Hindustan Copper hatches Rs 5,500 crore plan to expand ore capacity

State-owned Hindustan Copper (HCL) has drawn up a plan to increase its copper ore production capacity fivefold to 20.2 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) at a cost of Rs 5,500 crore. The company aims to complete the first phase of the plan, which will increase its capacity to 12.2 mtpa, by 2028-29.

HCL is the only copper producer in the country. Its ore production is used for captive purposes only. The PSU operates mines at Malanjkhand in Madhya Pradesh, Khetri in Rajasthan, and Surda and Kendadih, both in Jharkhand. The Rakha mine in Jharkhand has been closed since August 2021, but the company is seeking to renew the mine license.

Out of the investment of Rs 3,434 crore to be made in the first phase of the ore capacity expansion plan, Rs 1,856 crore will be spent on the Malanjkhand mine. In the second phase, HCL will invest Rs 2,066 crore to further increase the capacity to 20.2 mtpy.

India has very limited known exploitable copper reserves. Currently, India’s share of copper in world reserves is only 0.31%. The total copper ore resources in the country in terms of copper metal are estimated at 2.73 million tonnes (mt).

HCL uses the ore primarily to produce metal concentrate. Lately, its focus has shifted to selling copper concentrate directly to refiners. Sterlite and Birla Copper use concentrate to produce refined copper. In 2020-2021, India’s refined copper production was 0.36 tonnes. HCL had no contribution to this.

HCL’s two refineries – one in Gujarat and one in Jharkhand – have a combined refined copper production capacity of 68,500 tonnes. The Gujarat copper project has a capacity of 55,000 tons and the rest at the Indian copper complex in Jharkahnd. Operations at both sites have been suspended due to profitability concerns.

With the expansion of the mine in the future, HCL will start producing more copper concentrate which can be used either by a domestic smelter or by its own smelter to reduce India’s overall import bill and to increase plant capacity utilization, said the latest report from the parliamentary panel.

India’s net copper imports stood at $5.5 billion in 2019-20. Its consumption of refined copper in 2020 was 0.66 mt.

Per capita copper consumption in the country is now around 0.6 kg compared to a world average of 3.2 kg.

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