali Bauxite Mine could be commissioned by Utkal Alumina last year. Although, a large numbers of projects were initiated in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha nothing materialized due to environmental and social beliefs and customes. Most of the deposits are located on the hill top at an elevation above 1300 meter of mean sea level where there is neither habitation nor vegetation. There are live example like Panchpatmali Bauxite Mine where a barren hill has been converted into a green hill by planting millions of trees. It may take some times but with continuous efforts by Government and the industry together, aluminium industry can prosper in India and can help eradicating abject poverty from these regions. Further, newly created District Mineral Fund (DMF) may help in bridging the gap as this contribution will be utilized for the overall economic development of the mining affected area.
AlCircle: Non-availability of bauxite and low aluminium prices have recently forced Vedanta to initiate the closing process of its one-million tpy alumina refinery at Lanjigarh. What will be the way forward for the refinery?
Dr. Mukesh Kumar: We are trying to make a balance between throughput and cost to survive in this critical time. Hence, it has been decided to operate only one stream and maximize production using domestic bauxite. We are hopeful that the Government of Odisha shall fulfill its commitment to supply 150 million tons of Bauxite for the plant. Also, we are waiting for auction to start under newly amended Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act (MMDR) so that Bauxite security is ensured on a long term basis.
AlCircle: Vedanta also had to shut its rolling mill at Korba due to a slump in metal prices and competition from China imports. Will there be more closure or capacity cuts in Vedanta in future?
Dr. Mukesh Kumar: We are making all efforts to keep our operations running. In the past also, we resorted to closure only after exhausting all other viable options. We are hopeful that situation shall improve in near future and demand in the domestic market also will be boosted by various developmental projects.
AlCircle: Aluminium prices have hit the rock bottom after going through a constant low period and are showing no sign of recovery. The Premiums are on all-time low. Under such circumstances what will be the way out for a mining and metal conglomerate like Vedanta?
Dr. Mukesh Kumar: All mining companies are facing the heat of this slowdown of the commodity prices. Aluminium was effected the most. Aluminium Association of India has already submitted representation to the Government of India for taking some corrective steps in terms of taxes and duties. In our case, the situation could have been controlled to a great extent if captive bauxite supply and linkage coal would have been there. We are hopeful that some market correction shall definitely takes place. However, all the companies shall have to adopt some innovative solutions to optimize efficiencies and for that Technology and Innovation can play an important role. More collaborative approach may be required in this area as major upward swing in the market is unlikely in the near future.
Disclaimer: “The information presented herein is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional advice. The views and opinions shared in the interview section of www.alcircle.com are unique to the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of www.alcircle.com.”
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