Iron ore pellet is a kind of agglomerated fines which has better strength (expressed technically as ‘tumbling index’) as compared to that of parent ore and can be used as a substitute in blast furnaces in countries where lump ore is not available. Pelletizing is a process of converting very fine iron ore (<100micron) into uniform sized pellets (balls with diameter 6mm~16mm), which are suitable for use in blast furnace and direct reduction furnace.
India's iron ore export basket used to comprise predominantly of iron ore fines (almost to the tune of 80% of total iron ore exports) largely because of the lucrative market it catered to globally and secondly as the domestic market for iron ore fines as a ready-made feed for sintering/pelletisation was at a still-nascent stage.
However, over time with significant changes in the domestic iron ore market and given the increasing uncertainties in global steel market courtesy the slowdown in Chinese demand, India’s iron ore export has taken a hit. At the same time, the perception that iron ore fines can be gainfully utilized by offering a ready-to-use feed material in the form of pellets whose use in turn, leads to substantial economic gains over time and given the shortage of quality iron ore lump (which setting up a pellet plant can well alleviate), have led to a paradigm change in the domestic market.
The net result is that pelletisation has emerged as an independent economic activity and is being increasingly held as a viable one as well, as a charge mix in sponge iron making and also in blast furnaces. Over time, what had started out as an exploration has now turned out to be nothing short of a trend. Such increasing importance of pellet as a key feed material in production of iron and steel in the domestic market has made it essential to assess the market trends in this emerging but niche segment in terms of spread of the Indian Iron Ore Pellet Industry.
Many pelletizing plants are also equipped with grinding units to convert mixed size iron ore to desired fine size needed for pellet making.