About mineral sands in Australia
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.
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.
The major companies that produced mineral sands during 2010 were:
- Iluka Resources Ltd (Victoria and Western Australia)
- Bemax (New South Wales and Western Australia)
- TiWest joint venture (Western Australia)
- Doral Mineral Sands Pty Ltd (Western Australia)
- Sibelco Australia Ltd (Queensland)
- Matilda Zircon Ltd (Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory).
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 natural association with rare earths. Principal uses for rare earths include metallurgical applications, glass polishing compounds, glass additives, permanent magnets, and television, lighting, and X-ray intensifying phosphors.
Despite their name, most rare earths are abundant in nature but are hazardous to extract.
At present, there is no recorded production of rare earth commodities in Australia. However, the Australian rare earth industry is developing. Current major rare earth projects under development are Mt Weld in Western Australia, owned by Lynas Corporation, and Nolans Bore in the Northern Territory, owned by Arafura Resources.
For more information about minerals in Australia, see Australian Mineral Commodities.