Egypt Pulse

Egypt to comb black-sand deposits for hidden riches

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Article Summary
Major new deals and projects with foreign companies to extract valuable minerals from Egypt's black sand promise to create more jobs and enhance local industries.

The Egyptian Black Sand Company (EBSC), an Egyptian joint-stock company affiliated with the armed forces' National Service Projects Organization, signed a deal June 12 in Cairo with the Chinese firm Weiyuan Minerals. Under the deal, a joint Chinese-Egyptian company will be established to train technical personnel to extract minerals from the black sands of al-Borolus, in the northern Kafr el-Sheikh governorate. This area, which lies along the western branch of the Nile, was chosen because of its 300 million tons of black sand found in 118 kilometers (73 miles) of its northern coast.

The deal was signed in the presence of the shareholders of the EBSC, the Nuclear Materials Authority, the National Investment Bank, the Egyptian Mineral Resources Authority, the governor of Kafr el-Sheikh and Weiyuan Minerals.

The EBSC was established in 2016 to facilitate the exploitation of economic minerals from black sand throughout Egypt.

On May 19, the same local partners signed a cooperation protocol with the Australian company Mineral Technologies to establish a plant for mineral extraction from the area's black sand. This cooperation protocol came as part of Egypt’s plan to make the best use of the available economic resources and achieve comprehensive development in all sectors.

“Building the 80-acre Black Sand Separation Plant through joint investments between Kafr el-Sheikh, the armed forces’ National Service Projects Organization, the Nuclear Materials Authority and the National Investment Bank will provide more than 5,000 job opportunities,” Governor El-Sayed Nasr said in a statement after signing the cooperation protocol with the Australian company.

Nasr added that this project will directly benefit the people of Kafr el-Sheikh while bringing real development to the whole country, pointing out that the project will transform the North Delta, especially Kafr el-Sheikh, into a huge investment area.

The process of extracting six minerals from al-Borolus' black sand is due to start at the end of 2018, which is when the plant is expected to be completed.

Hassan Bekhit, the chairman of the Egyptian Geological Survey Association, told Al-Monitor, “Making use of the black sands is long overdue, and the project currently underway will be in just one area out of the whole Egyptian black sand deposits that extend along the Mediterranean coast from Abu Qir in the west to Rafah in the east.”

“The minerals extracted from the black sand will have an economic return estimated at more than 300 billion Egyptian pounds [$16.8 billion], as it contains various elements used in manufacturing nuclear reactors, paints, dyes, plastic, rubber, cosmetics, ceramics, aircraft structures and engines, iron and other industries,” he explained, pointing out that some 5.5 million tons of minerals will be extracted from the area around al-Borolus.

Ashraf Sultan, former president of the EBSC, praised the state’s efforts to exploit its mineral resources. He explained to Al-Monitor that the black sand came from the mountains in the other African countries from which the Nile River descends. The river carried it downstream and deposited it along the country’s northern coasts.

“Six minerals will be extracted from the black sand of this project: titanium, magnetite, zircon, thorium, monazite and garnet, all of which are needed for major transformational industries that will contribute to the national economy,” Sultan added. For example, titanium is used in aircraft engines and frames as well as in automotive applications, especially in automobile and motorcycle racing, where low weight and high strength are critical.

He said that zircon is used in the decorative ceramics industry, magnetite is used in small amounts as a pigment in paint and as an aggregate in high-density concrete and highly radioactive thorium can be used in nuclear power generation.

A report by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics said that in February this year, there was a 0.8% increase of the country's manufacturing and extractive industries index, compared to February 2017.

“I hope the production will be used to benefit local industries and meet the needs of local products rather than exporting the minerals abroad,” Sultan added.

“If we keep the zircon, for example, which many ceramics companies import, we will save money and benefit our economy,” he said.

Egypt is keen to benefit from its mineral resources to increase its economic revenues and create new job opportunities, especially for young people. Extracting minerals from the black sand is a major step toward turning Egypt from an importer to an exporter of minerals and breathing life into new industries.

Salwa Samir, an Egyptian journalist, has been writing about human rights, social problems, immigration and children's and women's issues since 2005.

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