1. Copper Refining
  2. Copper: Foreign location
  3. Copper Refining: Indian Locations
  4. Hindalco (Aditya Birla group)
  5. Sterlite Industry
  6. Acid Industry
  7. India Copper Industry: Challenges
  8. Lead & Zinc Industry

In the previous article, we saw the geographical factors responsible for the location of Aluminium smelting industry. Let’s move to the next topic:

Copper Refining

  • With 20th century, copper became important for electric industry.
  • As the demand for copper increased, new mining-smelting technologies are developed to utilize even lower quality ores.
  • Location principle for copper and aluminum industries same, but smelting process is different.
  • In case of aluminum, we saw that process is bauxite(ore)=> alumina (weightloss)=> aluminum(need electricity).
  • In case of copper, the first stage=concentrating.

Stage: Concentrating ore

  • The copper ore is soaked in water and mixed with oils. The copper revering matter floats on the top, and is separated out for further processing.
  • After this “concentrating” stage, barely 2.5% of the original matter remains. And less weight= less transportation cost.
  • Therefore, copper concentrating mills are set up near the raw material(mines)
  • During this stage, sulfur and oxygen impurities are separated from the concentrated copper ore. Thus we get “blister copper”.
  • Even in the state, the weight loss ratio is significant, therefore smelting is usually done near raw material.

Stage: blister to copper (refining)

  • So far we got copper ore => Blister copper.
  • Although Blister copper is 99% pure metal, but still unsuitable for manufacturing electronic wires, utensils etc. Why? Because it contains impurities of gold, silver, lead and zinc.
  • Therefore, blister copper is refined via electrolysis method.
  • The blister copper is immersed in a bath of copper sulphate, electricity is passed and impurities are removed.
  • Here, the weight loss ratio is extremely small. (~1%). So, there is no economic factor to setup copper refining factories near the raw material.

Copper: Foreign location

Location Comment
Zaire and Zambia
  • had significant copper ore reserves and even refineries.
  • But governments nationalized those refineries= they became loss making white elephants just like our Air India.
  • Utah, Montana, Arizona (UMA) states
  • In United States, many copper refineries were closed down due to increased competition from foreign refiners, higher cost of electricity, increased costs associated with legal requirements to cleanup sulphur dioxide emission etc.

Copper Refining: Desi Locations

Hindustan Copper
  • @Khetri, Jhunjnu district, Rajasthan.
  • Ore: from Malanjkhand-Balaghat region  of Madhya Pradesh.
  • @Korba, Chhattisgarh
  • Ore: from Amarkantak Region
  • Energy: Korba thermal plant
HINDALCO (Aditya Birla) @Dahej in Bharuch district of Gujarat.
Sterlite Industries. Tutikorin, TN

Acid Industry

  • From the Copper refining process, by products can be used for making phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid. How?
  • Copper smelting=>SO2 gas=>Sulphuric Acid
  • Same Sulphuric acid + Rock Phosphate*==>Phosphoric Acid. Further it can be used for making fertilizers.
  • *by the way, Rock Phosphate is usually imported. (Food for thought: why not setup Phosphoric acid plant abroad then? Ans. Because se SO2 gas is difficult to transport. So, better important rock phosphate here!)
  • Hence, such acid industries are located in the vicinity of Copper refineries.
  • Nowadays, the copper refining companies have integrated plants to produce such acids within their premises. example

HINDALCO (Aditya Birla)

  • plant @Dahej in Bharuch district of Gujarat.
  • has both Copper refining +Acid production
  • From Copper refining, they even extract the impurities of pure gold, silver and selenium,  platinum and palladium- which are sold separately.
  • Another favorable factor: Dahej port just 45 kms away. Helps exporting sulphuric acid.

Sterlite Industries.

  • Tuticorin, TN.
  • But in 2013, State pollution board ordered them to close down after emission of sulphur dioxide gas = people in the area complained of suffocation, and burning sensation in the eye.
  • Matter went to SC, while Sterlite denies emissions from the plant are dangerously high. This plant produces more than half of India’s total refined copper.
  • Business GK: Vedanta=London based company. and Sterlite Industries is the subsidiary of Vedanta resources

Desi Copper Industry: Challenges

  1. Special copper alloys are still imported. Because we don’t have technology to produce them locally. E.g. Beryllium copper,.
  2. Mining & smelting technology is obsolate. Causes substantial air pollution because sulphur dioxide emission.
  3. Still don’t have technology for downstream copper products e.g. copper tubes for refrigeration/AC etc. majority of them still imported.
  4. Still don’t have technology for complete recovery of precious metals such as Cobalt, Nickel etc from copper concentration.
  5. Producing 1 ton Copper from ore=takes almost 14000 kwh energy. But producing 1 ton copper from scrap/recycling=takes only 1700 kwh. However, scrap based copper smelter are not yet well established in India. Very few plants using scrap metal to recycle copper (e.g.Lonavala, Hyderabad.)
  6. Manpower requirement per tonne of finished copper=very high compared to developed countries.
  7. There is huge gap between demand and supply. Almost 70% copper is imported.
  8. There is no smelter @Malanjkhand (MP). The concentrate has to be transported to Khetri (Rajasthan). =cost of production increases.
  9. Overall, Indian copper ore is average quality, hence mining/refining is a costly because copper yield is low.

Lead and Zinc

  • Dig the ore=>concentrate=> refining.
  • it runs on the principle that certain minerals have an affinity for certain oils.
  • Hence the ore is mixed with water, oil and chemicals.
  • The mineral particles attach with oil bubbles and float on the surface.
  • The foam (containing mineral particles) is skimmed off.


  • Concentration stage: procedure involves significant weight loss=> carried out near mining site.
  • Refining stage: require lot of electricity=> done near large thermal plants /hydroelectric sites.
  • India doesn’t have sufficient ores of Lead/Zinc. So majority of our requirement met through imports.
state metal smelters location
Jharkhand lead Tundoo
AP lead Vishakhapatnam, based on imported lead concentrates
Rajasthan Zinc @Debari: ore comes from Rajpur-Dariba mines + import.@Chanderia: ore comes from Bhilwara.
Kerala Zinc @Always. Based on imported zinc concentrates

In the next article, we’ll look at the geographical factors responsible for the location of Petroleum Refineries and synthetic textile industry.
visit Mrunal.org/geography for the Archive of all geography articles published so far.