Titanium is used in some of the world's most challenging places.
When metal has to perform in extremely cold environments, like outer space, or in extremely hot ones, like an airplane engine, titanium can be the only metal for the job – because of its high strength and light weight. Much for the same reason, it is used in hip and knee replacements, as well as high-end jewellery and even golf clubs.
A compound of titanium and oxygen was first discovered in 1791 by the English chemist and mineralogist William Gregor – who named the new element “Gregorite”. It was independently rediscovered four years later by the German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth, who named it titanium after the “Titans” of Greek mythology.
Today, titanium dioxide is often used to whiten a wide range of products, from paint and textiles to paper. This whiteness is due to the fact that titanium oxide absorbs ultraviolet rays and reflects 96% of light – why it makes our white walls whiter, and why it is used in sunscreen.
Rio Tinto Titanium and Titanium Dioxide
Titanium dioxide is a very white, opaque compound, used as a pigment in paints, plastics and paper. It is also used to produce toothpaste, sunscreen and cosmetics.
Most of our titanium production is destined for the automotive industry, which uses it to manufacture complex mechanical parts. When it is smelted and processed into metallic form, titanium is light, resilient and corrosion-resistant. It is used to make seats, valve guides and precision parts, such as synchronisation hubs and assorted mechanical devices. And because it is lightweight, it can also help reduce fuel consumption, letting planes and cars go farther with less impact on our environment.
Our 70-year-old Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) operation in Quebec, Canada, pioneered the process of removing iron and titanium from ilmenite. The RTFT Havre-Saint-Pierre mine in eastern Quebec is home to the largest ilmenite deposit in the world. The ilmenite is then transported to our Sorel-Tracy metallurgic complex, just over an hour from Montreal, for processing into iron and titanium. The large complex – as big as 100 American football fields – also houses a technology centre.
In South Africa, Richards Bay Minerals launched in 1976 and today is a world leader in heavy mineral sands extraction and refining, and the country’s largest mineral sands producer. We mine the vast mineral rich sands of the northern KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa and produce predominantly rutile, zircon, titania slag, titanium dioxide feedstock and high purity iron.
QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), near Fort Dauphin in the Anosy region of southeastern Madagascar, produces ilmenite, rutile and zircon. QMM includes the deep-water Port d’Ehoala, where the raw material is shipped to the Rio Tinto Fer et Titane operation in Canada and processed into titanium dioxide. QMM is a joint venture between Rio Tinto (80%) and the government of Madagascar (20%).