Bornite processing to help cut import bill, strengthen mineral sector

February 21, 2024

Faiza Tehseen

Indigenous mining and processing of bornite, an important copper ore, is necessary to do away with the heavy import bill of copper and its products. It can not only strengthen the mineral sector but also fetch a handsome foreign exchange for the country.

 Engineer Muhammad Yousuf, General Secretary of the Institute of Mining Engineers, Pakistan, opined this while talking to WealthPK. "Bornite is one of the important copper ores that occurs largely in Balochistan. Its deposits occur in remote areas lacking badly in infrastructure, access, communication, power, and a lot more. So, mining activities for small-scale miners are difficult. However, large-scale miners or big mining groups/companies can do it with ease," he said. The mining output could be made profitable by establishing nearby processing/value-addition units, he said, adding that Pakistan should get technical and financial coordination from friendly countries to unearth its mineral wealth. Talking to WealthPK about the mining of azurite, Manager of Islamabad-based Pir and Co Mining Company, Muhammad Sarwar said, "Being an important copper ore, mining of bornite is profitable.

If the government cooperates to provide a proper survey of beleaguered areas, equipment and other facilities, the miners will show interest in its mining and value addition to earn better profits." An expert from the Geological Survey of Pakistan told WealthPK on the condition of anonymity, "To strengthen the mining sector and local industry, and to earn profits from exports, bornite mining is necessary. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the areas of Tethyan magnetic belt, including Waziristan, Mohmand, Dir, and Kohistan Ladakh Island Arc (KLIA), have great potential for bornite. "KLIA's central part mainly consists of gabbro, diorite, and granodiorite. KLIA covers the northwestern corner of the Himalayan Mountain range.

In short, across Pakistan, in all areas wherever igneous activity has taken place, especially in the igneous rocks of diorite lithology, bornite occurs." Sharing the existence and importance of bornite, Chief Geologist of Koh-e-Daleel Minerals Company (Pvt) Ltd Abdul Bashir said including bornite, there were different types of sulfide copper ores – pyrite, chalcopyrite, chalcocite, and covellite. Bornite usually happens in the sulfide zone at a depth of 15 to 30 meters and settles in different rock formations – igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. It is ranked 3rd among the sulfide minerals, second only to chalcocite and chalcopyrite, with a significantly higher gravity than it, ranging from 5.06 to 5.08. It is relatively soft and at the Mohs' scale of hardness, it is rated around 3. It is brittle and occurs as compact/granular masses and veinlets. Having both semiconducting and magnetic properties, bornite is considered one of the important copper ores, usually with a high-grade copper concentration of approximately 35%. Sometimes, gold can be associated with it in at least 1ppm (parts per million) ratio.

The association of magnetite with bornite causes a reduction in copper ratio and an increase in gold proportion (may be more than 1ppm). In geological environments, whenever bornite surges, the ratio of chalcopyrite/pyrite decreases. Its bronze color rapidly tarnishes in the air or moisture and mostly adopts purple to blue and green hues. That's why it is also called peacock ore. He said geological environments favourable for bornite were the indicators of having other high-temperature minerals like gold. In Balochistan, different geological environments are favourable to hosting bornite. Some dominant areas are the Ras Koh Mountain range and Chagai magnetic belt up to the northern areas. Bornite is used as an inlay for ornamentation purposes but is suitable only for cutting as cabochons. Industrially, it is used in diluted magnetic semiconductors and several high-tech materials. The policymakers in Pakistan must frame proper plans to exploit important minerals for the socio-economic benefit of Pakistan.

inpCredit: INP-WealthPk