Sri Lanka possesses an abundance of minerals. The best known of these in Sri Lanka is our gemstones. Sri Lanka also has an abundance of good quality non-metallic mineral resources. They are mainly industrial minerals. These include Apatite, Calcite, Clay, Dolomite, Feldspar, Garnet sand, Graphite, Ilmenite, Kaolin, Mica, Quartz, Rutile, Silica Sand, and Zircon.
Although the country has a large amount of valuable mineral resources, not all locations of these minerals have been identified. It is expensive to explore the mineral resources, to locate them and find out the size and depth of the area where those mineral resources are located, said experts.
In 2022, Geological Survey and Mines Bureau bought through a VLF Receiver for Rs.3.5 million from France. This Very Low Frequency Device can detect minerals in the Earth’s crust up to 100-100 km away.
Sri Lanka‘s mineral resources are of interest to foreign commercial firms. Many foreign research groups are beginning to realize that Sri Lanka is a treasure trove of many valuable metals and minerals, scouts said.
Reports indicate the presence of a 10 by 250 miles mineralization belt between Ambalantota and Seruwawila, said these scouts. The region is also rich in other minerals such as magnetite, copper, iron and cobalt among others. Foreign expert teams, who have been studying the country for years, have come up with reports that indicate the presence of large gold deposits in Sri Lanka, they added.
Sri Lanka however, has failed to see the economic value of its very own minerals. Sri Lanka has never considered using mineral resources for economic development, observed disgusted critics. Sri Lanka is living on loans instead of making best use of these valuable mineral resources. Some minerals have not been exploited to their full potential, others are sold at a pittance to overseas buyers, they said.
Why are we selling our valuable raw material at rock bottom prices, asked Tissa Vitarana. Why are we sending the mineral rich earth from Pulmoddai in ship loads abroad. The Ilmenite is a source of Titanium dioxide. From Titanium dioxide is obtained Titanium , a highly priced substance essential for the aeronautics industry.
We have the best graphite in the world in Bogala and other places. Elsewhere this is being converted into the wonder material, Graphine, which is being used to produce a whole range of goods in the west. We do nothing with it. Also we must not forget the phosphate deposits in Eppawela that the McMorran of USA tried to steal from us for a pittance, concluded Tissa.
Our minerals should be an important money generating sector in our economy. At present Quartz, ball clay, silica and feldspar are utilized in the ceramics and glass industries with great success. The country’s porcelain is ranked among the best in the world. But that seems to be all.
We should , in addition, establish graphite based industries, salt based industries and production of salt for export, said experts. We should develop export oriented ceramic industries, and the export of dolomite stone in polished slab and other forms.
High purity quartz based industries should be set up. Quarts is the raw material used in producing silicon used for the huge semiconductor industry today. silicon production from quartz is simply out of the question, in Sri Lanka since it is technologically very complex and the electricity requeitmnets are very high. However , there are many other smaller industries which be started with quartz as the raw material such as water glass ( sodium silicate) quartz lenses and other quartz glass items which involves simple melting and reforming of quartz. said Oliver Ileperuma.
Joint ventures with outside firms should be initiated for upgrading Ilmenite to a high titanium product and thereafter move to the production of Titanium dioxide pigments. There should be manufacture of phosphate fertilizer utilizing the Eppawela apatite deposit. The production of phosphate fertilizer from this mine would greatly ease the burden of expensive fertilizer subsidies, experts said.
Apatite, Graphite, Minerals sands and Gem stones will be discussed later in this series. The other minerals mentioned in the first paragraph of this essay, as well as some not mentioned will be now be discussed very briefly .
The Balangoda Calcite Deposit is currently the best calcite deposit in the world, said Prof. H. M. G. A. Pitawala, speaking in 2021. He said that no other country in the world has a calcite deposit comparable to Balangoda. Such a high quality calcite deposit has never been recorded in any other country in the world. Elsewhere, calcite deposits come mixed with dolomite , and great effort is needed to separate the two. Balangoda calcite deposit contains only calcite. A high-tech process to separate Dolomite is not required
It is unfortunate that the Sri Lanka does not to make the best use of this rare natural resource which can only be found in our country.At present minor excavations at the Balangoda Calcite Deposit are being carried out by various individuals in an informal manner. The deposit is currently used only in animal feed.
