Image of scientist fitted out in full safety gear uses long handled tongs to remove a sample from a roller bed furnace.

Scientist removing a sample from a roller bed furnace.

Mineral sands processing

Australia is a leading producer of ilmenite, rutile and zircon. CSIRO works closely with our customers to identify processing problems and improve production processes.

  • 18 September 2007 | Updated 16 February 2012

Australia is a leading producer of ilmenite, rutile and zircon. CSIRO Process Science and Engineering has more than 30 years of experience working in these areas and is able to use this expertise to investigate and solve processing problems and improve existing processes.

Ore characterisation

Before identifying optimal treatment strategies and processing conditions for mineral sands deposits, the following ore parameters must be considered:

  • composition
  • particle size
  • impurity deportment
  • mineralogical associations. 

CSIRO's ore characterisation team includes dedicated specialists in solid state chemistry and mineralogy with significant expertise in characterising mineral sands ores and plant products.

The ore characterisation team have access to world-class electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction and analytical facilities including: 

  • quantitative analysis by x-ray diffraction (XRD) for titanate systems
  • analysis using QEMSCAN to determine:
    • modal analysis
    • mineral associations
    • particle density distributions 
  • characterisation of impurities and gangue minerals via:
    • cathodoluminesence spectroscopy
    • electron microprobe analysis and mapping

Analytical data collected from these world-class experimental facilities are used for:

  • mineral phase identification, including:
    • primary phase identification
    • chemical analysis of individual phases
    • tracking of mineralogical changes through processing 
    • identification of reaction characteristics and rates (in a controlled atmosphere furnace).

Becher processing

Since 1970, CSIRO has been working with industry to understand and optimise the complex chemistry occurring throughout the Becher process. This has lead to significant improvements in operating conditions and the production of higher quality products.

We support our experts with world-class electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction and analytical facilities.

Specific highlights have seen CSIRO:

  • improve impurity removal during leaching via addition of appropriate reagents in reduction
  • develop a laboratory acid-digestion procedure to simulate sulphate route pigment plant processing. This is used to evaluate new ilmenite ores and upgraded feedstock such as slag
  • investigate the phase chemistry of the ilmenite system resulting in a greater understanding of the processes used for upgrading ilmenite
  • determine the kinetics and reduction mechanisms of natural ilmenites enabling comparison of different deposit properties 
  • identify potential improvements to the aeration step of the Becher process
  • apply our research to enable the development of new processes now in commercial use in Australian operations.

Fluidised bed processing

Fluidised bed processing presents a range of opportunities for the effective treatment of ilmenites. Our team has made significant advances in the use of this versatile technology which has applications ranging from pre-oxidation of primary ilmenites (to increase reduction rates) to improving impurity removal by enhancing the magnetic properties of ilmenites.

Key achievements include:

  • assisted in the development of new ilmenite processing technology known as NewGenSR
  • designed and purpose-built a circulating fluid bed reactor to test new ilmenite processing technologies
  • simulated roasting and magnetic separation conditions for Murray Basin deposits (in Victoria) to remove chrome spinels
  • developed the Murso process to treat ilmenite concentrates containing high levels of impurities that are not effectively removed in the Becher process.

Pilot-scale facilities

CSIRO's extensive pilot-scale facilities provide industry with the tools to cost-effectively simulate, evaluate and optimise plant operating conditions. Our pilot-scale facilities include fluidised bed reactors and facilities for smelting ilmenite. These facilities are complemented by our advanced analytical capability.

Read more about CSIRO Process Science and Engineering achievements & solutions.