Indian Rare Earths Limited

On August 18 1950, Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) was incorporated as a private limited company - jointly owned by the Government of India and Government of Travancore, Cochin with the primary intention of taking up commercial scale processing of monazite sand at its first unit namely Rare Earths Division(RED), Aluva, Kerala for the recovery of thorium. After becoming a full fledged Central Government Undertaking in 1963 under the administrative control of Department of Atomic Energy(DAE), IREL took over a number of private companies engaged in mining and separation of beach sand minerals in southern part of the country and established two more Divisions one at Chavara, Kerala and the other at Manavalakurichi(MK), Tamil Nadu. After a gap of about 20 years, IREL commissioned its largest Division called Orissa Sand Complex(OSCOM) at Chatrapur, Orissa. Today IREL operates these four units with Corporate Office in Mumbai and produces/sells six heavy minerals namely ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite, sillimanite and garnet as well as various value added products. IREL is making profit for the last 6 years with its sales turnover reaching a peak exceeding Rs. 2600 million in 2000-01, with export component of above Rs. 1000 million.

Activities

R & D Facility

R & D centres of IREL are located at Mineral Research and Development Centre(MRDC), Kollam, Technical Service Division(TSD), OSCOM, Chatrapur and Rare Earths Division (RED), Aluva. MRDC undertakes constancy projects on mineral separation i.e. sand beneficiation, etc., along with mineral separation investigation to improve yield and products.The facilities include various magnetic, gravity, hydraulic and electrostatic separators, floatation cells, grinding mills, vacuum filters, microscopes and analytical instruments i.e.ICP, UV spectrometer, etc. TSD, OSCOM is equipped with analytical instruments i.e. X-ray diffractrometer, thermal analyser, atomic absorption spectrometer, UV spectrometers, particle size analysers, etc for study and development of processes for manufacturing synthetic rutile, stabilised and partially stabilised zirconia, gem grade zirconia, etc. RED, Aluva develops solvent extraction and ion exchange-based processes for presentation of pure rare earth chemicals.

Mining and mineral separation Mining of raw beach sand containing the six heavy minerals and separation of the later in adequate purities happen to be the common activity of all the three Mineral Division namely Chavara, MK and OSCOM. As per as mining practice is concerned, they do differ from one division to other. For example at MK, all the raw sand required to operate the plant at its full capacity is collected by the fisherman of surrounding villages from near by beaches and supplied to the unit at a cost. At Chavara also beach washing is available but not in adequate quantity to meet the full requirement of the plant.The unit therefore adopt wet mining operation involving use of Dredge and Wet Concentrator(DWC) to exploit the inland deposits away from the beaches. For example Chavara operate two DWC s of about 30 kg/s capacities to generate sand feed analyzing about 85% heavy mineral concentration.The mineral free sand coming out of the concentrator is pumped back to the pond for the operation of DWC. In the case of OSCOM, the entire mining operations involves dredging of the mineral deposits on much larger scale (140 kg/s) augmented by smaller sized (~100) supplementary.The heavy mineral rich sand feed either in the form of beach washings or dredge concentrate is subjected to final concentration in a facility provided with a host of spirals to enrich the feed with 97-98% heavy minerals. Such upgraded material is next dried in a fluid bed drier to take on the separation of individual minerals/ores by taking advantage of the difference in their electrical, magnetic properties as well as specific gravity.

Recovery of uranium value.

In recent time IREL has got engaged through its Rare Earths Division, in activity involving recovery of uranium value present in Indian monazite in the form of Nuclear grade ammonium diuranate (ADU) to supplement the indigenous supply scenario for uranium as required in the Indian Nuclear Power programme. In addition to monazite, RED has developed facilities for recovering uranium value from other secondary resource as well.

