President of the Mongolian Mineral Processing Association and Professor of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology B.Chinzorig talked about the metallurgy-chemical plant complex in the following interview.
On May 5, 2021, Cabinet decided to establish a metallurgy-chemical plant complex in Bayan-Undur soum of Orkhon Province, and gave the operation permit for the industrial and technology park to Erdenet Mining Corporation. Erdenet Mining Corporation will build a plant for smelting and processing copper concentrate, processing oxidized ore, and manufacturing sulfuric acid and emulsion explosion, as well as make repairs and mechanical processes with financing of 1.8 trillion MNT. The project is expected to generate 46 trillion MNT in revenue in the first 20 years of production and 1.4 trillion MNT in taxes. By implementing the project, it is also projected to fully utilize Erdenetiin Ovoo strategic deposit and put into economic circulation, develop a competitive factory as a cluster based on advanced technology, manufacture final products, create the conditions for other corresponding factories to be established in the same location, develop Erdenet City more independently, increase state and local budget income and create about 1,000 job opportunities locally.
The scientists, researchers and engineers of your research team developed a project for the construction of a metallurgy-chemical plant complex in Bayan-Undur soum of Orkhon Province. Can you elaborate on this?
A large team of mining engineers, economists, architects, infrastructure engineers and researchers worked on this project. In total, more than 60 researchers participated in this major work. The main unit of the complex is the smelting and refining of copper concentrate from the concentrator to produce cathode copper.
Did the relevant authorities discuss and review the results of the project research? How is the construction of copper smelting plant progressing?
This industrial technology park will be established in order to extend the operation period of the Erdenetin Ovoo deposit, increase the variety and value of export products, and produce products that replace imports.
The Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry attached great importance to the project and held 15 discussions. Considering that the project performance and other requirements were met, the government of Mongolia granted a special industrial technology park license to Erdenet Mining Corporation in 2021. It is expected that the copper concentrate smelting and processing plant project will be fully implemented in the next three years.
Some people believe that it is wrong to build a copper smelter in Orkhon Province, or in a densely populated area. Some say that if it is built in a remote area, it will have less impact on the environment and human health. It is said that the amount of sulfuric acid in the air will raise and there is a risk of acid rain. What’s your position on this?
According to the standard, the sulfur content in copper concentrate should be about 27 percent. Therefore, some people expressed that the release of large amounts of sulfuric acid during the processing of concentrates causes acid rain and is harmful to the environment. In the feasibility study, the capture of sulfur dioxide released from smelting and refining technologies and subsequent processing to obtain sulfur is calculated in detail. In other words, the amount of sulfur released into the air and environment is 200 milligrams per cubic meter at the technological level. This is less than half of the tolerable amount.
In addition, the development of technology and equipment used in the mining and industrial sectors is progressing rapidly. On the other hand, it is a prejudice that it is right to build a smelter in the Gobi region, where the population density is low. Gobi has the most fragile ecosystem, poor water supply, and many infrastructural problems, so there is little opportunity to build an industrial complex.
The plant project was developed and the government made a decision to build it. Are you having trouble starting a project? What should be done first?
As mentioned above, technology in mining, energy and heavy industry is developing at a rapid pace. In some cases, instead of wasting time imitating internationally recognized technology, direct localization and transfer of technology will be the optimal solution in terms of time and investment. On top of that, it is necessary to urgently prepare and train the qualified workforce. The necessary human resources for the newly planned projects should have been prepared by now. However, there is no mention of human resources for copper smelting and refining.
There is a need to calculate in detail how many people will work in the plant, and what kind of specialists will be trained. It is necessary to support young people who are interested in learning and who can mobilize themselves to become highly qualified engineers.
We have a lot of work to do. Thermal power plants, industrial parks, renewable energy generators and oil refineries are planned to be built and many projects have started. However, there is a problem as to whether the workforce can be trained. The more engineers, technicians and specialists we have, the more successful we can be in implementing large-scale projects. Therefore, first we need to prepare our experts.
In addition, one of the problems in project implementation is energy supply. Timely planning and solving the energy sources of the region will be a major impetus not only for the project, but also for the development of the country. Some energy projects may pay back their initial investment in 50 years, but we have to invest in them and get the project going.
It is said that the number of general education graduates entering universities and schools in the field of natural sciences is decreasing. What is causing this?
This is the result of the increasing perception of the mining industry as work that degrades a soil. Moreover, in the last five to six years, foreign investment in the sector decreased, and many enterprises stopped operating. Therefore, the number of young people choosing to study some professions in this field is reducing to a certain extent. It is difficult to become an engineer or technologist without knowledge of natural sciences such as mathematics, chemistry and physics. The further away from knowledge and education, the more dangerous it is for the future of the country and the individual.
If the production and technology park is established in Orkhon Province, it will be possible to export value-added products of the Erdenetin Ovoo deposit. According to your calculations, how much will the period of operation of Erdenet Mining Corporation change?
Currently, it is estimated that the reserves of Erdenetin Ovoo deposit will be used for 40 to 60 years. According to the results of the research, if the copper concentrate smelting and refining project is implemented within the production and technology park unit, there is a possibility to extend the service life of the deposit even more than 60 years.
Mineral resources will run out. Therefore, it is said that it is better to avoid using them hastily and to pass them on to future generations. What do you think about it?
As long as the world and mankind exist, we will always live by using natural resources and benefiting from them. We should only follow the concept and principle that it should be used correctly and with minimal negative consequences for nature.
Only about 0.7 percent of Mongolia’s territory is mined. This is a very small amount. We can only move forward if we increase our production of copper and coal, which is the backbone of our economy, and produce value-added products. In the future, the consumption of all types of metals, copper and coal and the demand for products made from them will increase steadily. This means that our country will have a big advantage. Therefore, we should try to localize advanced technology and develop in anticipation of global development.