MDL’s product suite comprises: zircon; titanium minerals – such as ilmenite, rutile and leucoxene – and titanium slag (collectively referred to as titanium feedstocks); as well as high purity pig iron, which is a valuable co-product of the ilmenite upgrading process.
Zircon and titanium feedstocks have physical and chemical properties which make them suitable for a wide range of industrial and domestic ‘lifestyle’ applications. Demand for mineral sands products generally correlates with GDP growth. Urbanisation, particularly in developing countries, is also a key demand driver.
The largest end-use of zircon is in the manufacturing of ceramic tiles, sanitary ware (such as toilets, baths and sinks) and tableware (such as plates and tea cups). Zircon is a highly resilient substance that provides strength and durability as well as bright white finishes. Zircon is also chemically inert and has high heat conductivity, making it suitable for use in moulds for very hot metals and components used in refractories to produce steel and glass.
Zircon requires very little treatment after it has been mined. Zircon is far less common than titanium minerals and in periods of short supply its price can increase dramatically. The zircon at Grande Côte is some of the highest quality zircon in the world.
Titanium dioxide feedstocks
Titanium minerals are in demand for their titanium dioxide (‘TiO2’) content. Ilmenite is the most abundant titanium bearing mineral (containing ~45-60% TiO2) while the scarcer rutile is at the other end of the titanium bearing spectrum (containing ~92-96% TiO2).
Most of the world’s TiO2 is used to make white pigment which is then used in paint, plastics and paper. White paint is white because of its high titanium dioxide content.
Titanium dioxide can also be used to make pure titanium metal which has very high strength with relatively low weight and high corrosion resistance. These properties make it ideal for use in a wide variety of applications ranging from aeroplane components through to medical uses, such as hip replacements and reconstructive bone surgery.
While titanium minerals are widely abundant, they can be expensive to mine and require special technology to upgrade (i.e. to increase the TiO2 content). TiZir’s ilmenite upgrading facility in Norway uses some of this technology, which takes ilmenite and separates the TiO2 from less valuable minerals in the sand to create high-TiO2 titanium slag and high purity pig iron.
High purity pig iron
Pig iron varies in grade depending on its metallurgical composition. The TiZir Joint Venture creates a high purity pig iron at TTI as a valuable co-product of the ilmenite upgrading process. TTI’s pig iron is of high purity due to its low phosphorus and sulphur contents making it ideal for use in specialist foundry applications, including the manufacture of windmill parts, automotive parts, engine parts, tools and heavy castings.