What are mineral sands?
What are mineral sands?
Mineral sands are usually mined from beach sands. These may be modern beaches as in the case of the Eastern Coast of Australia, or ancient beaches like the Fingerboards Project.
Mineral sands is the term used to describe the valuable heavier sands of the beach. The valuable mineral sands of the Fingerboards deposit are zircon, rutile, ilmenite and rare earths.
Mineral sands minerals are used in a range of everyday products including tiles, paint, plastics, sunscreen and even in foodstuffs. They are also essential to high-tech industries with uses in renewable energy,
Around 45% of zircon is used in ceramics, with the biggest use is in tiles, bathroom fixtures and tableware. It is also used in high-tech applications like bone replacements, abrasion resistance and solid oxide fuel cells.
Rutile and ilmenite are generally converted into titanium dioxide and titanium metal. Titanium dioxide is the white pigment that is used in paints and plastics. It replaced lead oxide in paint when lead oxide was found to be poisonous. Most of us will use a product containing titanium dioxide on a daily basis – brushing our teeth with toothpaste, applying sunscreen or making a note on a piece of white paper.
Titanium metal is used to lighten the weight of the transport industry, for sporting goods, medical equipment like hip replacements and even in the space industry.
Rare earths extracted in mineral sands mining are essential ingredients in the manufacture of wind turbines and electric vehicles.
Global demand for rare earths is increasing as the growth in renewable energy continues to address climate change. If we want to continue clean energy production to address climate change, we need to produce rare earths.
Rare Earths is a group of elements that are not actually that rare in the earth’s crust but are rare to find in economic concentrations. The Fingerboards deposit is rich in the highly valuable rare earths Neodymium, Praseodymium, Dysprosium and Terbium. These rare earths are used in myriad applications, but are essential to high-tech mobile technology, medical applications, permanent magnets used in direct drive turbines in windfarms, and electric motors in electric vehicles.
The Fingerboards Mine is one of the largest zircon and rare earth development projects in the world. Once in production, the Fingerboards is expected to supply up to 5% of global demand for rare earths, essential for the development of clean energy. This will be pivotal, to Bloomberg’s estimate of wind and solar energy reaching a combined 48% of global energy capacity by 2040.
The annual production from the Fingerboards Mine could supply enough rare earths to enable the construction of approximately 2.8 million electric vehicles, or enough rare earths to enable construction of 14GW of wind power, enough to power 4.5 million homes.
Close to home, the Star of the South windfarm project has the potential to power around 1 million homes in southern Victoria with renewable energy and could require a significant quantity of the Fingerboard’s rare earth production if direct drive turbines are used.