Steel is a strategic commodity for the country of about 80 million. It is crucial for a developing country to meet steel demand which comes from massive infrastructure development. For Iran, iron and steel industry is a basic industry important and necessary for national economy growth and always has been considered as a supporting industry for realizing the industrialization of the country. Iron and steel industries are intensive in terms of technology, capital, resources and energy, and its development requires a comprehensive balancing of different kinds of external conditions. In terms of mineral and energy resources Iran enjoys its high reserves of iron ore and energy resources of natural gas and crude oil but when it comes to technology and financial resources, the industry faces a lot of problems. The Iranian steel industry will face an array of challenges in the next decade. Severe shortage is obvious of capital since the central government is not able to provide direct finance. On the other hand capital from domestic sources is extremely expensive.
There are 188 private and 11 government owned mines in Iran. Total estimated iron ore decisive reserves are 4.5 billion tons which 60 percent of it is magnetite type and 40 percent is hematite type with an average iron grade of 52 percent which is higher than world average of 42 percent. 54 percent of iron ore reserves have iron grade more than 55 percent, 25 percent have iron grade between 50 to 55, 20 percent have iron grade between 45 to 50 and about one percent have iron grade less than 45 percent.
In term of mineral explorations less than 10 percent of Iran’s area has been surveyed. For iron ore also this figure is less than 10 percent. On the other side the average depth of drilling iron ore exploration is less than 20 meters which is a very low. This means that just surface resources of just 10 percent of Iran’s area has been explored. Probability of discovering new reserves is very high and promising. According to a report published by IMIDRO, Iran’s iron ore rich regions are divided into three regions:
1. Hamedan- Isfahan- Kerman which its main reserve is Sirjan GolGohar in Kerman Province;
2. Zanjan- Semnan- Khorasan which its main reserve is Sangan in Khorasan province;
3. Anarak-Bafgh-Yazd-Kerman which it main reserves are Choghart and Chadormalu mines.
Chadormalu mine is operated by Mining and Industrial Company (CMIC). The companuy is the largest iron ore concentrate producer for direct reduction process. As well as iron ore concentrate, the company produces up to one million to per year crushed iron ore to be used in blast furnaces in Iran and also for export purpose. The company was established on June 1992, as a private joint stock Co. Later, on 21st April 2003 the legal status of the company changed to public joint stock Co. and then registered on Tehran stock exchange.
The Choghart iron ore mine is located 12km northeast of Bafgh and 125km southeast of the center of Yazd Province. Exploration activities started in the area in 1962. Detailed geophysical and geological studies, as well as drilling and mapping since 1968 have resulted in the identification of over 5.2 billion tons of iron and manganese ores in Bafgh and other parts of the country out of which about 38 iron anomalies with geological reserves of over 7.1 billion tons have been estimated in Central Iran. The most important iron ore deposits of this region are Choghart, Chadormalu, Chah Gaz, the northern anomaly and Se Chahun.
GolGohar iron ore mine is located in southern Iran, 50 km from Sirjan, in southwest of Kerman Province surrounded by mountains over 2500 m high. In 1969, GolGohar iron ore deposits were discovered by Iran Barite Company. GolGohar follows a mining tradition in this region which dates back 900 years. GolGohar mines contain 6 ore bodies spread over an area of 40 square km. The total deposits of iron ore in the region are estimated to be over 1.135 billion tons. The major ore body has a deposit of more than 650 million tons. GolGohar is connected to the Iranian railway through the Tehran- Bandar Abbas line. At GolGohar, 6 million tons per year of concentrate is produced through crushing, drying and wet grinding, and magnetic separation methods using low intensity magnetic separators.
Sangan is one of the biggest iron ore mining areas in Iran with around 1.2 billion tons of iron ore resources. Development projects planned for Sangan mining area will increase its iron ore fine and pellet production capacity up to 20 million tons when finalized and would surely improve Iran steel industry in the future. At the moment an iron ore concentration plant with 2.6 million tons production capacity is working in Sangan mining area.
Iron ore production and exports
In 2015, iron ore production was 36 million tons which declined 20 percent from 45 million tons of year 2014 and 20 million tons lower than its 56 million tons peak in year 2013. The same trend is obvious in iron ore exports. Iron ore exports have been decreased steadily in the last three years from its 23.6 million tons peak in 2013 to 14.1 million tons in 2015.
Significant part of decrease in Iran’s iron ore production comes from small private mines. The main part of iron ore mined in private mines is crushed iron ore which is used in blast furnaces. Currently local costumer of crushed iron ore is Zob Ahan Company which utilizes blast furnace process with two million tons per year capacity. Consumption of the company is limited so the largest part of this kind of iron ore cannot be sold in domestic market. Decrease in Chinese steel makers’ production, the main consumer of Iran’s iron, caused sharp decrease in Chinese demand for Iranian iron ore which consequently caused lack of demand for iron ore products of private mines. Sharp decrease in iron ore prices also affected the performance of these mines, because they could not be able to compete with their competitors in Chinese market. Sanctions addressing banking activities of Iranian and their foreign partners as well as embargos on shipping lines increased export costs of Iranian companies.
