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Sun sets on 120-year-old smelting plant but still much sunshine for MSC

29/05/2022 12:23 PM

By Farhana Poniman

BUTTERWORTH, May 29 (Bernama) -- The sun may be setting for Malaysia Smelting Corporation Bhd’s (MSC) 120-year-old plant here but the company’s overall prospects are still very much intact once its plant in Pulau Indah, Selangor reaches full capacity to cater to the growing global demand for tin.

MSC group chief operating officer Raveentiran Krishnan said the company’s new plant in Pulau Indah is ramping up production at the moment and more time is needed for it to reach full capacity.

“We will slowly phase out our Butterworth smelting plant over the next two to three years and then move operations to Pulau Indah. The old smelter will then be demolished to give way to a commercial and residential development in this area,” he told Bernama.

Built in 1902 by The Straits Trading Company, the iconic Butterworth smelting plant, once a significant contributor to the country’s economy, has stood the test of time and witnessed various incidents like the World War II and 1985’s tin price crisis, which led to the collapse of the Association of Tin Producing Countries (ATPC).

When the Japanese overran the plant during World War II, he said the plant’s tin smelting operations were completely stopped as it was used to produce parts for their war machinery including bicycle, motorcycles and vehicles to facilitate their war in Malaya.


Tin Market’s Ups And Downs

Despite the crash of the tin market in 1985 when ATPC was unable to rein in tin prices, MSC managed to continue its operations at the Butterworth plant against all odds.

“The market crashed and tin price fell all the way down to RM20 per kg and it remained at that level until 2003. Countries like China and Indonesia started producing more and more thus making the demand lower compared to supply,” he said.

However, tin price began to recover around 2004 on strong demand due to its nature as a technology metal and in line with the rise in the manufacturing of telecommunications and consumer electronics to meet rising demand.

Needless to say, the global technology boom is very much a catalyst for the tin market with its application not only limited to the traditional use of soldering and tin plating but also includes batteries in electric vehicles (EV), solar panels, tin chemicals and so on.

“We are also working very hard now to continue to develop new applications for tin in cooperation with the United Kingdom-based International Tin Association as well as other parties to be able to sustain the use of tin.

“In the post-application side, there is also growing momentum to recycle tin by extracting it from electronics components and tin chemicals so that we will not have to just focus on mining,” he said.


Tin Industry Is Still Thriving

In terms of production, he said MSC could currently smelt up to about 30,000 tonnes of tin concentrates per annum and would likely rise to about 40,000 tonnes in the near future.

“Going forward, as we ramp up the operations in Port Klang, we expect more concentrates will come our way because we have got a TSL (top submerged lance) furnace, which has overriding benefits over conventional furnaces, including lower operating cost, access to LME (London Metal Exchange) warehouse and most importantly smaller carbon footprint,” he said.

Although the tin industry was dubbed a “sunset industry” back in the 1980s, Raveentiran said it is still thriving with global consumption now at about 380,000 tonnes tin per annum compared with 250,000 tonnes back then.

“The interest in tin is reviving and demand has been growing, even more so given the rise in renewable energy. Tin is being marketed as a green metal because it has so many benefits.

He said innovation, growth in manufacturing activities and higher demand for electronics were all the factors driving the demand for tin, which is also causing the price to move up.

“Tin sits in a very sweet spot in the periodic table. Its remarkable physical and chemical properties are unsurpassed by any other non-ferrous metal and I do not see any other metal that can possibly replace tin,” he added.


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