Mineral Sands - Overview

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

Major mineral sands reserves are found in South Africa, USA, Sierra Leone, India, Australia and Madagascar. The most popular mining methods are dredging or dry mining. Dredging involves working in artificial ponds and pumping ore to floating concentrators whereas dry mining uses a variety of scrapers, bulldozers, excavators and front end loaders.

Mineral sands are processed into rutile, ilmenite, zircon, monazite. Rutile and ilmenite are used in paints, plastics, paper, titanium metal, fiberglass and chemicals. Zircon is the major source of a corrosion resistant metal used in nuclear reactors and chemical processing equipment. Monazite is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, incandescent gas mantles and in permanent magnets, catalysts and colour television tubes.

Mineral sands are often found in ecologically sensitive coastal regions and are associated with deforestation and hydrological problems. Sand mining can reduce fresh water supplies, contaminate rivers and streams, and change the pH balance of sensitive regions.

Adapted from the Mineral Policy Institute Backgrounder #8: Mineral Sands.