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Boron extraction needed to meet industrial needs

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ISLAMABAD, June 07 (INP) — Indigenous extraction of boron and its value-addition can help meet the needs of the local industry, leading to a reduction in its imports.

“Additionally, the export of excessive boron-based products will also fetch precious foreign exchange,” emphasized Abdul Bashir, chief geologist with a Balochistan-based minerals firm.

Talking to WealthPK, he said, “Boron can be extracted from more than 200 minerals but its recovery is best ensured from colemanite and borax.”
He said the non-gem quality tourmaline, which was abundantly found in Pakistan, was a great source of extracting boron. “Tourmalines are of several variations, which have an extensive formula with a variety of associated minerals. Usually, it occurs in metamorphic, granite, or granite pegmatites. In the crustal igneous and metamorphic rocks being the widespread borosilicate phases, the minerals of the tourmaline group are the dominant boron carriers.”

He said that boron-bearing tourmaline crystals were sometimes formed in metamorphosed sedimentary rocks. “Tourmaline deposits in Pakistan mostly occur in Khuzdar, Chagai, Zhob and Ras-Koh Mountain ranges of Balochistan. Boron is not considered a rare earth mineral, but may be included in it due to its magnetic and optical properties. It is extensively useful for a variety of industrial products, including borosilicate glass products, fire retardants, soaps, detergents, cookware, agriculture, medicines, audio speakers, hard drives, camera lenses, MRI imaging and monitors of all sorts. Boron is also used for strategic and exploration purposes like space exploration, and nuclear waste storage.”

Bashir said that as Pakistan is an agricultural country, it could greatly benefit form boron extraction. “Fertilizers rich in boron enhance plant growth, yield and quality.”

The geologist said setting up a boron processing plant didn’t require a big investment, and the government can help establish such plants to create a new value chain and job opportunities.

Talking about the occurrence of tourmaline, Muhammad Yaqub Shah, a geo-scientist working with an Islamabad-based mining company, told WealthPK that it was naturally found in the crystallized form within the granitoid of the late magmatic stage and metamorphic rocks as well. “Chitral district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Shigar Valley, Stak Nala, Gilgit, Skardu, Haramosh, and Roundu in Gilgit-Baltistan are considered the main hubs of tourmaline. Green tourmaline is also reported from Koh-e-Suleman ranges.”

Yasir Shaheen Khalil, an assistant director at the Geological Survey of Pakistan, said, “Non-gem quality tourmaline can be processed to extract boron in huge quantities. Tourmaline occurs in plenty in Pakistan but deposits have not been quantified to date. A systematic method is required to mine and extract the important elements from it, including boron. Boron extraction will prove a blessing for the industry. So, the policymakers must focus on its production.”

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