THE Hub-Pak Salt Refinery is a leading manufacturer and exporter of different grades and types of sodium chloride salt, used for food, industrial and pharmaceutical purposes.
Though sodium chloride is commonly identified as ‘table salt,’ this gift of nature has varied uses, including in a wide range of industries.
Located at Hub, Balochistan, the refinery — with an installed processing capacity of 620 tonnes per day — produces quality refined salt. Its products meet international standards, and cater to the needs of pharmaceutical applications like intravenous infusions, plasma separations, hemodialysis solutions, parenteral solutions and oral rehydrate salt (ORS) etc.
The country can earn huge foreign exchange if it only meets the yearly shortfall of 7-8m tonnes in the Chinese market’s demand of 60m tonnes
The company owns salt harvesting facilities at Ankerio, Sindh, of 10,000 tonnes, with an upgradation capacity of 2,000 tonnes per day. Hub-Pak uses all three sources of salt available in the country: sea (solar salt), rock and lake salts.
The company’s chief executive Ismail Suttar — who holds a Master’s degree in business administration from the International University, Missouri, US — says his refinery markets around 21 grades, including oil refinery and drilling grade, nitrite sale, flossy salt extra pure AR grade, textile dyeing and fluoridate grade etc.
Talking to this writer in his office at Hub, he disclosed many fascinating facts about salt and its uses, and claimed that if the right measures are taken, the country could earn up to $3-4bn per annum from exports of salt and its value-added products.
With proper planning, he said, salt works and pans could be developed along Balochistan’s coastline. And without making any jetty, salt could be loaded onto ships for export through barges. Since sea salt is produced through the natural process of evaporation, it would not need the currently scarce power or gas.
Pakistan is one of the few countries bestowed with all three types of salts found in the world. Here, lake salt is excellent in quality and is available in inexhaustible quantities. The development of roads and other communication facilities have made it feasible to exploit lake salt, which is located deep in the deserts of Sindh, and naturally formed over hundreds of years.
However, Suttar felt that without exploiting the virgin coastline of Balochistan for producing sea salt through solar evaporation, the country could not capture the huge demand of quality salt in the world market.
Even today, sea salt is the smallest source of salt production, with only seven salt works operating in and around Karachi. These solar salt pans produce less than 2,000 tonnes per day. However, the quality of sea salt greatly depends on how technically and skillfully each salt work or pan is handled by individual factory managements.
Mr Suttar said since the average rainfall along the long coastline is very low, huge quantity of quality sea salt could be produced by using Balochistan’s virgin coast, stretching from Hub to Jiwani.
A large variety of products are being made from rock salt, but official encouragement is needed to promote its export. Research and development is needed to meet highly sophisticated international demand.
Bath salts are popularly used in health and beauty spas, saloons, massage parlors, health clubs and hydrotherapy treatment facilities around the world. Through value-addition, the country could earn huge foreign exchange from it, he added.
The annual global demand for quality salt, he said, is around 260 million tonnes. The country can earn huge foreign exchange if it only meets the yearly shortfall of 7-8m tonnes of the Chinese market’s demand of 60m tonnes.
Rock salt, he said, was first discovered in South Asia (now Pakistan) by Alexander the Great’s army in the 15th century, when his soldiers were stationed in and around the mountainous regions of the Himalayas (present-day northern Pakistan).
When Alexander’s army horses started to lick the earth and rocks, it caught his attention, and he ordered the excavation of the area, only to find the great treasure of millions of tonnes of ancient rock salt.
This natural salt has been mined from the Punjab region ever since, and fulfills the country’s major portion of salt needs for both edible and industrial purposes. These massive reserves — of the best quality, formed naturally — clearly make Pakistan the county with the largest salt reserves in the world.
However, Ismail Suttar says the rock salt mines are heavily underutilised, with total annual production of around 4m tonnes only.
Dwelling on the diversified uses and applications of rock salt, he says his company manufactures ‘bath salts,’ which are directly handpicked from mines, hand-washed and hand-sorted.
The Hub-Pak chief executive disclosed that his unit also manufactures different rock salt products, including table lamps and tiles. Besides, being decoration pieces, these lamps work as healers for many respiratory diseases.
He says research and experience have proven the healthy and therapeutic benefits of rock salt, especially when given heat from within, which results in discharging of negative ions into the atmosphere to balance the high proportion of positive ions. Positive ions — emitted by almost all electrical appliances, including TV, computers, microwaves, radios etc — deteriorate the quality of air we inhale.
Hub-Pak has also set up a state-of-the art natural salt therapy centre in Karachi, which caters to people suffering from skin and respiratory ailments. Inside the salt therapy room, the walls, ceiling and floor are covered with natural pink Himalayan salt. Salt therapy, also known as Halo Therapy, is 100pc natural, non-medical, non-invasive and drug-free.
While 40-50pc of salt production is for used for making industrial products, including chlor-alkali, with caustic soda and soda ash as its by-products, studies show that the use of salt for water purification and water-softening is picking up.
Suttar said his company is also engaged in exporting refined Fleur de Sel, French for ‘‘Flower of Salt,’ which fetches many times the price of ordinary table salt. This traditional Arabian salt comes from seawater. It is pooled into basins and then naturally evaporated — it is unrefined and yet so pure that it retains more of the minerals that are naturally present in seawater. Shaped as a pyramid, this crystal salt is of the highest quality.
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, August 25th, 2014