Titanium dioxide is a dark coloured mineral which, with processing, can be converted into a white opaque powder. Around 90% of titanium dioxide minerals globally are used as a pigment in the manufacture of paint, plastic, paper and fibre where, in addition to being a whitener, they also provide UV and chemical resistance. The wide range of end applications for pigment include house and car paints, laminates, plastic pipes and packaging, inks, clothing, sunscreen, toothpaste and in the cosmetic industry.
Titanium minerals are also used to produce titanium metal, which has the highest strength to weight ratio of all commercial metals. Titanium metal is chemically resistant, has a high melting point and low conductivity. It is used across a diverse range of applications including aeronautics, medical implants, defence, sporting goods and componentry in the offshore mining and petrochemicals industries.
Titanium is considered a critical mineral in the United States, Japan, European Union and Australia.
Welding is a further key market of titanium feedstocks, used in the manufacture of welding electrodes, as used in the steel construction and ship building industries where titanium minerals are favoured for their strength and corrosion resistance.
High grade titanium feedstocks (High Grade Feedstocks) are feedstocks with greater than 85% TiO2 content, including natural rutile. Natural rutile is the primary product of Sierra Rutile, comprising approximately 66% of sales volumes and 90% of revenue in 2019-21.
High Grade Feedstocks are used preferentially in the chloride pigment process, as they typically use less chlorine, and produce less waste per tonne of pigment produced. Naturally occurring rutile, as produced by Sierra Rutile, is a very high grade feedstock at 95% TiO2. A key benefit of natural rutile is that it does not require upgrading and is ready for direct use as a titanium pigment feedstock.
High Grade Feedstocks are also used in specialist applications including welding electrodes and the production of titanium metal used in commercial aerospace, military and industrial applications. Approximately 14% of Sierra Rutile’s sales are used to produce titanium metal, despite metal as an end-use application comprising just 4% of total global demand for titanium feedstocks. This is due to the high quality of Sierra Rutile’s products. Approximately two-thirds of Sierra Rutile’s natural rutile is consumed in the more demanding applications where the highest quality feedstock is favoured for technical or environmental reasons.
Sierra Rutile currently produces three primary products for sale: SGR, IGR, and chloride ilmenite.
SGR accounts for approximately 85-90% of Sierra Rutile’s annual rutile production. Sierra Rutile’s SGR is considered to be an industry leading high quality product and is consumed primarily in the manufacture of titanium dioxide pigment and titanium sponge (a precursor to titanium metal).
Sierra Rutile’s IGR product is well suited to high quality flux core welding wire applications due to its high packing density and low contaminant level. These favourable physical and chemical characteristics enable the product to trade at a premium to competing products.
In addition to the primary rutile products above, Sierra Rutile also produces around 5kt of zircon annually, in the form of ZIC as well as chloride-grade ilmenite which is sold mainly for pigment production as well as being upgradeable into titanium slag. While only a minor contributor to Sierra Rutile’s overall production volume, zircon’s high value means it provides an attractive revenue stream to Sierra Rutile.
Sierra Rutile’s products are highly sought after in several end-use markets and applications. Associated sales arrangements are custom-tailored, varying by end-use application and ranging from spot to six-month duration, as detailed below.
Sierra Rutile has a long and established market presence, including relationships with all of the primary chloride-based titanium pigment manufacturers as well as the world’s largest producers of high-specification aircraft-quality titanium metal.