According to well-placed sources, Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) is stepping in to fill the void left in the joint venture between the Australian company Environmental Clean Technologies (ECT) and the mining major National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) for the adoption of Coldry and Matmor steel-making technology, with NMDC backing out after one and half years of inking the deal.
With regard to techno-economic feasibility, Matmor had appeared to be a highly promising alternative for steel-hungry India, not least because the technology uses lignite or low-grade brown thermal coal instead of costly coking coal for iron ore reduction.
In addition, the technology package included Coldry – ECT’s patented process of de-watering low-rank coal. As part of the agreement, a pilot plant was to be set up in Tamil Nadu with an initial capacity of 2 tonnes of hot metal per hour at an estimated investment of Rs 150 crore.
Considering the vast lignite reserves with NLC, the possibility of using low-grade non-coking coal and iron ore tailings instead of expensive lumpy ore, and the promise of lowering carbon dioxide emissions and slashing capital as well as operational expenditure, Matmor was touted as a breakthrough in iron-making vis-à-vis other routes, especially in a country which is at the cusp of significant capacity additions in steel.
While ECT Chairman Glen Fozard complained of an “increasing lack of responsiveness” on the part of India’s biggest miner in taking the project forward, high-ranking officials in NMDC responded that ECT had greatly “inflated” the supposed benefits accruing from the technology.
After reports surfaced that ECT, miffed at the “lack of willingness” on NMDC’s part, had backed out of the agreement, NMDC officials hit back saying the technology in question was yet “unproven” with no direct “business relevance” for NMDC.
However, despite repeated reminders, NMDC hadn’t formally conveyed its reservations to the Australian technology provider over the last one year or so thereby leaving the pilot project hanging in balance.
While SAIL and NLC officials are in Melbourne at present seeking to find a way out of the deadlock and getting the project back on the rails, uncertainty looms as to the applicability.