QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), which is 80 per cent owned by Rio Tinto and 20 per cent owned by the Government of Madagascar, owns and operates a mineral sands mining project near Fort-Dauphin on the south-eastern tip of Madagascar. QMM intends to extract ilmenite and zircon from heavy mineral sands over an area of about 6,000 hectares along the coast during the next 40 years.
QMM’s mining operations began in December 2008, and the first ilmenite was shipped from Port d'Ehoala in May 2009. Current mining activity is located at the 2000 hectare Mandena site, to the north of the Fort -Dauphin township. Later phases will be located at the Ste-Luce and Petriky.
The entire Fort Dauphin deposit contains nearly 70 million tonnes of ilmenite. This accounts for approximately 10 per cent of the world market. The ilmenite mined in Madagascar contains 60 per cent titanium dioxide, making it a higher quality than most other global sources.
The raw material mined by QMM is shipped to Rio Tinto’s Fer et Titane processing plant in Canada, where it is transformed into a 90 per cent titanium dioxide chloride slag. The slag is supplied to global titanium feedstock markets and used primarily by titanium dioxide pigment producers. The pigment is used as a white finish in paint, plastic, paper and dye.
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QMM’s mineral sands mining project involves:
- Removing the vegetation cover and storing the top soil layer where applicable
- Extracting the sand, up to 20 metres deep, with a floating dredge
- Mechanically separating the heavy minerals (five per cent) using spirals, and returning the silica (95 per cent) into the dredging pond for subsequent rehabilitation
- Separating ilmenite and zircon from the other heavy minerals using magnetic and electrostatic methods
- Rehabilitating mined areas
- Transporting ilmenite and zircon about 15km along a newly constructed road to the port for export
QMM began exploring the Anosy region in the late 1980s and at the same time started preliminary social and environmental studies. In the mid-1990s QMM set up a full-time social and environmental programme.
In 1998, a legal and financial framework was agreed between QMM and the Government of Madagascar. The agreement was ratified by the Malagasy National Assembly and then formally announced by the President of Madagascar.
Between 1998 and 2001 QMM conducted a formal Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA), and in 2001 the Government issued an environmental permit.
Rio Tinto approved the mining project in August 2005, and construction started in January 2006.
In December 2008, the Zhen Hua 21 was the first vessel to dock at the port, offloading equipment for QMM’s operations. This marked the first of countless ships expected to use the Ehoala Port, thereby boosting the local and regional economy. The first shipment of ilmenite left the newly completed Port in May 2009.
The total investment in Canada and Madagascar to complete the project was US$1.1 billion, with approximately US$940 million invested in Madagascar.