Studies commissioned by Australian mineral sands explorer Sovereign Metals (ASX: SVM) have demonstrated substantial environmental benefits are possible from utilising natural rutile material from its projects in Malawi, East Africa.
Life-cycle assessment studies conducted by UK-based consultancy Minviro compared the use of natural rutile and beneficiated high-grade titanium feedstock, such as synthetic rutile and titania slag, made from lower quality ilmenite.
The gate-to-gate assessments aimed to quantify the global warming potential for the production of 1kg of each upgraded product.
The studies show that natural rutile found at Sovereign’s flagship Kasiya deposit and recently-discovered Nsaru deposit could potentially eliminate significant levels of carbon dioxide emissions from the global titanium industry by displacing and substantially reducing the use of carbon-intensive upgraded (or beneficiated) alternatives.
Up to 2.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for each tonne of natural rutile utilised could be saved, compared to the upgrading of ilmenite to titania slag and synthetic rutile via smelting and other chemical processes.
Sovereign non-executive director Ben Stoikovich said the studies confirm the positive carbon dioxide impact of unlocking a globally-significant source of direct feed natural rutile.
“We now have validation of the potential importance of [our] natural rutile to responsible investors and titanium industry companies needing to lower their carbon footprint,” he said.
“Our natural rutile deposits could help meet the growing demand for low-carbon titanium feedstock throughout the titanium industry supply chain.”
He said Kasiya and Nsaru represent a potentially major new source of high-grade primary natural rutile and an opportunity to eliminate the significant carbon dioxide emissions created by upgraded alternatives.
Lowest carbon and waste
Naturally-occurring rutile is the lowest carbon and lowest waste-producing natural form of titanium dioxide.
For downstream manufacturers of titanium products focused on lowering their carbon footprint, natural rutile presents a preferred option over higher-energy and carbon-intensive “upgraded” titanium feedstocks such as synthetic rutile and titania slag.
Direct feed natural rutile currently makes up 26% of the total high-grade titanium pigment feedstock market, with the remainder of the market made up of upgraded alternatives.
Titanium supply chain
Growing environmental pressures and the significant carbon footprints of numerous industry players related to pyrometallurgical ilmenite upgrading operations sees Sovereign’s natural rutile product well-placed to disrupt the titanium supply chain.
Mr Stoikovich said the company’s large and expanding rutile footprint in Malawi could prove to be one of the world’s most significant sources of high purity and environmentally-sustainable titanium feedstock.