Historically, demand for mineral sands products has displayed generally steady, GDP-related, growth characteristics. Increasing demand for mineral sand products from developing countries as they move towards modernization has supported steady growth in the industry. Titanium minerals and zircon constitute a relatively secure input source to a range of industrial and end-consumer applications, with relatively low threats from substitutes.
Over 50 per cent of the zircon supplied to industry is consumed in the production of ceramics, including tiles, sanitary ware and tableware. Zircon is also used in a range of other applications including zirconium chemicals, refractories, fused zirconia, catalytic fuel converters, foundry applications as well as water and air purification applications. Global zircon demand for the period averages approximately 1.2 million tonnes per year with sustained growth in the coming years.
Zircon material is used widely across many locations with close to 50% of the world’s zircon consumed in China, who are the major consumer. Other regions with strong markets include Europe, India, SE Asia and the Middle East. Global demand is driven by a range of factors however due to strong demand in the ceramics area the building and construction industry play a major role in supporting demand.
The short to medium term outlook for the zircon market is robust due to increasing demand and a limited pool of new projects in development.
Titanium Minerals – rutile, ilmenite, leucoxene and synthetic rutile – are the principal feedstock for pigment production which is the major use for TiO2 material representing as much as 85-90% of the global consumption. The Titanium material is used to make a pure white additive, which is light refractive, and used to produce materials such as plastics, paints and paper. Other applications for titanium products include TiO2 sponge for the production of Titanium metal, and welding rod applications.
Ilmenite, HiTi and Leucoxene are mainly used to make pure white, highly light refractive and ultra-violet light absorbing, Titanium Dioxide (Ti02) pigment for use in protective house and car paints; paper; plastics; ink; rubber; textiles; cosmetics; sun screens; leather and ceramics. Because titanium dioxide is non-toxic and biologically inert, it can be safely used in foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals. Super strong, lightweight and corrosion resistant titanium metals are also used in the construction of aircraft, spacecraft and motor vehicles, and for medical implants. Again, its non-reactive properties make titanium one of the few materials the human body will not reject; consequently it is widely used in such medical operations as hip replacements and the installation of heart pacemakers. This super metal is also being increasingly used in the manufacture of strong, lightweight sports equipment, jewellery and other advanced engineering applications.
The global titanium dioxide (TiO2) demand is estimated at approximately 8 million tonnes globally over the coming years. Prices have reached in excess of US$300 per metric tonne.