January 14, 2021

Where does titanium dioxide come from?

Titanium dioxide itself was officially first named and created in a laboratory in the late 1800s. It wasn’t mass manufactured until the early 20th century, when it started to take over as a safer alternative to other white pigments.


The element titanium and the compound TiO2 are found around the world, linked to other elements such as iron, in several kinds of rock and mineral sands (including a component of some beach sands). Titanium most commonly occurs as the mineral ilmenite (a titanium-iron oxide mineral) and sometimes as the mineral rutile, a form of TiO2. These inert molecular compounds must be separated through a chemical process to create pure titanium dioxide.


How is titanium dioxide extracted?

How pure titanium dioxide is extracted from titanium-containing molecules depends on the composition of the original mineral ores or feedstock. Two methods are used to manufacture pure TiO2: a sulphate process and a chloride process.


The principal natural source of titanium dioxide is mined ilmenite ore, which contains 45-60 percent TiO2. From this, or an enriched derivative (known as titanium slag), pure TiO2 can be produced using the sulphate or chloride process.


Sulphate and chloride methods

Of the two methods of extraction, the sulphate process is currently the most popular method of producing TiO2 in the European Union, accounting for 70 percent of European sources. The remaining 30 percent is the result of the chloride process. On a global level, it is estimated about 40-45 percent of the world’s production is based on the chloride process.


As a widely used substance with multiple applications, research is being carried out to improve the production process to reduce the levels of chemicals used and waste produced, and to recycle any by-products.


The future of titanium dioxide

For a substance that is relatively unknown to the public, it’s amazing how many everyday products titanium dioxide can be found in. Because of its many varied properties, our skin, cities, cars, homes, food and environment are made brighter, safer, more resilient and cleaner by titanium dioxide. With a legacy of 100 years of safe commercial use, titanium dioxide is only going to become more vital as our environment faces greater challenges from a growing population.