Units

Chavara-10 km north of Kollam,Kerala- Located 10 km north of Kollam, 85 km from Thiruvananthapuram capital of Kerala and 135 km by road from Kochi is perhaps blessed with the best mineral sand deposit of the country.The plant operates on a mining area containing as high as 40% heavy minerals and extending over a length of 23 km in the belt of Neendakara and Kayamkulam. The deposit is quite rich with respect to ilmenite, rutile and zircon and the mineral-ilmenite happens to be of weathered variety analyzing 60% TiO2. The present annual production capacity of Chavara unit engaged in dry as well as wet (dredging/ up-gradation) mining and mineral separation stands at 154,000 t of ilmenite, 9,500 t of rutile, 14,000 t of zircon and 7,000 t of sillimanite. In addition the plant has facilities for annual production of ground zircon called zirflor (-45 micrometre) and microzir (1-3 micrometre) of the order of 6,000 t and 500 t respectively

Manavalakurichi-25 km north of Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu-Plant is situated 25 km north of Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin), the southern most tip of the Indian sub-continent. All weather major seaport Tuticorin and the nearest airport at Thiruvananthapuram are equidistant, about 65 km from the plant site. Nagercoil at a distance of about 18 km from the plant, is the closest major Railway station. MK plant annually produces about 90,000 t ilmenite of 55%. TiO2 grade, 3500 t rutile and 10,000 t zircon in addition to 3000 t monazite and 10,000 t garnet based primarily on beach washing supplied by fishermen of surrounding five villages. IREL has also mining lease of mineral rich areas wherein raw sand can be made available in large quantities through dredging operation. In addition to mining and minerals separation, the unit has a chemical plant to add value to zircon in the form of zircon frit and other zirconium based chemicals in limited quantities.

Orissa Sands Complex(OSCOM)-OSCOM was commissioned at a place called Chatrapur about 150 km from the Capital of Orissa - Bhubaneswar-OSCOM was commissioned at a place called Chatrapur about 150 km from the Capital of Orissa - Bhubaneswar and about 320 km from all weather seaport-Visakhapatanam to exploit the huge placer deposit across a mining are of 40 km². to produce 2,20,000 ton of 50% grade ilmenite and associated minerals like rutile, zircon, sillimanite, garnet, etc. The facility was quite unique in the sense that for the first time IREL ventured into dredging and concentration operation and setting up a value addition plant at OSCOM to convert all the ilmenite to 1,00,000 ton per annum of 92% grade synthetic rutile (SR) based on Benelite technology. The process essentially consisted of reduction roasting of ilmenite in the presence of carbon to convert ferric oxide to ferrous oxide followed by leaching with 30% HCl at 130oC to separate iron as soluble ferrous chloride. The leached mineral is calcined to yield SR and the acidic leach liquor is treated in an acid regeneration plant to recover HCl for recycle and generate iron oxide as waste. The SR plant ran for about a decade before closing down as plant could never be operated anywhere near its name plate capacity. Leaving aside SRP, rest of OSCOM is quite efficiently engaged in recent time in dredging of the raw sand, its upgradation, drying and finally separation of individual minerals through a dry mill. Ilmenite is primarily exported to customers engaged in production of slag and sulphatable TiO2 pigment.

Rare Earths Division(Red)Banda + Bia-Unlike the three units of IREL as described earlier, RED is an exclusively value adding chemical plant wherein the mineral monazite produced by MK, is chemically treated to separate thorium as hydroxide upgrade and rare earths in its composite chloride form. It is located on the banks of river Periyar at a distance of 12 km by road from Kochi. This plant was made operational way back in 1952 to take on processing of 1400t of monazite every year. However over the years, the capacity of the plant was gradually augmented to treat about 3600t of monazite. Elaborate solvent extraction and ion exchange facilities were built up to produce individual R.E. oxides, like oxides of Ce, Nd, Pr and La in adequate purities. Today RED has built up large stock pile of impure thorium hydroxide upgrade associated with rare earths and unreacted materials. Henceforth, RED proposes to treat this hydroxide upgrade rather than fresh monazite to convert thorium into pure oxalate and rare earth as two major fractions namely Ce oxide and Ce oxide free rare earth chloride

Awards

1. Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 1996-97.

