Kerala bets big on Rs 3,000-crore titanium project

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Thiruvananthapuram | Published: April 13, 2018 2:12:17 AM

The ambitious project, catering to the demand for rare mineral products vital for the country's aerospace and defence sectors, will be under the public-private partnership (PPP) mode.

Buoyed by its profit-making public sector unit Kerala Minerals and Metals (KMML), the state government has put on fast track its plans for setting up a Rs 3,000-crore titanium mineral complex in Kollam district. (Reuters)

Buoyed by its profit-making public sector unit Kerala Minerals and Metals (KMML), the state government has put on fast track its plans for setting up a Rs 3,000-crore titanium mineral complex in Kollam district. The ambitious project, catering to the demand for rare mineral products vital for the country’s aerospace and defence sectors, will be under the public-private partnership (PPP) mode. “A panel headed by the chief secretary will soon identify an agency with expertise to do the detailed project report on the titanium mineral complex,” state industry minister AC Moideen told FE. “The state government is so serious about getting the project to take off when the market is ripe, that land acquisition in Chavara (in Kollam) has been sped up. About 50% of the 180-acres land acquisition is complete,” he said.

About 10 years ago, two Russian firms had offered to partner in the proposed project with an investment to the tune of Rs 1,500 crore. A tripartite agreement was signed among the Russian firms and Kerala government. However, because of the defence risk perceived in partnering the specific Russian consortium, the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs had refused to clear the project. The Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) has offered to do a detailed mapping of the state’s mineral wealth in two months. This would be not only the first step to expand mining operations, but also chart locations with value addition possibilities from the mining.

The move for the new titanium mineral complex is a pointer that Kerala is game to open up its mineral processing sector to the private sector, although mining is to remain a public sector monopoly. Currently, only Indian Rare Earths, under the Union ministry of atomic energy, and KMML are permitted to mine the abundant mineral sands on the state’s coast. Recently, KMML had made a turnaround, posting a `21-crore profit. “We were able to sell a record 5,088 tonne of titanium tetracholoride and 5,557.3 tonne of zircon in a single year by ramping up production,” said Febi Varghese, KMML managing director. According to the feasibility report for the titanium mineral complex project, the key recommendations are for producing titanium-based products, zirconium carbonate and pearlescent pigment. Zirconium carbonate is used for making paper and paint, especially white paint.

Currently, the country manufactures only 20% of the zirconium carbonate that it needs. If the titanium mineral complex gets going, India will be able to substitute at least 8,000 tonne of zirconium carbonate imports. For the defence and aerospace sectors in the country, the demand for titanium mill products is envisaged to be as high as 3,700 metric tonne by 2027. Much of the future of the project depends on the partner with the right level of technical expertise and security credentials.

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