Ilmenite is a weakly magnetic titanium-iron oxide mineral which is iron-black or steel-gray. It is a crystalline iron titanium oxide (FeTiO3). Ilmenite is commonly recognized in altered igneous rocks by the presence of a white alteration product, the pseudo-mineral leucoxene. Often ilmenites are rimmed with leucoxene, which allows ilmenite to be distinguished from magnetite and other iron-titanium oxides.
Ilmenite is named after the locality of its discovery in the Il'menski Mountains, near Miass, Russia. Most ilmenite is mined for titanium dioxide production. North America and Europe together consume about 50% of the world's titanium dioxide production. Demand by India and China is growing rapidly and may eventually surpass Western consumption.
World consumption rises approximately 5% to 8% per annum, with demand growth most strongly centered in Asian economies. World demand in 2004 was 335,000 tons of TiO2 units, representing about 2.4 million tons of ilmenite. Australia was the world's largest producer and exporter of ilmenite ore in 2005–2006, with 1.1 million tons, followed by South Africa (952Kt), Canada (809Kt), China (~400Kt) and Norway (380Kt). Development of large mineral sands operations in Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Madagascar and Mozambique will see extensive supplies of ilmenite, rutile, zircon and leucoxene reach world markets in coming years. This additional supply of ilmenite and titanium feedstock, approximating 1.5 million tons per annum, is in excess to world demand growth of 350Kt per annum.
The world's largest open cast ilmenite mine is the Tellnes mine located in Sokndal, Norway, and run by Titania AS (owned by Kronos Worldwide Inc.), a hard rock ilmenite mine, which produces most of Norway's 380,000t of ilmenite production. In Karhujupukka located in Kolari, northern Finland there is a magnetite-ilmenite ore at around 5 million tons.
The ore contains about 6.2% titanium.The Balla Balla magnetitite-iron-titanium-vanadium ore deposit, in the Pilbara of Western Australia, contains ~600 million tons of magnetite-ilmenite cumulate ore horizon grading 58% Fe, 14% TiO2 and 0.8% V2O5, one of the richest magnetite-ilmenite ore bodies in Australia. The ore deposit is scheduled to be mined in mid-2009, to produce in excess of 480,000t per annum of ilmenite product.
Major mineral sands operations include: Richards Bay in South Africa, Coburn, WIM 50, Douglas, Pooncarrie in Australia, Iluka Resources have other operations in Australia including Murray Basin, Eneabba and Capel, Indian Rare Earths (IRE),VV Mineral in India, QIT Madagascar Minerals, a Rio Tinto Group subsidiary, recently began production at a mineral sands operation in Madagascar expected to produce 750,000t per annum of ilmenite, potentially expanding to 2,000,000t per annum in future phases.