PETALING JAYA: It won’t be long before Pahang’s bauxite boom goes bust, as rampant mining of the valuable ore could strip the state bare of its reserves within the next few years.
According to the latest figures from the Minerals and Geoscience Department, Pahang has the country’s biggest estimated reserves of bauxite totalling 80.2 million tonnes. However, there are reported estimates that up to 20 million tonnes may have been mined in 2015, meaning Pahang could exhaust its reserves roughly four or five years from now.
“Malaysia has a small amount of bauxite reserves so the high rate of mining we are seeing could affect the reserves,” said Kamal Daril, the department’s minerals economic branch director.
Data from the department states that Malaysia at present has a bauxite reserve estimated at 109.1 million tonnes.
The bulk of it – 80.2 million tonnes – is located in Pahang, followed by Terengganu (23.5 million tonnes), Sabah (2.6 million tonnes), Sarawak (1.6 million tonnes) and Johor (1.2 million tonnes).
Bauxite is processed into aluminium oxide or alumina before being smelted to extract aluminium, which is used in all kinds of products ranging from packaging to aeroplanes.
Bauxite prices depend on the percentage of its alumina content.
It is understood that a tonne of bauxite mined in Pahang is being sold for RM60 to RM100 while high alimuna content bauxite can fetch up to RM150 per tonne.
Kamal said licensed bauxite mining operations in designated mining land in Malaysia unearthed 962,799 tonnes in 2014.
From the total, 72.2% or 695,140 tonnes came from Pahang and 267,659 tonnes from Johor.
Last year, the figure for Malaysia’s bauxite production jumped nearly three-fold to 2.8 million tonnes from January to November alone.
The figure does not include illegal mining or mining activities which come under the purview of state land and minerals offices.
According to China Customs data, Malaysia exported 15.87 million tonnes of bauxite to the country in the first nine months of last year and analysts reported Malaysia may have produced up to 20 million tonnes in 2015.
Last year saw a spike in mining after Indonesia, a major bauxite producer, restricted exports to spur its own aluminium industry.
Strong demand from China has fuelled the country’s bauxite boom but prices of aluminium reportedly fell in November due to slowing growth in the country.