MRAI 2020: India’s stainless industry on upward flight path

Nation has been importing stainless scrap, but may also have a reservoir of domestic scrap going untapped.

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February 24, 2020

India, like the rest of the developing world, is consuming and producing growing amounts of stainless steel. Much of India’s production relies on imported nickel-bearing scrap—a situation that is likely to stay in place, even as the country collects more of its own scrap.

Presenters at the 2020 Materials Recycling Association of India (MRAI) meeting near Delhi in February pointed both to India’s good track record in using stainless steel scrap and to the likelihood that more such scrap will begin emanating from within its own borders.

Anil Shah of Canada-based Ni-Met Metals Inc. said India’s total consumption of nickel units to produce new metal pales in comparison to China’s, but India’s producers use a much higher percentage of scrap.

According to Shah, from 2015 to 2018, China’s stainless steel producers used just 22.3 percent scrap as feedstock. During the same period scrap comprised 77 percent of the feedstock for Indian producers.

Both India and the world are producing more stainless steel than ever, said Shah, with global production having soared from 28 million metric tons in 2006 to 50 million tons in 2018. He said from 1980 to 2018 the combined average annual growth rate (CAGR) for stainless steel production globally was 5.4 percent--well above that of aluminum or copper, which were in the 2-to-3 percent range.

India’s industry needed 108,000 “nickel units” to produce its stainless steel in 2018, said Shah, wit 83,000 of those units being scrap. Shah said most of this was imported because “there is no domestic collection to speak of” in India. Added Shah, “It’s not getting collected properly and it is stuck. The government needs to implement certain policies in order to bring this [collection level] up.”

The life cycle of stainless steel in the petro-chemical or food processing industries may also be a factor in India’s sparse collection, said Shah. Obsolete pipes or equipment at chemical plants or stainless steel used in food processing equipment “can take 15-to-20 years before going back to the furnace,” he remarked.

Sujeet Samaddar of Delhi-based Samaddar Consulting says end-of-life aircraft, both military and commercial, provides one domestic Indian latent source of nickel alloys and other metals.

“The dismantling of aircraft is growing,” said Samaddar, who added that there are “high-quality metals” to be found in the sector. Samaddar estimated there are “about 350 military aircraft which will reach end of life soon,” including both planes and helicopters. “That’s a lot of money,” he said of the metals to be harvested. Additionally, he said as many as 700 commercial aircraft have already been retired or may soon be retired in India.

The MRAI’s 7th Annual International Indian Material Recycling Conference was Feb. 7-9, 2020, at the Hotel Hyatt Regency Gurgaon near Delhi.