The Bashundhara Group is all set to launch Bangladesh's biggest bitumen plant on Saturday, with a large capacity to meet the annual domestic demand of the hydrocarbon product.
Bitumen is a binding organic material made from the by-products of refined crude oil. It is widely used in road construction because it is easy to produce, reusable, non-toxic, and a strong binder.
Bashundhara Bitumen Plant, the first ever private venture in Bangladesh for bitumen production, plans to produce over 850,000 tonnes of bitumen and asphalt annually.
The country's annual demand for bitumen is around 500,000 tonnes, and nearly all of it are imported from different countries. Being largely dependent on imports of bitumen, the state-owned Eastern Refinery Ltd (ERL) has the capacity to produce around 10 percent of the domestic demand.
A concern of Bashundhara Oil and Gas Company Ltd, the Bashundhara Bitumen Plant was built in Pangaon area of South Keraniganj on 65 acres of land. The plant will start its journey with the goal to meet the growing market demand, and has plans to export the material to neighbouring counties.
Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal and State Minister for Power and Energy Nasrul Hamid are scheduled to inaugurate the country's only private-sector bitumen plant.
According to the project description of the new facility, it is designed and constructed with brand new machineries and has the capacity to process 1.7 million tonnes per year of feedstock to produce over 850,000 tonnes of the material.
Khandker Kingshuk Hossain, chief marketing officer (Cement Sector) of the Bashundhara Group, told The Business Standard, "The local demand for bitumen is increasing day by day, riding on the growing construction of roads and highways.
"Many mega projects of the government, such as the 100 economic zones, are located in rural areas. This requires the expansion of the existing roads or construction of new roads."
He further said, "The Bashundhara Group is launching the bitumen plant to support the government's development initiatives. Initially, the plant has a target to meet the local market demand, and it has the facility to expand its production capacity to keep pace with the increasing demand.
"We have a plan to export high-quality bitumen [both penetration and modified grades] to neighbouring countries, along with meeting the national demand."
Nafis Imtiaz, head of the Bashundhara Bitumen Plant, said, "The new plant creates direct employment opportunities for 1,000 people and indirect opportunities for well above 25,000 people.
"The new facility's ETP [Effluent Treatment Plant] would be the largest one among petroleum and chemical industries in the country."
According to industry sources, Bangladesh's monthly bitumen demand is around 42,000 tonnes, and this demand is growing at an average rate of 10-15 percent each year.
The Roads and Highways Department statistics show that it has 22,000-kilometers of roads under their supervision, and most of those are getting expanded.
Preferring anonymity, a contactor of the department said that most bitumen are imported from Iran, India, Pakistan and China. Current price of a tonne of 60/70 grade imported bitumen is around Tk39,000.
However, Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) officials said that local bitumen per tonne prices are around Tk59,330 for 60/70 grade and Tk56,660 for 80/100 grade.
Apart from the Roads and Highways Department, 105,000 kilometres of roads are carpeted, of the total 354,000 kilometres of roads in rural areas across the country under the Local Government Engineering Department.
The plant will have the capacity to produce bitumen grades such as Cutback, Emulsified, Oxidized and Polymer (SBS, Rubber Powder) and customised as per client's required specifications, according to the project description.
Drum production and filling facilities, along with bulk loading facilities, are being constructed to facilitate an efficient distribution system from the plant.
Apart from this, fuel oil and some other byproducts produced in the plant will be sold or disposed of to appropriate clientele, the project description added.
Bashundhara Group started its journey in 1987 through its real estate business. Now, the group is involved in over 30 businesses, many of them are producing cement, food and beverage, paper and pulp, tissue paper, LPG bottling and distribution, energy sector and a trading business.