A look at Western Australia
Australia is the world’s leading supplier of mineral sands (ilmenite, rutile and zircon).
Mineral sands production in Western Australia predominantly comprises titanium minerals such as ilmenite, leucoxene, synthetic rutile and rutile. Other products such as garnet sand, zircon and staurolite are also produced on a smaller scale.
In 2016-17, Western Australia’s mineral sands sector sold almost 1.4 million tonnes of material valued at around $554 million.
Mineral sands production in Western Australia is dominated by two producers, Iluka Resources and Tronox Management, who produce the majority of the state’s titanium minerals. GMA Garnet is another major producer, and currently the state’s sole producer of industrial garnet sand.
Amazingly, Western Australia supplies mineral sands to 35 countries across every inhabited continent. China and the United Kingdom were Western Australia's major mineral sands export markets in 2016-17, accounting for 25 per cent and 12 per cent of total exports respectively. Highlighting the diversity of export markets for mineral sands products, other major export destinations included Saudi Arabia (11 per cent) the United States (11 per cent) and the Netherlands (7 per cent).
The titanium minerals – ilmenite, leucoxene and rutile – are primarily used as feed stock for the production of titanium dioxide pigment, with a small amount also used in titanium metal and fluxes for welding rods and wires. Titanium dioxide is the most widely used white pigment because of its non-toxicity, brightness and very high refractive index. It is an essential component of consumer products such as paint, plastics and paper.
Almost all titanium minerals are used as feedstock to produce titanium dioxide pigment used in products such as paints, paper and plastics. A small proportion is also used in titanium metal, predominantly for the aerospace industry. Zircon has a number of applications, principally in the manufacture of ceramic tiles and sanitary ware.
Australia is estimated to have the world’s largest reserves of zircon with 48 million tonnes, that’s around 64 per cent of the world’s total estimated reserves of 75 million tonnes.
Australia is also estimated to have the largest rutile reserves at 27 million tonnes, which equates to 46 per cent of the world’s total estimated reserves. Kenya and South Africa have the next largest reserves with 13 million tonnes (22 per cent) and 8.3 million tonnes (14 per cent) respectively.
China is estimated to have the largest ilmenite reserves at 220 million tonnes. Australia ranks second with 150 million tonnes or 19 per cent of the world’s total estimated reserves.
More detailed information about the performance of WA’s mineral sands sector, and other commodities, can be found in the Western Australian Mineral and Petroleum Statistics Digest or in the latest resource data files.
Details about mineral sands mines, deposits, prospects and occurrences can be found in the Geological Survey of WA’s Titanium-Zircon Commodity Summary.