Work has continued on the feasibility study for the Zulti South mine expansion project at Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), in South Africa, which has the potential to maintain RBM’s low-cost smelting capacity and zircon production, diversified miner Rio Tinto reported in its 2017 full-year results last month.
“The project remains one of the best undeveloped mineral sand deposits in the industry, given its large ilmenite resource with high rutile and zircon content in the overall mineral suite,” according to the company.
The proposed Zulti South project will sustain slag production capacity for the RBM smelter, thereby ensuring the continued delivery of RBM products for the benefit of shareholders, customers, employees, local communities and the national economy.
The plan is for Zulti South to replace RBM’s Zulti North, in KwaZulu-Natal, where mineral sands have been mined for the last 40 years and are now depleting. This project involves a potential capital investment of $500-million, Mining Weekly reported in January.
According to the diversified miner, titanium dioxide slag production was 25% higher than 2016, reflecting higher market demand.
“Market conditions for titanium dioxide continued to improve in 2017, with strengthening pigment prices supported by low inventory and tight supply,” the miner reported, noting that consequently, feedstock demand has improved year-on-year.
Improved conditions have also been evident in the zircon market. Zircon is used in the production of ceramic tiles and sanitaryware. When refined to zirconia, it is used in a range of advanced ceramics, refractories, jewellery, and electronic applications, including television screens and computer monitors, according to the miner.
Rio Tinto, however, noted that one of four furnaces at RBM, in South Africa, and one of nine furnaces at Rio Tinto Fer et Titane, in Canada, remain idle.
“The focus remains on maximising the productivity of the furnaces currently in operation and a decision to restart idle furnaces will be based on maximising value over volume,” according to the miner.
Nevertheless, the company has significant optionality in titanium dioxide feedstocks, which are still subject to market conditions.
The titanium dioxide contained in the titania slag is used to create a pure white, highly refractive, ultraviolet-light-absorbing pigment that is used in products, such as foodstuff, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, as well as in paint, plastics, textiles and inks.