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  • Zircon
  • Mines Producing Zircon

The name Zircon is derived from the Arabic word 'Zargun,' zar meaning gold and gun meaning colour. However, this is not completely accurate as zircon can be found in many colours ranging from colourless to; green, blue, light red, purplish red, yellowish brown, yellow, orange or white. Some zircon crystals can actually be of gemstone quality and much of the mineral is sought after for this purpose. Its hardness also makes it valuable as an abrasive. Besides zircon being used in chemical processing plants and nuclear reactors, it is also used for the following purposes:

- In steel making blast furnaces because of it having a melting point above 2,500 degrees Celsius
- In the ceramic, spacecraft, electronic and engine parts industries because of its resistance to heat and corrosion
- In computer disc drives
- The providing of protection and warmth in clothing because of its light weight
- In the manufacturing of wear resistant knives and ball point pens

Zircon is contained in most mineral sands deposits and Australia is the world's foremost producer as it provides up to 45 percent of the worlds zircon requirements. One of the major problems with the production of zircon has been the presence of thorium and uranium that makes it radioactive. However, this only becomes a worry when the radioactive levels are above 500 parts per million (ppm). The increasing availability of zircon with low-level radioactivity is leading to greater prices being charged for the product. Victoria is known to have considerable zircon deposits of fine particle dimensions but exploitation is held back because its high radioactive levels make it unattractive to commercial developers.

In an effort to overcome the radioactivity problem associated with otherwise commercial grade zircon deposits, the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation) has come up with a process that is able to reduce radiation levels while at the same time remove other impurities. This development will make these previously untouchable deposits commercially viable.

The CSIRO process reduces the radiation levels of zircon with the use of heat that is followed up with leaching to remove the radio nuclides. This involves the following:

- Grinding of the zircon to a particle size of 15 to 20 um
- Calcining the ground zircon particles by means of a borate mineral at 1,200 degrees Celsius over a period of four hours
- Leaching of the calcine with a dilute acid solution

CSIRO laboratory testing has proven the low cost process is successful for the following reasons:

- It protects zircon crystal integrity
- No new impurities are introduced
- Removes existing impurities such as uranium, thorium, titanium, aluminium and iron
- Particle size is maintained
- Radioactive levels are lowered

The Pure Zircon Process developed by the CSIRO will also be able to be applied to the commercial synthesis of zirconia. Zirconia is a mineral that naturally occurs in nature that can also be synthesised from zircon. It is used in combination with minerals such as iron and cobalt in order to produce colour pigment used in refractors. However, zirconia, made from zircon by fuming, does contain increased levels of radiation when compared to zircon itself. When the zircon has previously been processed through the CSIRO's Pure Zircon Process, the end product, zirconia, will have an acceptable radiation level also and be commercially viable.

Australian Mines that produce Zircon

Ginkgo ( NSW )

The Ginkgo Mine, in the South West of New South Wales, was the first such mine to start production in the rich heavy mineral sand deposits of the Murray Basin.

Snapper ( NSW )

The Snapper mineral sands mine in the far south west of NSW is a natural extension of the older Ginkgo sand mine 10 kilometres to its north.

Tiwi ( NT )

The final shipment of mineral sand from the Tiwi mine in Northern Territory took place on January 16, 2013. It is currently placed on care and maintenance.

North Stradbroke Island ( QLD )

Sand mining on North Stradbroke Island is scheduled to cease by 2027 when about 80 percent of the area previously mined will become a national park.

Eucla Basin ( SA )

The Eucla Basin Jacinth Ambrosia mineral sands mine in South Australia that is owned by Iluka Resources has the worlds largest assemblage of Zircon.

Douglas Iluka Murray Basin ( VIC )

The Douglas sand mining operation has now ceased and the area fully rehabilitated by the mine owner Iluka.

Kulwin ( VIC )

Located in Kulwin VIC, mining Mineral sands, Rutile, Zircon, Ilmenite

Cooljarloo Exxaro ( WA )

The Cooljarloo mineral sands mine in W.A. produces over 770,000 tonnes of heavy mineral concentrate annually using dry mining and dredging techniques.

Dardanupdoral ( WA )

The Dardanup–Doral mineral sands mine at Picton in Western Australia is owned by Japanese company Iwatani International Corp. through Doral Mineral Sands.

Gwindinup North ( WA )

The Gwindinup North mineral sand mining operation near Bunbury in Western Australia is owned by Saudi Arabian company Cristal Mining Australia Limited.

Naracoopa ( TAS )

Mineral sand mining at Naracoopa on King Island, Tasmania, that has been taking place, on and off, since early in the 1990's is once again in production.

Tutunup South Iluka ( WA )

Although the Tutunup South/Iluka mine had only commenced production in June 2011 it will be made idle in 2013 because of slow sales in mineral sands.

Woornack Rownack Pirro ( VIC )

The Woornack, Rownack, Pirro (WRP) mineral sand mining project got underway in 2012 and is expected to continue for at least three to four years.

Donald ( NSW )

Astron Limited's Donald mineral sands project in the Murray Basin Region of Victoria will become one of the worlds top five zircon producers.rn

Wim 150 ( VIC )

The WIM 150 mineral sands project, 20 kilometres south east of Horsham, in the Wimmera Region of Victoria, is to be developed by Australian Zircon NL.

Jacinth Ambrosia ( SA )

The Jacinth-Ambrosia mineral sands mine in the Eucla Basin Region of South Australia is the first South Australian mine to operate in a state regional reserve.

Cyclone ( WA )

The Cyclone Zircon Project in Western Australia near the South Australian border will mine one of the biggest zircon deposits known to exist in Australia.

Atlas Campaspe ( NSW )

The Atlas-Campaspe heavy minerals sand mining project in far west New South Wales being developed by Cristal Mining has received both state and federal environmental approval.

Keysbrook ( WA )

When the Keysbrook heavy mineral sand mining project gets underway in November, 2015, it will be the worlds largest producer of leucoxene.

Mindarie ( SA )

The Mindarie Heavy Mineral Sands Project in the Mallee Region of South Australia produces mineral sands for export to China.

Coburn ( WA )

The Coburn Zircon deposit located north of Geraldton in Western Australia has had all necessary approvals granted and is expected to begin production in the near future.

Wonnerup ( WA )

Wonnerup heavy mineral sands mine in south west Western Australia, is owned and operated by Cristal Mining, one of the world's top ten sand mining companies.

Capel Operations ( WA )

The Capel mineral sands operation in south west Western Australia, that is owned by Iluka Resources Limited, is once again in production after an 18 month layoff.

Thunderbird Project ( WA )

The Dampier mineral sands Thunderbird Project in the Canning Basin region of Western Australia will become one of the largest and best quality heavy sands mines in the world.

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