There be titanium dioxide in them thar’ hills

Titanium dioxide, or “rutile” crystals in a thin sheet of mica, probably phlogopite. The element may also be derived from ilmenite, which can be found near Hoyt Lakes. (PHOTO: Bob Richmond, Flickr CC)

If you’ve never heard of titanium dioxide, you’d qualify as normal.

But you’ve probably used white paint, eaten red candy, or applied sunscreen before. All of those products use titanium dioxide. So do plastics and some electronics. The stuff sells at $3,200 per metric ton.

Today, researchers release a report showing that the Iron Range region could produce commercially viable supplies of titanium dioxide from an ilmenite reserve near Hoyt Lakes. The Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at the University of Minnesota-Duluth will discuss the report at a press conference this afternoon.

The ilmenite reserves are nothing new. Geologists have been researching them for decades, along with many of the other minerals classified as “nonferrous” in the current debate about new mining in Northern Minnesota. The problem has been in removing impurities that made the ore unusable.

But researches for the NRRI, along with a company called Process Research Ortech, say they can successfully demonstrate how to turn those reserves into a commercially viable titanium dioxide, or perhaps even titanium itself.

 

From the NRRI press release:

NRRI tested a 10-ton sample of rock from a deposit called “Longnose” owned by American Shield Titanium Group LLC. It is the largest and richest ilmenite deposit in the United States. This particular deposit also has low overburden, a confined mining footprint and low sulfur content.

“As a trained geologist, I’ve known about the ilmenite there for 30 years,” said company President Bill Ulland. “This process demonstrated by NRRI and PRO appears to be very cost effective with commercial potential. There’s a very strong market now for titanium dioxide.”

The separation process recovered an estimated 64 percent of ilmenite as concentrate. The following PRO technology targeted removal of iron and titanium oxides. After two scale-up processes, NRRI and PRO were able to achieve titanium purity of 99.8 percent. Pure iron oxides were also separated at 98.5 percent (unoptimized) purity and could add to the market value of the deposit.

“This is especially exciting because we have an opportunity to process the ilmenite to an end product, titanium dioxide, here in Minnesota,” said NRRI Executive Director Rolf Weberg. “NRRI’s role is to define the state’s portfolio of mineral opportunities. That is how we retain wealth, add value to our resources and take care of our environment.”

UMD’s Center for Economic Development finds that there are few U.S. producers of titanium dioxide and many consumers for a wide variety of applications – especially in paints and coatings, plastics and paper.

The NRRI will now seek funding to further explore the matter and attract companies interested in extracting the titanium dioxide. This is, of course, the rub. Of course the minerals are there. Who will mine them? And who will profit?

 

Comments

  1. independant says:

    This would be great news if Minnesota was a state that actually allowed new mining projects to move forward in research and feasibility studies without changing the rules after companies invest hundreds of millions of dollars. If I was an investor I would take my money elsewhere and invest in states that support a robust economy for their citizens.

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