The Bashundhara Group has launched Bangladesh's biggest bitumen plant with a large capacity to meet the annual domestic demand of the hydrocarbon product.
A concern of Bashundhara Oil and Gas Company Ltd, the Bashundhara Bitumen Plant is located in Pangaon area of South Keraniganj on 65 acres of land. The plant started its journey on Saturday with the goal to meet the growing market demand, and has plans to export the material to neighbouring counties.
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.
Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, State Minister for Power and Energy Nasrul Hamid, Bashundhara Group's Chairman Ahmed Akbar Sobhan and Managing Director Sayem Sobhan Anvir inaugurated the country's only private-sector bitumen plant.
Addressing the inauguration ceremony as the chief guest, AHM Mustafa Kamal said, "Imported bitumen has caused us a lot of hassle by melting on contact with water or direct sunlight.
"We have long awaited for a proper solution to this issue. We were seeking a material free of such problems, but suitable with Bangladesh's environment. It is an excellent initiative for producing high quality bitumen in our country."
The minister added that Bangladesh will now be able to export high quality bitumen.
Meanwhile, State Minister Nasrul Hamid said, "The Bashundhara Group has created employment opportunities for thousands of people through the new bitumen plant. The conglomerate is investing in many projects not only for making money, but also to abide by their responsibility and love for the country and its people."
Speaking at the event, Bashundhara Group's Chairman Ahmed Akbar Sobhan said, "We are trying to do something for the country's betterment. The group has built around 30 factories and two residential areas.
"Those who had bought land from Bashundhara, are now multimillionaires."
He added that Bashundhara is grateful to the government for maintaining a business friendly environment in the country for years.
"There was a time when we passed every single day in fear of strikes and other political unrests," said Ahmed Akbar, adding that he has given an assurance to the finance minister for establishing an industrial zone to create employment for at least 3 lakh people.
"The group also has plan to build an English medium school at Keraniganj's Bashundhara residential area within the next year," he said.
Honorary speaker Emirates Professor M Shamim Z Bosunia said, "It is a good news for us that the Bashundhara group will produce 60/70 grade bitumen, which is very compatible with this country's environment. We are optimistic that Bashundhara will offer the material for sale at a competitive price."
Professor Bosunia, who is also a consulting panel member of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project, added, "We presently import 60/70 grade bitumen from Iran to construct the Padma bridge's connecting roads and expressways, because that country's environment is very similar to us.
"Bangladesh's annual demand for bitumen is around 500,000 tonnes, and nearly 90 percent are being imported."
Industry sources said that the state-owned Eastern Refinery Ltd (ERL) has the capacity to produce around 10 percent of the domestic demand. Meanwhile, the annual market demand is growing at an average rate of 10-15 percent each year.
Speaking at the ceremony, Keraniganj Upazila Parishad Chairman Shahin Ahmed said, "To ease pressure on Dhaka, we should develop Keraniganj with a good plan. The Bashundhara Group is playing a pioneer's role for transforming villages to cities."
The Bashundhara Bitumen Plant plans to produce over 900,000 tonnes of bitumen and asphalt annually by 2021.
The plant has the capacity to produce bitumen grades such as Cutback, Emulsified, Oxidized and Polymer (SBS, Rubber Powder) and customised as per client's required specifications.
Apart from this, fuel oil and some other byproducts produced in the plant will be sold or disposed of to appropriate clientele.
Nafis Imtiaz, head of Bashundhara Bitumen Plant, told The Business Standard, "The total investment for the new facility is $143.7 million. All types of tests have been done as part of pre-commissioning. Now we are waiting for raw material to start commercial operation.
"We hope that the plant will begin operating commercially by the end of March this year. 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.
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 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.
Bashundhara Group's Co-Chairman Sadat Sobhan Tanvir, Vice Chairman Shafiat Sobhan Sanvir, Managing Director's son Walid Sobhan were present at the inauguration ceremony.