Ilmenite – the primary source of titanium extraction by chlorine process

Ilmenite is the most important ore of titanium mining with the chemical formula FE-TI-O3 (iron, titanium and oxygen), named for its place of discovery at Ilmen Lake in the Ilmen Mountains, Miask in the southern portion of the Ural Mountains of Russia.

Ilmenite is a titanium bearing mineral that, directly or indirectly, supplies in excess of 90% of the feedstock to the large titanium dioxide pigment industry as well as to the very significant and growing titanium metal market and some smaller industrial applications.

This titanium-iron oxide forms as a primary mineral in volcanic rocks and is concentrated into layers by a process called “magmatic segregation”. It crystallizes out of a magma relatively early before most of the other minerals. As a result, the heavier crystals fall to the bottom of the magma chamber and collect in layers. It is these layers that constitute a rich ore body for titanium miners.

This titanium bearing ore lends its name to a group of similar, simple, titanium oxides - Ecandrewsite (Zinc Iron Manganese Titanium Oxide), Geikielite (Magnesium Titanium Oxide); Pyrophanite (Manganese Titanium Oxide) called the Ilmenite Group. The general formula for the group is XTiO3; where the X can be iron, magnesium, zinc and/or manganese.

The colour of this metallic to sub metallic mineral is generally iron black, similar with hematite and magnetite, though it has a different crystal form and is not as strongly magnetic. It is an also a minor ore of iron and is often processed along with magnetite for their iron contents. By itself is not a profitable iron ore as the titanium inhibits the smelting process.

Only rutile, with a formula of TiO2, competes with this mineral for dominance in the titanium source department. Even though rutile is the more common mineral and has a higher percentage of titanium in its formula, it is not concentrated in igneous deposits and is therefore less useful as a commercial ore.

It is widespread around the world in numerous localities. In the Vishnevy-Il’men Mountains, Southern Ural Mountains, Russia, in the Lovozero massif, Kola Peninsula. There are also mining concentrates in Norway, at Tellnes and Snarum, Kragerøand Arendal. In Binntal, Valais, Switzerlanm, in St. Cristophe, Bourg d’Oisans, Is`ere, France.

In the USA primary titanium ore locations are in Quincy, Massachusetts, Litchfield, Litchfield, Connecticut, Lake Sanford area, New York. In Canada it’s most mined at Allard Lake, Quebec and in Bancroft, Ontario.

This particular form of titanium ore is able to withstand extreme temperatures, and is used in the steel industry to line blast furnaces and its hardness also makes it useful as an abrasive.

Traces of the mineral have been found in Moon rocks, and in 2005 NASA used the Hubble Space Telescope to locate potentially ilmenite-rich locations. This mineral could be essential to an eventual Moon base, as it would provide a source of iron and titanium for the building of structures and essential oxygen extraction.

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