Zircon is produced from mineral sands mining as a co-product from the extraction of titanium minerals product. It is a non-toxic colourless off-white mineral that is very useful in many modern applications.
Zircon is separated from the titanium minerals using high tension electrostatic, magnetic and gravity separation techniques. It has extremely high refractory properties, is extremely hard wearing and with a melting point of over 2430 degrees C can be used in harsh environments
In its basic sand form, zircon is used in the manufacturing process for foundry moulds, refractory bricks and molten metal moulds due to its high temperature and corrosion resistance.
The largest end-use of zircon is in the ceramics industry. The zircon is mechanically ground into either a flour or an opacifier and used to manufacture ceramic based products, including tiles, sanitary-ware and china table-ware.
Chemical processing of zircon is less common but there has been a significant increase in use by this market as new applications are discovered. Zircon is processed chemically to produce zirconia and a range of zirconium chemicals that are used in advanced ceramics, coloured ceramic pigments, catalysts and a wide variety of other minor applications such as antiperspirants and television glass.
The Asia-Pacific region dominates zircon consumption, with China being the biggest user, consuming almost half of world’s supply to feed the large and expanding construction industry.
The Keysbrook mine produces zircon concentrate that is shipped to China and then further processed into zircon sand to feed the local market.