By possessing about 1.8 percent of the total world zinc reserves and 1.5 percent of lead reserves, Iran is the fourth producer of lead and zinc in Asia after China, Kazakhstan and India. Iran has the world’s largest undeveloped zinc resources; total proven reserves plus estimations about Mehdiabad region potentials shows 12 million tons of zinc metal content and 5 million tons of lead metal content. These figures indicate Iran’s huge potentials and vast opportunities in mining, processing and smelting of lead and zinc metals which can be attractive for local and foreign investors.

Lead and zinc processing and smelting operations are among industries that enjoy significant advantages in Iran. The considerable growth achieved in lead and zinc industries rely on private investment and unlike steel, aluminum and copper the government has not made vast investment in lead and zinc industries. Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization (IMIDRO) and Iran Minerals Production and Supply Company (IMPASCO) have prepared the ground for the development of the private companies. They are presently preparing the huge and unique Mehdiabad mine for further development of the industry. Both Angoran and Mehdiabad (two world class mines) are owned by IMIDRO through its subsidiary IMPASCO. In 2015, Iran produced 130 thousand tons of zinc metal and 20 thousand tones of Lead metal. About 120 lead and zinc processing facility, smelter and refinery are operating in Iran. The employment opportunity of the industry has created more than 40 thousand direct and 120 thousand indirect jobs which will triple with the growth and development of downstream industries.

Overview of Iran and world zinc and lead reserves
By possessing about 3.6 million tons of zinc metal reserves, Iran as a major mining country after Australia (31%), China (19%), Peru (12.5%), Mexico (7.5% each), USA (5.5%), India (5%), Canada (3%), Bolivia (2.3%) and Kazakhstan (2%) owns more than 1.8 percent of total reserves of zinc metal in the word (Mehdiabad is not included). Total zinc reserves of the world are about 200 million tons.  At the same time, Iran just produces less than one percent of zinc metal in the world (130 thousand tons out of 13.7 million tons of total global production) which shows there is a huge potential for development of zinc industries in Iran.
Regarding lead reserves, Iran has about 1.44 million tons of lead reserves (Mehdiabad is not included). Total lead reserves of the world are 89 million tons. After Australia (39%), China (17.7%), Russia (10.3%), Peru (7.5%), Mexico (6.3%), USA (5.6%), India (2.5%), Poland (1.9%), Bolivia (1.8%), Iran (1.5%) stands in the next.
There are five big zinc and lead mines in Iran. Mehdiabad with 165 million tons of ore with average grade of 5.7 percent zinc and 2.3 percent lead and 50 pmm silver is the largest undeveloped mine in Iran and the world. Lead and zinc reserves in Mehdiabad located in Yazd Province is unique in the world.
Angoran with initial 21 million tons of reserves and average zinc grade of 25 to 30 percent is the most known mine in Iran. High purity and structure of lead and zinc in Angoran mine located in Zanjan Province is unbeatable in the world. At present 8.5 million tons of ore reserve has been left in Angoran mine.  
Emarat mine is another lead and zinc mine with reserve of 8 million tons at average grade of 4 percent zinc and 2.2 percent lead.
Irankoh lead and zinc mine with reserve of 7.5 million tons has average grade of 4 percent zinc and 3 percent lead.
Koushk (Bafgh) with 1.5 million tons and average grade of 12 percent zinc and 3 percent lead is one of the oldest mines in Iran.  Another mine is Sormeh with 1.3 million tons of ore reserves and average grade of 6 percent zinc and 7.5 percent lead.
Dona mine with 500000 tons of ore reserve and average lead grade of 6.7 percent and Nakhlak mine with 5 million tons of reserves at average lead grade of 8.33 percent is other two lead mines in Iran.
In addition to mentioned major zinc and lead mines, there are so many other small and medium size mines which are spread in all over the country. Most of small and medium size mines is located in different parts of the country and vary from each other in term of mineralization and ore specifications.

Overview of Iran Lead and zinc metal market data
There are 69 small zinc smelters in Iran with total capacity of 411 thousand tons which are operating with less than 40 percent of their capacity. Zinc metal production in 2015 was about 130 thousand tons so the capacity utilization rate for zinc smelters was about 32 percent. 58 thousand tons of zinc ingots exported in 2015 with no imports. Based on these figures, apparent consumption of zinc ingot in domestic market was 72 thousand tons in 2015. 
Regarding lead market, there are more than 32 lead smelter and refinery facilities with annual capacity of 324 thousand tons. Total refined lead production was 85 thousand tons in 2015 (capacity utilization was about 26 percent). In 2015, exported quantity of lead metal was 10.3 thousand tons and imported quantity was 0.8 thousand tons; based on these figures, apparent consumption of refined lead metal was about 75.5 thousand tons in 2015. 
The only lead smelter capable of accepting lead concentrate was National Iranian Lead and Zinc Company (NILZ). The company was using Kaldo Furnace technology with capacity of 40 thousand tons per year. Lead smelter plant of the company forced to be closed in mid 2013 because of environmental issues. At the present, all other lead smelters and refineries are using secondary sources of lead to produce refined lead metal; so there is not any customer for produced lead concentrate and all of lead mine production is being exported in the form of concentrate. In 2015, 43.8 thousand tons of lead concentrate have been exported which was lower than 53.7 thousand tons of year 2014 figures.
As for export of lead and zinc it can be said that only 80 to 100 thousand tons of produced zinc ingots and 50 to 80 thousand tons of lead ingots are consumed domestically and remaining are exported to target markets. Asia and Europe are target markets of Iran’s lead and zinc metal.
According to International lead and zinc study group (ILZSG), in 2015 zinc mine production, metal production and zinc usage were 13.46 million tones, 13.89 million tons and 13.74 million tons respectively. Lead mine production was 4.56 million tons, lead metal production was 10.65 million tons and lead metal usage was 10.63 million tons last year. Based on these statistics, Iran produced 0.93 percent and 0.79 percent out of the world zinc and lead total production respectively.

