AS the zircon industry braces for impending raw materials shortages, one of the world’s largest zircon deposits has increased its resources.
ASX-listed Astron, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Donald Mineral Sands, recently upgraded the mineral resource at its Donald heavy minerals project in the Murray Basin in North West Victoria to incorporate recent drilling results and subsequent re-modelling of exploration licences 4433 and 4432 and mining licence 5532.
At a cut-off grade of 1 per cent, the new measured, indicated and inferred resource stands at 4.04 billion tonnes grading 4.8 per cent heavy minerals for 194 million tonnes of heavy minerals.
Astron reported that it intended to process concentrates from the Donald project through a mineral sand separation plant in China, producing zircon, high grade titanium, silica and ilmenite products, both for the company’s internal use and for distribution into the wider Chinese market. “Based on available mineral assemblages’ data, the deposit contains approximately 37 million tonnes of zircon – sufficient for 30 years for total world consumption, assuming a global demand for 2010 of 1.25 million tonnes per year,” Astron managing director Alex Brown said.
“The Donald project’s development to production is also urgently needed to meet serious looming raw material shortages. Approximately 70 million tonnes of Ti02 [titanium dioxide] units within the deposit add to the strong revenue potential of the deposit.”
Materials such as titanium, zircon and rare earths have experienced explosive growth in demand in recent years due to increasing urbanisation and the use of the minerals in advanced technology. Donald was being developed to have a mine life of more than 25 years. During Stage 1, it was expected to produce 7.5 million tonnes per annum, and would be expanded further to develop the remaining ore body.
During the 2011 financial year, Astron lodged a work plan for the Donald project and completed phase 1 of the project’s cultural heritage plan. Designs have also been completed for four main processing plants. Looking ahead to 2012, Astron reported that it planned to complete a technical feasibility study and achieve financing for the project.
By Rachel Seeley