Mineral Sands Mining

A Strong Australian Industry

Mineral sands mining has been occurring in Australia for almost 100 years, and Australia is the world’s largest producer.

Deposits exist from Cape York in Queensland to central New South Wales along the existing coast of eastern Australia. Large 5-10 million year old palaeo-coastal deposits are found 35 km inland in the Gippsland Basin (Glenaladale deposit), as far inland as 100-300 km in Victoria (Wemen, Bondi, Kulwin deposits) and 500-600 km inland in south-western New South Wales (Ginkgo, Snapper deposits) in the Murray basin. Older 40-55 million year old deposits also exist in the Eucla Basin, 100-400 km inland, around the Great Australian Bight in South Australia and Western Australia. In Western Australia, deposits are distributed from the southern tip of the state to Derby and are located at the present coastline or as palaeo-coastal deposits up to 35 km inland. The oldest deposit found to date inland of Derby (Thunderbord), is 125-140 million years old.

Mineral sands mining is a well-established industry that contributes substantially to Australia’s export earnings and national prosperity.

Australia has the potential to remain a top global producer of mineral sands for many decades.

Mining Methods

Mineral sands mines are usually open pit mines that can use a range of equipment: trucks and excavators, bulldozers, scrapers, monitors and dredges.

Of all the ore that is excavated, the economic minerals account for about 5% of the volume. Most of the sand is of no economic value and is returned to the mine void.

This means there is no hole left behind as happens with a coal or iron ore mine. Modern mineral sands mines rehabilitate and backfill the mine as it moves through the ore body.

Rehabilitation is a continuous process and can start as soon as the excavated material is returned to the start of the mine pit. Topsoil is replaced and vegetation cover re-seeded or replanted.

Heavy mineral sands are separated from the light sands (mostly quartz and clay) by using gravity processing methods through simple spirals or classifiers.

The mined ore is mixed with water to form a slurry which is pumped to the top of a spiral. As the slurry runs down the spiral, the centrifugal force flings the lighter quartz to the outside edge, leaving the heavy mineral close to the centre of the spiral where it can be collected.

Unlike some other types of mining, no chemicals are used to extract the mineral.
The heavy mineral concentrate or HMC is then stockpiled ready for transport to a port where it is shipped overseas for processing into the final products.