Zircon is believed to be the oldest existing mineral on our planet with zircons being formed at the beginning of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago. It is the ability of zircon to withstand high temperatures and chemical attack that means they are found in some of the earliest rocks on our planet.
The durability if Zircon means it remains in heavy sedimentary deposits such as beach sands.
Zircon resources exceed 60 million tonnes with around 1.2 million tonnes mined per year. Zircon is typically mined as a by-product of titanium mining, ilmenite and rutile. Australia is the largest producer, supplying in the region of 40% of the global output, followed by South Africa at around 25%. The major producers are Iluka Resources, Richards Bay Minerals, Exxaro Resources and DuPont
These deposits are purified by spiral concentrators to remove the lighter materials which are returned to the deposit. The other heavy titanium minerals, rutile and ilmenite, are separated from the zircon by magnetic separation.
Demand for titanium minerals has not increased as fast as that for zircon over the last decade, therefore producers have started to develop and exploit mineral sands deposits with higher zircon contents.
Global Zircon Annual Production