2. Indian Chemical Manufacturers Association’s Certificate of Merit for ISO 9000 certification for 1997

3. Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 1997-98.

4. Indian Chemical Manufacturers Association’s Certificate of Merit for ISO 9002 certification for 1998.

5. Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 1998-99.

6. OSCOM has been selected by Directorate of Export Promotion and Marketing, Orissa to get the STATE EXPORT AWARD i.e. Certificate of Excellence for the Years 1995-96.

7. OSCOM has been selected by Directorate of Export Promotion and Marketing, Orissa to get the STATE EXPORT AWARD i.e. TROPHY for the year 97-98 for export of synthetic rutile/ilmenite etc.

8. Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 1999-2000.

9. OSCOM has been selected by Directorate of Export Promotion and Marketing, Orissa to get the STATE EXPORT AWARD i.e. TROPHY for the year 98-99 for export of synthetic rutile/ilmenite etc.

10.OSCOM has been selected by Directorate of Export Promotion and Marketing, Orissa to get the STATE EXPORT AWARD i.e. TROPHY for the year 1999- 2000 for export of synthetic rutile/ilmenite etc.

11. Certificate of Merit from CHEMEXCIL under the category of Basic Inorganic and Organic Chemicals for outstanding performance for the year 2000-2001 including Agrochemical Panel.

12. OSCOM has been selected by Directorate of Export Promotion and Marketing, Orissa to get the STATE EXPORT AWARD in shape of Certificate of Excellence for the year 2000-2001 under the minerals including granite product group for export of synthetic rutile, garnet and ilmenite.

13. Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 2000-01.

14. Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 2001-02.

15. Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 2002-03.

16. Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 2003-04.

17. Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 2004-05.

18.Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council’s (Capexil) Special Export Award from Processed Minerals Group for the year 2005-06.

19. National Safety Award (Mines) for Longest Accident free period won by MK unit – 1999 (Runner) & 2001 (Winner).

20. National Safety Award (Mines) for Lowest Injury Frequency Rate – 2000 (Winner) won by MK unit.

21. AERB Safety Award won by MK unit (Winner) for the year 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 & 2004.

22. AERB Safety Award won by Chavara unit (Winner) for the year 2003.

23. Subhkaran Sarawagi Environment Award from Federation of Indian Mineral Industry (FIMI) won by MK unit (Winner) for the year 2002-03.

24. Greentech Safety Gold Award won by MK unit (Winner) for the year 2002-03.

25. Greentech Safety Award won by Chavara unit (Winner) for the year 2003.

26. AERB Green Site Award won by OSCOM unit (Winner ) for the year 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004 & 2005.

27. Yogyata Praman Patra Award from National Safety Council, Mumbai won by MK unit (Winner) for the year 2002.

28. Safety Award from National Safety Council, Kerala Chapter won by Chavara unit (Runner) for the year 2003.

29. National Safety Award (Mines) for Lowest Injury Frequency Rate won by Chavara unit (Winner) for the year 2003.

30. AERB Industrial Safety Award won by OSCOM unit (Winner) for the year 2005.

31. National Safety Award won by MK unit (Runner) for the year 2005.

32. Safety Star Award from National Safety Council, Tamilnadu Chapter won by MK unit (Winner) for the year 2005.

Apart from above National Level Safety Awards, Company’s Mineral Separation Plants namely Chavara, MK & OSCOM have won many State Level Awards.

1.Silver Trophy of “SCOPE” award for Excellence and Outstanding Contribution to the Public Sector Management – Special Turnaround Category for the year 1999 -2000. (SCOPE- Standing Conference of Public Enterprises)

2.Enterprise Excellence Award 1999-2000 from Indian Institute of Industrial Engineering..

3.Enterprise Excellence Award 2000-2001 from Indian Institute of Industrial Engineering.

4.Enterprise Excellence Award 2001-2002 from Indian Institute of Industrial Engineering.

5.Hindi Rajbhasa Shield for the year 2000-01 for the best performance amongst PSU’s under Department of Atomic Energy.

External links

* http://www.irel.gov.in/


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