Sovereign Metals achieves 96% TiO2 rutile product from Malawi

by Leena Thomas
Photo-micrograph of Sovereign’s high quality rutile concentrate Image: Sovereign Metals Limited

Sovereign Metals Limited (ASX: SVM) has announced highly encouraging initial results from the ongoing metallurgical test-work on rutile mineralisation from its large ground-holding in Malawi, East Africa.

The company reported that rutile product with 96.0% TiO2 was produced using conventional mineral sands processing methods with a recovered rutile grade of 1.16%. SVM noted that the product has many parameters at best-in-class levels.

SVM said that the metallurgical test-work has demonstrated that very high-quality rutile can be produced with exceptionally low levels of Cr, Zr, U, and Th.

The company announced that extensive rutile mineralisation has been identified from surface as a residual placer comprised of free-dig, friable saprolite material formed by complete weathering of rutile-rich paragneiss basement rocks.

SVM noted that the initial indications are that Sovereign’s ground package in Malawi has the potential to host a significant rutile province.

Accordingly, SVM has now announced many ongoing and proposed work programs at Malawi.

Malawi tenement

Sovereign has a large >4,000km2 ground holding in Malawi. This large area is underlain predominantly by paragneiss rocks and has an unusually high concentration of rutile in the weathering profile known as a residual placer.

This occurs in the form of a 20-25m thick blanket of mineralisation hosted within soft, friable and free-dig saprolite material.

The initial assessments by Sovereign’s geological team indicate substantial potential for saprolite-hosted, residual rutile placer mineralisation across its large ground holding in Malawi.

Rutile market

Natural rutile is the highest grade feedstock for manufacturing TiO2 pigment and producing titanium metal.

Titanium pigments are used in paints, coatings, and plastics as Titanium dioxide is the brightest, whitest pigment available. Titanium also has specialty uses including welding electrodes, commercial aerospace and military applications.

Program at Malawi

In January 2019, the company announced reconnaissance results from 125 hand-auger holes across its Malawi tenements.

The results identified high TiO2 grades in-situ with rutile as the dominant TiO2 mineral in many samples along with minor leucoxene.

A follow-up sighter metallurgical test-work program was undertaken on a 180kg sample of saprolite-hosted rutile. This test work focused on generating saleable product specifications and demonstrated that a high-quality commercial rutile product can be produced using conventional mineral sands processing methods.

Best-in-class rutile product

The company reported that the results from the initial metallurgical program show that Sovereign’s rutile product specifications meet market requirements with many parameters at best-in-class levels.

Some of the standout attributes include rutile product grade of 96.0% TiO2 at a recovered rutile grade of 1.16%; exceptionally low uranium (U) and thorium (Th) levels; exceptionally low chromium (Cr) levels; and exceptionally low zirconium (Zr) levels.

Sovereign said that its initial rutile product is of comparable quality to leading natural rutile products currently in the market including Sierra Rutile’s.

Future plans

SVM said that these exciting results indicate the project’s potential to host a new rutile province. The Company said that it will undertake an accelerated work program over the coming months in order to firm up new areas of mineralisation and publish a resource.

Major elements of the work program includes hand auger drilling to define discrete areas of mineralisation for future resource definition; regional soil sampling and panning to identify new areas of rutile mineralization; and continuing metallurgical test-work at two Australian laboratories designed to optimize and validate the metallurgical flowsheet at a larger scale and produce marketable rutile samples for initial market sounding.

The company said that it plans to commence additional mineralogical and metallurgical test-work on samples from each of the significant mineralised areas to assess mineralogy, recoverable rutile percentages, improve recovered rutile grades, determine the potential to produce other mineral by-products and further develop the flowsheet.

Metallurgical work in progress at Australian laboratories includes analysis related to yields of rutile product and deportment i.e. grain size distribution and shape.

Management statements

Sovereign’s Managing Director Dr. Julian Stephens said: “The ability to produce a natural rutile product to commercial specifications comparable to leading market products from our saprolite-hosted prospects in Malawi is a significant milestone.

These initial metallurgical results are an important step in validating the commercial importance of the rutile mineralisation we have discovered and give us confidence to move forward with expanded exploration and metallurgical test-work programs. The natural rutile market has highly favourable fundamentals with the commodity known to be in structural deficit.”