The Qara-Aghaj deposit near Urmia, estimated to hold 120 million tonnes of titanium-bearing ores, was brought into operation, pending the establishment of processing plants, provincial deputy head of the industry, mine and trade organization Parisa Abedpour told IRNA on Tuesday.
Qara-Aghaj is one of the largest known titanium ore deposits, containing 30 percent of Iran’s overall reserves. The other major titanium prospect is Kahnuj in Kerman, estimated to hold 150 million tonnes. The Fanuj mine in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province is another base for titanium deposits.
Iran’s first titanium processing plant was brought online in 2016, with a capacity to produce 130,000 tonnes of titanium dioxide concentrate and 70,000 tonnes of titanium dioxide slag per year.
The operation of the Kahnuj plant put Iran in the league of a few countries which produce titanium – the strategic metal of the century, named after the powerful Titan gods in Greek mythology.
Because of its strength, light weight and corrosion resistance, the metal is highly prized in aircraft manufacturing, with further applications in military, aerospace, marine industries, dental implants and industrial processes.
Titanium mining includes extraction of ilmenite, rutile and zircon, which are processed into titanium dioxide.
Titanium dioxide is mainly used to produce titanium pigment, the most commonly used white pigment. It is used as a choice material in paper, paints, plastics, joint replacement and tooth implants.
Titanium can also be alloyed with iron, aluminium, vanadium, molybdenum and other elements to produce strong, lightweight alloys for aerospace and military, chemical plants, oil and gas plants, electric power and desalination plants, building structures, automobile products and biomedical devices.
Located 36 km to the northwest of Urmia, the operation of the Qara-Aghaj mine and subsequent establishment of processing plants for the strategic mineral is hoped to benefit the local communities which have not duly reaped the rewards of mining in their province.
Urmia is the provincial capital of West Azarbaijan province which lies along the mineral belt of Iran. The province is home to more heavy mineral sands deposits, including the country’s largest gold reserves.
The Zarshuran gold complex in Takab is one of the most important mineral prospects, estimated to hold 110 tonnes of reserves. Aq Darreh, also in Takab, operates with 2.2 tonnes of gold a year.
Iran is ranked among 15 major mineral-rich countries, holding some 68 types of minerals, even though the country’s mineral potential is not fully mapped.
Barring the oil and gas sector, the extractives industry is underdeveloped. But the country is trying to diversify its economy which relies mainly on oil exports – currently subject to the most draconian US sanctions ever – and mining is integral to the effort.
In January, Iran launched a pilot project for extraction of rare earth after obtaining the technology for deep-level mining, with one official calling it a “big event”.
Every year, Iran imports 180 tonnes of rare earth elements which are used in a wide range of consumer products such as catalysts in cars and oil refineries, televisions, superconductors and fiber optics.
Rare earth elements are a group of mostly strategic metals which appear in low concentrations in the ground. They have lately emerged as one of the fronts in an escalating trade war between China and the United States.
Economy without oil
Head of Iran’s Plan and Budget Organization Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said earlier this month that the government planned to run the country without oil. Iran, he said, earned just $8.9 billion from the sale of oil and related products in the last fiscal year, down from a peak of $119 billion less than a decade ago.
A boom in manufacturing has already seen Iranian companies looking beyond the domestic market to export an increasingly diverse range of goods, turning the devaluation of the rial to their advantage.
In 2019-20, non-oil exports totaled $41.3 billion, exceeding oil exports for the first time in Iran’s modern history. Bloomberg said around half of Iran’s non-oil exports were in manufactured goods, meaning that Iran’s factories earned more than double what the country’s oil rigs earned in export revenue last year.
“Iranian consumer goods and industrial products—ranging from cookies to stainless steel—are exported widely within the Middle East as well as further afield to China, Russia and Europe,” the financial news provider said.
Manufacturing is also a major contributor to employment. Between March 2018 and December 2019, the manufacturing sector added 472,000 jobs.
The pivotal role of the sector in Iran’s economic resilience has not escaped the attention of the Trump administration. In January, Washington imposed new sanctions, targeting Iran’s construction, manufacturing, textiles, mining, aluminum, copper, iron and steel industries, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
The coercive measures affect the private sector and millions of blue-collar workers in Iranian factories, disproving the US government’s claim that the sanctions target the state and not ordinary people.