Synthetic Rutile to Provide Bright Future

Established Australian mining company Image Resources (ASX: IMA) is known for the benefits its 100 per cent owned, zircon-rich Boonanarring project – located 80 kilometres north of Perth in Western Australia – has provided shareholders.

Image RESOURCES built a strong reputation on the back of the success it had with the Boonanarring project, which is considered one of the highest-grade, zircon-rich mineral sands projects in Australia.

The project was commissioned on time and on budget in the 2018 calendar year, followed by four consecutive years of operational success that led to early repayment of debt, and payment of a dividend to shareholders in both the 2020 and 2021 calendar years.

As the Boonanarring mining door closes, another one opens, and Image is now focused on relocating mining and processing operations from Boonanarring to its next mining venture at its 100 per cent owned, high-grade Atlas project.

Like Boonanarring, the Atlas door will eventually close, and Image already has its eyes on the next gateway with a definitive feasibility study currently underway at its 100 per cent owned Bidaminna project; as well as a pre-feasibility study on its 100 per cent owned Yandanooka project; and a scoping study on its 100 per cent owned McCalls project, which has been recognised to have a potential 50-year mine life.

In the second quarter of 2023, Image commissioned an independent study to test the amenability of the Bidaminna deposit’s ilmenite for conversion to high-value synthetic rutile, which is commonly used as a paint pigmentation agent. Initial test results were very positive, and demonstrated the potential value-adding nature of converting ilmenite to synthetic rutile.

Current market prices for ilmenite can range from US$250–300 per tonne, whereas market prices for synthetic rutile can range from US$1200–1250 per tonne – or approximately four to five times higher unit pricing for synthetic rutile compared to ilmenite.

Although there is a loss of mass from converting Bidaminna ilmenite to synthetic rutile of approximately 40–45 per cent because of the removal of iron and other impurities from the ilmenite, this is offset by a potential net gain in pricing for converting ilmenite to synthetic rutile being equivalent to approximately 2.5 times the ilmenite value on a total ilmenite tonnes basis.

‘The positive results from our initial ilmenite conversion to synthetic rutile testing cannot be overemphasised as it demonstrates the critical value-adding opportunity of upgrading ilmenite from Bidaminna, and possibly from our Yandanooka and McCalls projects,’ Image Resources Managing Director Patrick Mutz told Future Mining.

‘Let’s not forget the potential for multi-decade operating life from these projects that could strongly support justification for capital expenditure for synthetic rutile production in the event that future project feasibility studies are as positive as anticipated.’

The final ‘kicker’ in this picture is Image’s investigation into the opportunity to potentially become the first ‘green’ synthetic rutile producer, by way of ‘green’ hydrogen produced from the hydrolysis of water using the company’s existing solar farm at Boonanarring. 

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