Thukten Zangpo 

Last year, Bhutan’s top export product, ferrosilicon, reached an all-time high of Nu 16.22 billion (B), a 6 percent rise from 2021, almost 30 percent of total exports. This was equivalent to 113,277 metric tonnes (MT).

According to Department of Revenue and Customs’ statistics, the government exported ferrosilicon worth Nu 15.28B in 2021, Nu 7.45B in 2020, and Nu 9.79B in 2019.

The principal raw material utilised in steel manufacture is ferrosilicon. Bhutan supplies the majority of ferrosilicon to India. Other countries imported ferrosilicon worth just Nu 2.05B last year.

Bhutanese ferrosilicon firms also export to European countries. Italy imported ferrosilicon worth Nu 1.7B, the Netherlands worth Nu 67.84 million (M), Spain worth Nu 43.1 million (M), Germany worth Nu 42.4 million (M), and France worth Nu 18.24 million (M).

The availability of high-grade quartzite has led to the establishment of ferrosilicon plants in the country. Bhutan also plans to start a silicon chip industry in the coming years.

Silicon, ferrosilicon, and other silicon alloys are made by reducing quartz with coal, iron, or other ores in electric arc furnaces at very high temperatures (2,000-degree Celsius). 

According to the survey conducted by the Department of Geology and Mines in 2021 with Sumiko Resources Exploration and Development Corporation Limited, Japan, Bhutan has 26.7M metric tonnes (MT) of quartzite reserves—0.89M MT in Tintale (East), 3.49M MT in Tintale (West) in Samtse, 1.2M MT in Omchina-Pepchu area in Chhukha, 20.36M MT in Kamji-Kezari also in Chhukha, and 0.76M MT in Wakhar-Mukazor area in Trashigang.

An investigation also discovered a thick ferrosilicon-grade quartzite band in Shingkhar-Lauri in Samdrupjhongkhar.

The dividends declared by ferrosilicon businesses show that the ferrosilicon business is performing well.

Druk Ferro Alloys Limited (DFAL), a ferrosilicon firm, issued an 18 percent dividend for 2022. DFAL declared a 30 percent interim dividend for 2021, a 6.5 percent dividend for 2020, a 10 percent dividend for 2019, and an 80 percent payout for 2018.

Similarly, Bhutan Ferro Alloys Limited offered a 350 percent dividend for 2022. In addition, the company issued a 300 percent dividend for 2021, a 150 percent payout for 2018, and a 100 percent dividend for 2017.

At the same time, Druk Wang Alloys Limited declared a dividend of 10 percent for 2022, 35 percent for 2021, 65 percent for 2020, 30 percent for 2019, and 20 percent for 2018.

Last year, however, the export of ferrosilicon ceased on October 24 and resumed on November 2 after the Government of India granted another three-month extension, the sixth.

In 2020, India’s Ministry of Steel mandated that steelmakers obtain Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) accreditation. Because of the epidemic, the BIS delegation from India was unable to inspect ferrosilicon factories in the nation.

According to the National Statistics Bureau’s export price index, the price of basic metals and other manufactured goods fell by 28.04 percent between October and December of last year compared to the same period the previous year.

Between October and December last year, ferrosilicon was sold for around Nu 150,000 per MT. In 2021, it achieved a record price of Nu 280,000 per MT.

The overall resource of the top five minerals—dolomite, limestone, quartzite, marble, and gypsum—is estimated to be around 14,800M MT, with a net worth of USD 4.35B, according to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.

According to the ministry, the country possesses proven resources of dolomite, gypsum, and limestone that will last for millennia.

Bhutan’s dolomite deposit is expected to last 169 years, assuming a 15-20 percent rise in yearly extraction rate.