New Titanium Industry Being developed Out Of Oilsands Waste

After several years and nearly $100 million of research and development, engineers say they have developed new technology to extract valuable metals such as titanium and zircon from the waste produced by the oilsands in northern Alberta.

Canadian Natural Resources and Titanium Corp. have a proposal in the final phases of approval to construct a $400-million facility at CNR's Horizon oilsands site that would produce titanium and zircon from the materials left over from bitumen production. Zircon is used to make ceramic tiles and other products, while titanium is used in products ranging from golf clubs and bicycles to aircraft and missiles.

Not only could the facility be profitable, but it could also reduce the environmental footprint of the oilsands, say the researchers behind the technology. Environmental waste and damage is one of the main criticisms of Canada’s oilsands projects.

As oilsands facilities collect and process bitumen from underground, materials left over are dumped into large tailings ponds. The proposed facility would extract the titanium and zircon before the waste is sent to the tailings ponds. Additional bitumen and solvents may also be recovered.

Titanium Corp. has spent $80 million on research and received an additional $18 million in government funding as it ran pilot projects at several oilsands facilities. It plans to spend 2018 working on engineering and securing financing for a proposed $400-million facility before it goes ahead. Construction would begin in 2019 and the plant would be operational in late-2021 or early-2022.

Zircon is currently selling for about U.S.$1,300 a tonne. A tonne of titanium sells for about U.S. $5,000.