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. GCO produces a high-quality zircon product which is low in uranium and thorium, making it ideal for use in high-end investment casting and sand casting, refractory bricks for steel and glass production and the production of zirconium metal which is used as a casing for heat exchangers, evaporators and reactor vessels. GCO’s zircon can also be used in more traditional applications (such as ceramic tiles).
Titanium dioxide feedstocks
Titanium feedstocks (including titanium slag, ilmenite, rutile and leucoxene) 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).
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). TTI in Norway uses some of this technology, which takes GCO ilmenite and separates the TiO2 from less valuable minerals in the sand to create high-TiO2 titanium slag and high purity pig iron.
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. The titanium slag produced by TTI using GCO ilmenite is primarily used in the production of white pigment.
The titanium slag produced by TTI can also be used in the production of 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.
High-purity pig iron
Pig iron varies in grade depending on its metallurgical composition. TTI produces high-purity pig iron (HPPI) which represents the high-quality end of the pig iron market. HPPI accounts for approximately 7.5% of the global pig iron market. TTI’s HPPI is suitable for specialist foundry uses and ductile castings to create products with high elasticity and tensile strength needed in parts for wind turbines and automotive components.