Mineral sands are sands that contain concentrations of the important minerals, rutile, ilmenite, zircon and monazite.
In Australia, the three main minerals mined from mineral sands deposits are the titanium-bearing minerals ilmenite and rutile, and the zirconium-bearing mineral zircon. Australia currently does not produce or export the thorium bearing mineral monazite.
Zircon is a hard, glassy mineral used in a range of industrial and chemical applications, particularly in the manufacture of ceramics and refractories. Titanium mineral products are also used in a range of industrial and chemical applications, primarily to manufacture titanium dioxide pigment.
Mineral sands deposits are located in most states in Australia. Western Australia remains the most prominent producer of mineral sands in Australia—including titanium and non-titanium minerals.
Currently Australia is the world’s largest producer of titanium and has the world’s second largest resources of titanium after China. Australia has the world’s largest production of zirconium and the largest resources of that metal.
About rare earths in Australia
Rare earths are a group of 15 elements crucial to the manufacture of many hi-tech products.
Their atomic numbers range respectively from 57 to 71, and include:
- Lanthanum (La)
- Cerium (Ce)
- Praseodymium (Pr)
- Neodymium (Nd)
- Promethium (Pm)
- Samarium (Sm)
- Europium (Eu)
- Gadolinium (Gd)
- Terbium (Tb)
- Dysprosium (Dy)
- Holmium (Ho)
- Erbium (Er)
- Thulium (Tm)
- Ytterbium (Yb)
In addition, two elements Scandium (Sc) and Yttrium (Y) are commonly classed as ‘rare earths’, because of their similar chemical and physical properties. Principal uses for rare earths include metallurgical applications, permanent magnets, and phosphors for television, lighting, and X-ray intensifying phosphors. Scandium has potential applications in light-weight, high- strength alloys and in solid oxide fuel cells.
Despite their name, most rare earths are abundant in nature but are hazardous to extract.
At present, there is only one producing rare earth mine operating in Australia at Mount Weld near Laverton in Western Australia.
Australia is the world’s fifth largest producer of rare earths and has the world’s third largest resources.
All data is from the United States Geological Survey for 2013, the latest consolidated information available. Australia currently does not produce the metal scandium but has the world’s largest and highest grade deposits.
More information on Mineral Sands and Rare Earths can be found at the Geoscience Australia website.