Heavy Minerals Industry
The Heavy Mineral Sands (HMS) industry can be highly lucrative; its return on capital is the best in the mining industry. Worldwide these are an important source of titanium, titanium dioxide and zircon.
Generally ilmenite (TiFeO3) is the principle product, with zircon (ZrSiO4) and rutile (TiO2) as co-products and monazite as a possible by-product. Ilmenite and rutile are the most important sources for titanium dioxide and are an indirect source of titanium metal with 75% of the worlds titanium produced from HMS.
Although strength and chemical inertness allow for important uses of titanium in the aerospace and medical industries, over 95% of total titanium supply is for pigment production.
Zircon is used as foundry sand, in TV screens and as a source of zirconia for the chemical industry, with its most important use being in the ceramics industry. Titanium dioxide cannot be economically recycled nor are there any pending new technologies to allow this to happen. Zircon can be effectively replaced by tin oxide as a glaze, but this is unlikely to happen to any great degree as it is four times the price. The use of zircon in its various applications is largely dissipative and therefore recycling is not possible. Recycling of zirconium metal is theoretically possible, but the small amounts used in any one application mean that levels are negligible.