Calcite is used in many products abroad and is in high demand there. Calcite powder is used as filler in industries. Calcium carbonate is used in the manufacture of medicinal pills, in the building industry, in paints, and in the production of animal feed.
Maximum use must be made of the Balangoda resource now, Pitiwala said. In order to properly utilize this calcite deposit, it must be turned into calcium carbonate which can be used for a number of industrial products.
In 2021, Environment Ministry was instructed to explore the possibility of producing calcium carbonate using the 2,000 tonnes of waste calcite already excavated at the Balangoda Calcite deposit. There was talk of setting up a factory to manufacture calcium carbonate using Balangoda deposit as a joint venture between the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, a state-owned Technical Services Company and the Peradeniya University.
The three main types of clay – kaolinite, ball clay and brick clay, are used in Sri Lanka for export industries. Sri Lanka‘s deposit of clay and kaolin is considered ideal for ceramic ware and is used in the ceramic industry in Sri Lanka. Major Kaolin deposits in Sri Lanka are located at Boralesgamuwa and Meetiyagoda. The Boralesgamuwa deposit has already been exhausted.
Crystalline limestone deposits- which contain Dolomite, Calcite, and Magnesite and Dolomitic limestone are scattered throughout the Highland, South Western, Vijayan, and Wanni geological complexes. The dolomitic limestone is the most abundant type of material found in these deposits. Some of the localities known for limestone deposits are Anuradhapura, Habarana, Matale, Kandy, Ratnapura, Balangoda, Badulla, Bibile, Welimada, Ambilipitiya, Hambantota, and Kataragama.
Dolomite has many commercial uses. Dolomite is used, in the ceramic and glass industry. It is used to produce quicklime and slaked lime for the building industry. Dolomite powders are also used in the rubber and paint industries as filler material and also to produce wall finishing materials. Dolomite is also used as fertilizer.
As far as I know, Dolomite is not exploited industrially in Sri Lanka. The colored dolomite stones, so appealing in their pink, blue and green, are sold as decorative lumps to tourists by local vendors. I have bought some. I attended an industrial fair some years back and found a stall where a foreigner was selling Dolomite lamp stands. When I pointed out that this was a serious misuse of Dolomite he told me that it was a BOI project.
Feldspar deposits are found in many areas of Sri Lanka such as Rattota, Namaloya, Koslanda, Balangoda. At Rattota feldspar occurs with other pegmatite minerals such as quartz, biotite (mica), and fluorite (calcium fluoride) as thick bands with clear boundaries. This deposit is found more than 600m below the surface. Feldspar is used in the ceramic and glass industries.
Industrial quality Garnet sand can be recovered from beach sand. Mineral sand deposits which are rich in Garnet sand are available in Dondra and Hambantota, but these are not commercially mined. Garnet sand has a wide range of applications in the mineral industry, as an abrasive. The demand for garnet sand is steadily rising.
Mica is easily identified by its unique flaky structure. The most common types of mica in Sri Lanka are Biotite and Phlogopite. Phlogopite is mica rich in magnesium. Mica deposits are found in Matale, Talatu Oya, Badulla, Maskeliya, Haldummulla, Kebithigollewa and Balangoda. There is Phlogopite underground mine at Wariyapola, in Matale. Muscovite, a Mica variety with high levels of potassium can be found in Kebithigollewa.
Mica can withstand high temperatures, high dielectric strength, and is an electrical insulator. Because of these properties, sheet mica is used in electrical and electronic industries. Mica powder is used as filler in plastics, paints, some printing inks, and papers. Ground mica is used as a lubricant for special purposes and also for heat and electrical insulating purposes.
High quality quartz is found in many locations in the country. Vein quartz deposits of high purity (over 98% Silica) are found in many areas of Sri Lanka, such as Galaha (Kandy), Rattota, Balangoda, Pelmadulla, Embilipitiya and Ratnapura. In Sri Lanka, the mineral is currently exported in the raw form without any value addition.
Silica sand found in Sri Lanka is white in color and is of high purity (over 98% SiO2). Deposits are found in Marawila, Nattandiya, and Madampe (in Puttalam district) and also in Ampara and Jaffna peninsula. Silica sand is mined from Nattandiya and Madampe seas for use as a raw material in the glass and ceramic industries.