Crude steel production
According to the lasts statistics published by World Steel Association (WSA), Iran is the largest producer of crude steel in the Middle East and Africa and 14th in the world, given the hike in its steel output. Major crude steel producers of Iran are Mobarakeh Steel Complex, with approximately 47 percent of the market share, followed by the Khuzestan Steel Company with about 23 percent, the Isfahan Zob Ahan Company with about 20 percent, and the Iran National Steel Industries Group with some 10 percent of the market share.
Iran’s steel industry struggled in 2015, plagued by low demand, high production costs, and competition from low-quality and low prices of steel products from China. Iranian steel exporters shifted focus to domestic market, seeking USD 20 billion to develop the steel industry and triple production within ten years. In November 2015, the Iran Steel Producers Association called on the government “to help the steel industry move out of recession.” Iran’s steelmakers are calling on the government to raise import tariffs on certain steel products amid a “crisis” in the industry due to a number of factors, including dumping by China and other exporters. The government has already increased import duties by 20 percent but steelmakers are calling for a raise of up to 40 percent for flat steel products in order to protect the industry.
The cost of iron ore production, however, is high in Iran compared with other countries, which makes the industry vulnerable to dumping. The sector is further under pressure from the slump in global steel prices which are currently at their lowest levels in nearly six years.
Iran with 16.6 million tons curd steel production which puts it at 14th on the world’s steel producing countries ranking. Iran's steel production is expected to rise to 18 million tons this year.
According to report published by WSA, in 2014, Iran’s hot rolled steel production was 16.48 million tons including 8.2 million tons (49.75%) hot rolled long products and 8.28 million tons (50.25%) hot rolled long products. It is estimated that total capacity utilization of steel products in Iran is about 50 percent. Based on this report, Iran’s finished steel products consumption in 2014 was 17.25 million tons which is less than its peak at 20.94 million tons in 2011. Per capita steel products consumption was 221 kg in 2014.
Iran is being converted into an exporter from largest importer of steel. Iran’s imports dropped from 12.2 million tons in 2007 to 1.5 million tons in 2014. In 2007, the country was regarded as the biggest overseas buyer across the Middle East, as suggested by the World Steel Association and the International Steel Statistics Bureau.
Iran expects companies Mobarakeh Steel to double its export to 4 million tons with a plan of increasing it to 14 million tons by 2025.
The largest DRI producer
Iran is the largest producer of gas based DRI in the world. According to the latest report of MIDREX, in 2014 Iran’s DRI output was 14.55 million tons which after India with production of 17.31 million tons was the second largest producer of DRI. It should be noted that a large quantity of the DRI made in India is produced in rotary kilns using coal; therefore, Iran had the largest production by plants using natural gas as the fuel/reluctant. However by commissioning new plants, Iran will be dominant producer of DRI in the world. There are a lot of Direct Reduction based plants under construction. More than 90 percent of Iran’s targeted 55 million ton capacity is based on direct reduction technology.
Iran first took over India after the release of the WSA’s DRI output for the month of March. World Steel Association’s production figures are based on data collected from 14 countries, which accounted for approximately 90 percent of the global DRI production in 2014. India has reduced its DRI production because of the coal-based technology and related additional expenses that appeared after the government introduced environmental fees this financial year. As a result, Indian producers are switching to usage of alternative raw materials. The country’s seven-month DRI production was down 22.7 percent year-on-year to 8.2 million tons.
To keep pace with demand in its industry and an economy being billed as one of the emerging Next Eleven and relying on its iron ore reserves and other significant advantages, Iran is planning big for the steel industry to increase its steel production to 55 million tons per year by 2025.
Meanwhile, Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization (IMIDRO) unveiled a comprehensive plan aimed at increasing steel production capacity in southern Iran. According to IMIDRO, new steel making plants will be established in Chabahar, Qeshm and Bandar Abbas regions.
To meet 55 million tons of steel production, 60 million tons of sponge/pig iron, 92 million tons of pellets, 90 million tons of concentrate and 159 million tons of iron will be required in the entire value chain of iron ore to crude steel. According Iran’s Comprehensive Steel Plan, there will be deficit of 43 million tons of iron ore and 18 million tons of pellets which should be imported. It is estimated that Iran’s steel consumption will be doubled to 41 million tons from its current 20 million tons leaving 14 million tons of oversupply which will be available for exports.
The most significant challenge of steel development based on 2025 plan will be lack of finance sources from government. It is clear that Iranian steel companies and iron ore producers need to attract equity funding and loans from offshore groups.