What are the titanium and zirconium value chains?

An important part of the mineral sands scene, the titanium and zircon sectors, encompass multi-billion-dollar value chains with end products found in many goods that are part of everyday life, including paint, tiles and plastics.

The initial steps in these chains involve mining mineral sands deposits that contain titanium and zircon minerals. Titanium minerals (also known as titanium feedstocks) and zircon are then extracted from the ore via concentration and separation processes, before being shipped to their initial markets.

As well as containing titanium feedstocks and zircon, mineral sands deposits comprise various other heavy minerals. However, titanium feedstocks and zircon dominate the economics of mineral sands mining.

Titanium feedstocks are raw minerals that contain titanium dioxide (TiO2). Key titanium feedstocks include ilmenite, leucoxene and rutile. Titanium feedstocks also encompass sulfate and chloride slag, and synthetic rutile, which are essentially beneficiated ilmenite.

The vast majority of titanium feedstocks are exported to titanium dioxide (TiO2) pigment manufacturers around the globe. TiO2 pigment is then used primarily as an additive in paints, plastics, paper and ink, to provide whiteness and opacity.

Titanium minerals are also used to produce titanium sponge for use in titanium metal products , which are consumed in aircraft, space, defence, industrial, medical and even sporting markets.

Generally a by-product or co-product  of mineral sands mining, zircon is processed for use in the ceramics sector, predominantly in the production of tiles. Other zircon markets include specialty chemicals and material, refractories and foundries, plus minor uses including nuclear power production.

Which heavy minerals frequently occur together in mineral sands deposits?

  • Ilmenite
  • Rutile
  • Pseudorutile
  • Leucoxene
  • Anatase
  • Zircon
  • Monazite
  • Xenotime
  • Garnet
  • Kyanite
  • Sillimanite
  • Staurolite