Zircon has many commercial uses. It is used in ceramic industry, refractories and foundry casting , in water and air purification systems and a growing array of specialty applications such as nuclear fuel rods, catalytic fuel converters I think that it is used in Sri Lanka only as a gemstone.
Sri Lanka also has other minerals which have economic potential. Marble is found in Kandy, Matale, Nalanda, Habarana, Badulla, Welimada and Balangoda. This marble is readily available in large minable quantities. There are marble quarries at Digana, Matale and Balangoda.
Research into the commercial possibilities of local marble was done at Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology, by a team led by PG Mantilake. By 2015, this group had six patents relating to this project. They had created high purity Precipitated Calcium Carbonate (PCC) from marble for industrial applications. The team observed that PCC was imported for about LKR 16 million per month for Sri Lanka industries in 2015.
Value added nano materials can be extracted from Sri Lanka‘s marble. There is great potential for this as a new industry, this team said. Synthetic nano materials are in high demand in other countries. There is a huge export market for them. Also, our nano pieces are more suitable for Sri Lanka industries, they added.
We are now working on design processing plants for this new industry, the team said in 2015. We have developed techniques for this manufacture. The processes are simple, and industrially viable. The other items needed for the manufacture are available here. The chemicals additives needed are commercially available at low cost and they are environmentally friendly and biodegradable. The by- products are harmless. And the final product can be sold for USD 30-50 per 100 gms, they said.
Sri Lanka has scattered deposits of iron ore, mostly ignored today. Residents of Tholabowatte were surprised to be told in 2004, that the black unidentifiable stuff they threw away as nuisance was a grade of iron ore, said Milroy Ratwatte.
In 2019 Geological Survey and Mines Bureau found iron deposit in an area of about 100 kilometers in Arippu and Kollakulam. The Kurampola iron deposit covers an area of about 26 square kilometers and it contains at least 86 million tonnes of iron. In 2021 it was reported that Buttala, Kurampola and Chilaw Panirendawa iron ores would be excavated by the government.
In 2011, Geological Survey and Mines Bureau of Sri Lanka recorded gold finds in Kiriibbanara, Balangoda and several places close to the Manik and Walawe Rivers . In 2016 Geological surveys have also found gold deposits in Horana, Akuressa, Deniyaya and Nilwala Ganga. There was a high amount of Uranium and Titanium in the samples.
So far, Sri Lanka has seen only limited commercial mining of gold, observed foreign firms interested in gold mining. The country is rich in alluvial gold deposits that can be easily processed with simple and already available mining techniques.
These alluvial sources are attractive to small-scale and medium-scale mine operators. Most of the gold in rivers is being mined by artisanal miners throughout the country, they observed.
The artisanal mining makes up the bulk of the country’s gold production. That’s because, in Sri Lanka, the gold is not deep under the earth, but in quartz reefs and alluvial deposits in the rivers.
Geological surveys conducted in 2019 revealed a golddeposit of 100 sq. kilometers buried in an area centered on Seruwawila. . They found that there was iron and copper as well in the Seruwawila deposit.
The French Geological Survey (BRGM) began a drilling program in Seruwila in the early 1980s which ended with the start of the Eelam was in 1983. Later, the French firm AMECA obtained an exploration licence and commenced work in 2018. AMECA said that it had selected Seruwawila area as its maiden project due to indications that the area could contain a significant amount of gold.
In 2019, it was reported that The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau had recommenced excavations in the Seruwawila area and evidence of gold deposit has been found. In 2021, The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) announced that it has decided to explore further the gold and other deposits in Seruwawila..
Technology today is more advanced, it is possible to dig up to 250-300 meters deep and we hope that more information can be revealed regarding the mineral resources that have been discovered in this deposit, GSMB said.
Surveys are also needed to ascertain the economical viability of the expected gold deposit. Samples have to be analyzed to see the possibility of finding palladium, platinum elements. If the survey reveals positive results foreign investors can be attracted to develop the ore.
Government said it hoped to seek foreign investors willing to work in accordance with the policies and procedures adopted by the bureau to join with the GSMB to carry out further surveys based on the data and geological elements available. (Continued)
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