Titanium dioxide is mined as ilmenite, rutile or, in lesser quantities, leucoxene.
It is a dark coloured mineral which, with processing, becomes white and opaque. It is primarily used as a whitening pigment in paints, plastics and paper. Other uses include the manufacture of titanium metal and welding flux wire cord.
Titanium dioxide feedstocks are graded by their titanium dioxide content, which ranges from around 50% for sulphate ilmenite to 95% for natural rutile. Feedstocks are either sold as raw minerals (rutile and chloride or sulphate ilmenite) or as processed or upgraded feedstocks, whereby ilmenite is processed to increase its titanium dioxide content. Upgraded feedstocks are synthetic rutile, chloride and sulphate slag and upgraded slag.
In 2014, around 7.25 million tonnes of titanium feedstocks were produced. The feedstock market is split into two product streams: chloride and sulphate. In recent years, there has been an approximate equal supply of chloride and sulphate feedstocks.
Titanium dioxide feedstocks are used predominately for the manufacture of pigment due to its opacity, UV resistance and non-toxic properties. This pigment is in turn used in paints, paper and plastics. Use in pigment accounts for approximately 80 to 90 per cent of total global demand for titanium feedstocks. Titanium metal and welding flux cord wire jointly account for the remaining 10 to 20 per cent of demand. Historically, demand for titanium feedstock has grown broadly in line with global GDP growth.