Challenges of Iran’s lead and zinc industries
Iranian zinc smelters require about three million tons of zinc ore and concentrate per year which at present just 700 thousand tons is available from local suppliers. Beside this, ore processing plants are also faced with shortage of raw materials making them unable to supply local market needs.  Availability of local technology, low prices of Angoran ore (wrong pricing mechanism) and high prices of zinc metal caused boom in capacity expansion by private companies during years 2005 and 2006. Government who owns the large mines (Angoran and Mehdiabad) was not able to act as fast as private companies in expanding the mine production. Of course, Angoran mine capacity is not more than current levels of ore extraction (about 800 thousand tons per year).
Another challenge of the zinc industry is low capacity of the smelters. Many small and medium size zinc smelters have been set up in last ten years which due to low capacity are operating with high OPEX which is decreasing their competitiveness. 
Technological issue is another challenge for the industry. Zinc mineral processing facilities and smelter plants need some renovation and upgrading of their technologies which should be considered seriously to optimize their production. Capacity utilization, product grade and recovery rates must be increased and OPEX and environmental impacts must be decreased.
With regard to the rich lead and zinc reserves in Iran and the proper technical knowledge of the industry, required actions must be taken to develop lead and zinc industries and encourage investors to invest in these industries.

Processing Plants and shortage of lead and zinc ore
In the west of Iran, especially in Zanjan, there are large number of lead and zinc processing facilities. The concentrate production capacity of lead and zinc in Iran is over two million tons per annum but only 35 to 40 percent are active because of shortage of raw materials. Last year about 700 thousand tons of zinc and lead concentrate has been produced in these processing plants.
Due to the low output of Angoran mine, production of these facilities has been faced with challenges. Lack of raw materials is the most important challenge for Iranian zinc and lead processing companies and zinc smelters. That is why more exploration and exploitation and establishing mineral processing plants in existing zinc and lead mines like Mehdiabad and other mines are mandatory. By commissioning of Mehdiabad mine a great part of raw material shortage in lead and zinc industry will be removed.

Zinc Smelters and shortage of raw materials
Iranian Zinc smelters mainly have been designed and constructed based on very high grade ore of Angoran mine which had ore grade of more than 30 percent in the past years and most of the ore type was oxide. The main challenge now is depletion of 75 percent of oxide ore of Angoran mine and most of total 50 percent of the remaining of ore in Angoran is Sulfide type. Thus all the smelters (90 percent of whole Smelters in Iran) which have been designed based on oxide ore of Angoran, have been faced with serious problems like Low grade ores and type of minerals (Sulfide instead of oxide ores). Recovery has been decreased sharply in these smelters and they need re-engineering of their processing lines.
Although there is shortage of raw materials required by the zinc smelters, but significant part of produced sulfide type zinc concentrate is exported. Inability of the smelters to accept sulfide type concentrates is the main reason and there is no local market for sulfide ores. Bafgh Zinc Smelter with capacity of 30 thousand tons zinc metal is the only smelter with ability of processing sulfide concentrates, but due to technical problems and economical reasons, prefers to process oxide zinc ore or concentrate.

Turkey, new supplier of raw materials to the industry
Turkey as the eleventh largest zinc metal consumer and the fifth zinc metal importer and also ninth zinc ore exporter in the world has became a strategic supplier to Iranian zinc smelters in recent years. During 2011 to 2015, Turkish exporters has exported averagely about 385 thousand tons of zinc ore and concentrate mainly to Iran, Belgium, Spain, Finland and China. Iran’s Imports of zinc ore and concentrate from turkey have been increased from about five thousand tons in 2011 to 106 thousand tons in 2016. This means that Iran’s share from Turkish exports has increased from 1.5 percent to about 30 percent; making Iran the first main target market for Turkey. Of course, due to some customs and transit problems with Turkey, some difficulties have faced but some Iranian companies; by relying on Iranian technical and engineering know-how and experience in production of lead and zinc metals, have embarked on joint investment inside Turkey and established lead and zinc processing and smelting facilities in Turkey. However, a kind of tolling business can be considered by Turkish and Iranian zinc producers and consumers. In 2015, Turkey imported 248 thousand tons of zinc which 42 thousand tons (17%) was imported from Iran.
Share of Iran form Turkish exports can be increased due to close distance of Turkish largest zinc mines located in Hakkari region (with capacity of about 100 thousand tons per year) and Iran zinc smelters located in Zanjan. Turkish zinc mine owners and Iranian zinc smelters may have opportunities for mutual investment in Turkish zinc mines especially those located in regions close to the Iran and Turkey borders.
Investments opportunities
Right now most of the Zinc smelters in Iran are working with low capacity utilization rates, which seem to decrease more in the next few years. Development of the small and medium size mines and renovation and upgrading of existing technologies and equipment and constructing new mineral processing, is a Must and Mandatory not Optional. As stated before, they are operating with 30 to 40 percent of their capacity which causes OPEX to increase and a lot of money losses. To overcome this challenge, Mehdiabad zinc and lead mine must be developed. Mehdiabad zinc and Lead mine as the largest undeveloped mine in the world has the capability to produce 400 thousand tons zinc (in the form of mine product or metal product). Just the first stage of development of Mehdiabad zinc and Lead concentrators (two 100 thousand tons of concentrate per year) and one zinc smelter with 100 thousand tons zinc metal capacity, some USD 1 billion has to be invested. Beside this, there will be so many other small and medium size mining and mineral processing projects in different parts of the country which totally some billion USD should be invested which is a great opportunity for investors.

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