KEMAMAN: When principal geologist Senathi Rajah Sinnathamby was surveying bauxite deposits in Peninsular Malaysia over 36 years ago, little did he realise its huge commercial value.
In fact, he was sitting on a ‘gold mine’ of rich bauxite deposits, originally discovered in 1937, worth billions of ringgit.
Today, bauxite has made the news following large mining activities in the basalt areas of Sungai Lembing, Tanah Merah, Jeram and Bukit Goh in Pahang and Jabor, Terengganu.
Bauxite is a much sought-after mineral for the aluminium industry, particularly to China.
Rajah, 83, recounted how as a budding geologist he was tasked with carrying out profiling and analysis of bauxite deposits on granite hills and paleozoic sedimentary-volcanic rocks.
“I was a fresh graduate working in Ipoh and was handpicked by the boss, an expatriate, at that time to carry out survey on bauxite deposits in the country.
“At the time, Japan was the main player in importing bauxite for its aluminium industry. We never thought about countries like China which today have placed great demand for it,” said Rajah, who rose through the ranks to retire as the Geological Survey Department’s assistant director-general in 1988.
Rajah, who hails from Batu Gajah, Perak was a Colombo Plan scholar in 1971.
He finished his secondary studies with Anderson School, Ipoh and graduated from the University of Western Ontario, Canada with a Bachelor of Science in geology in 1962.
“I am sad to say that greed for quick gains has resulted in bauxite-mining being exploited today at the expense of large plantations, thus, affecting crops like oil palm and rubber. “The repercussions will be there soon, as the mined soil cannot be reused for plantations or orchards. The environment has also been affected with pollution from mining dust, not to mention the effects on marine life. “This has created a mess for us. The mining activities have taken place without proper procedures. I am sad to see it this way,” said Rajah.
He added that while carrying out his geological duties, he discovered large hydrocarbon deposits which were of immense interest for the government in oil and gas exploration.
Rajah said that apart from the Kuantan area, he also found large bauxite deposits in Pengerang in Johor.
“For bauxite to be mined profitably, it should contain a combined silica of at least 40 per cent aluminium oxide and not more than 20 per cent ferrous oxide,” he said.
Rajah explained that bauxite was not a mineral but found in rock forms in laterite soil that had been severely leached of silica and other soluble materials in a wet tropical or subtropical climate.
“It is the primary ore of aluminum and almost all of the aluminum that has ever been produced has been extracted from bauxite,” said Rajah.
Bauxite, he added, was a mixture of hydrous aluminum oxides, aluminum hydroxides, clay minerals and insoluble materials such as gibbsite, boehmite, diaspora, quartz, hematite, illite, feldspar, kaolin, magnetite, siderite and goethite.
After retirement from government service, Rajah was based in Kelantan as project manager for Dome Resources of Australia involved with gold exploration in 1988 for two years.
He was the Southeast Asia Tin Research and Development Centre acting director based in Ipoh until 1994.
Today, he is a consultant geologist and has penned more than 20 articles and presented numerous papers for local and international academia.