Tizir Ltd., a U.K.-based mineral sands explorer, expects to start producing 7 percent of the world’s zircon and ilmenite when it finishes building a $516 million dredging plant on the coast of Senegal.
“We will be making product by the last quarter of 2013,” Chief Executive Officer Clever Fonseca said in an interview in the capital, Dakar, on July 31. “We will produce 85 kilotons of premium quality zircon a year and 575 kilotons of ilmenite a year.”
Senegal, which earns most of its foreign currency from tourism and exports of peanuts, is seeking investment to boost growth in its $14.3 billion economy, the second-biggest in West Africa’s monetary union. Oromin Explorations Ltd. is developing a gold mine and Teranga Gold Corp. mines the ore at Sabodala.
Tizir is owned by the Australian company Mineral Deposits Ltd. and French miner Eramet SA. It has a 106-kilometer (66-mile) concession on the coast of Senegal where it dredges sand to remove heavy minerals including ilmenite, zircon, rutile and leucoxene.
It also owns an ilmenite upgrading plant in Norway, where it smelts the ore to produce titanium slag, used in pigments, and high-purity pig iron which is used for producing machinery components. Zircon is used in the production of tiles and television screens.
The cost of the Senegalese mineral-sands project includes $55 million for a 24-kilometer rail and road link from the concession to the town of Mekhe, 120 kilometers north of Dakar. It also involves refurbishing 100 kilometers of existing track to the port in Dakar, where Tizir will build storage capacity for 90,000 tons of ilmenite.
The minerals will then shipped to Norway, Spain and China, the world’s biggest consumer of zircon.
“Since construction in China is down, the price for zircon has flattened in the last six months,” said Fonseca. “But because of the quality of our zircon, and the flexibility of our company in that we can upgrade our ilmenite internally in Norway, we believe we have a very good future,” Fonseca said.