Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto Ore Upgrading Challenge

Rio Tinto Ore Upgrading Challenge

Rio Tinto seeks economically-viable new technologies to increase titanium dioxide content in ilmenite ore from 32% to 50% or better.
Stage 1 Submission Deadline

Challenge Overview

Rio Tinto supplies the metals and minerals that help the world to grow. Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium (RTIT), the group originating this challenge, provides ilmenite ore containing titanium dioxide as a raw material to pigment producers. Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is non-toxic, biologically inert and used by downstream pigment producers as a coloring or opacity agent in paints, plastics, paper, and other materials. 

In this challenge we seek your ideas for how to cost-effectively improve TiO2 content in our ilmenite ore (from 32% TiO2 content to 50% or better) by isolating and separating out lower-quality hematite inclusions (lamellae) from the ore matrix and liberated gangue (non-valued) material. Given the scope and scale of our operations, the business opportunity for successfully solving this problem is very large.

This two-stage challenge will provide innovators with the most compelling ideas funding to demonstrate feasibility and may ultimately result in commercialization. In our Stage 1 Challenge, participants will provide a non-confidential submission that describes the proposed approach to increasing TiO2 content in ilmenite ore. Up to three (3) of the most compelling concepts will be selected to advance to Stage 2, which will be conducted under mutual non-disclosure agreements. Each accepted Stage 1 winner will receive $50,000 USD to support their work in Stage 2, which is focused on demonstrating initial feasibility for the proposed approach via both written descriptions and results of testing using Rio Tinto ore samples. At the end of Stage 2, Rio Tinto will select the challenge winner and award one winner up to $200,000 to support additional development under a negotiated co-development agreement. Rio Tinto will also provide the winner with technical support and the opportunity to collaborate with Rio Tinto R&D scientists and engineers. Should this solution prove technically and commercially feasible, Rio Tinto may propose a follow-on agreement with the winner for commercialization and scale-up. 

Solving this problem represents a significant opportunity for both Rio Tinto and the challenge winner. We look forward to your engagement and ideas!


Challenge Structure Overview

Stage 1 (Concepts):

  • Stage 1 is open to everyone (see eligibility rules)
  • Submissions must be received by Monday March 2, 2020, 12 noon ET
  • Up to three (3) submissions selected to advance to Stage 2 by Monday April 6, 2020, 5pm ET
  • Stage 1 winners each receive $50,000 for Stage 2 development work along with a sample of ilmenite ore

Stage 2 (Feasibility):

  • Stage 2 begins Monday April 6, 2020 (Only Stage 1 winners are eligible to participate)
  • Upgraded ore and technical report must be received by Monday August 3, 2020
  • Presentations to RTIT and analysis of ore complete by Wednesday September 2, 2020, 5pm ET
  • One winner to be selected by Friday September 18, 2020, 5pm ET
  • Winner will receive up to $200,000 to support additional development work toward validating cost-effective feasibility and potential commercialization
Updates 13
Forum 6
Community 328

Frequently Asked Questions

The process would best be implemented at the mine site (Havre St-Pierre, Qc, Canada) in order to avoid unnecessary ore transportation costs. The end market for this new ore upgrading process is unique from our existing benefication process and would be shipped directly from the mine. Please see updated information in the Challenge Guidelines for more background information. 

We provided an overview of the existing process within the Resources section; this information is included only for context in how we currently process ilmenite ore. The new process would not be implemented at this same site; we intend to implement this new process at the mine site to avoid transportation costs. The end markets for these two processes are unique from each other.  

One way to increase the credibility of your idea is to support it by a publication, a patent or to explain the theoretical foundations. Provide a logical and compelling explanation of your concept, including your approach to differentiating properties to enable the separation of ilmenite from hematite (chemical, physical, optical, magnetic, conductive or other). Solutions that have been implemented in other industries that could be re-applied in our application would also be of high interest. Finally, if your concept is difficult to explain without revealing proprietary information (which you should not provide), then any evidence of your success in other related experiences would be helpful.

Winners of Stage One will receive samples for use in Stage Two work. It would be logistically extremely difficult to provide samples at this early stage and would not be fair to other participants if only some received a sample. We have designed this challenge submission process for describing basic concepts without the need for ore samples

 Goal is max 50$/t. Mining and crushing of the ore to minus 3 inches is already assumed in current operation. All subsequent processing of the ore to achieve the desired upgrading should be included in the operating cost estimate. The shipping of the ore to clients is on a separate budget; however, if your solution cannot be implemented at the mine site, you should include transportation costs for this shipping of raw ore. Please see the Cost Estimating Worksheet which provides additional guidance in the Resources Section.

Here is a summary of technologies which have been tried for separating the hematite from ilmenite on a beneficiated ore sample grinded to 80% minus 106 um:

Given similar magnetic, conductive, physical and chemical properties of ilmenite and hematite; magnetic, electrostatic and gravity separation as well as flotation did not work in our development efforts. Reduction of Fe in hematite to magnetite with CO gas followed by a magnetic separation can separate hematite from ilmenite: 42 % TiO2 has been reached with very low mass yield. Finer grinding is required, but it represents many hurdles (e.g. CO gas not available at the mine site, dust problem, loss of efficiency for magnetic separation when the material is too fine, difficult to fluidise very fine material for the reduction with CO gas). Acid leaching has worked well, but it appears to be too costly without additional innovations in methods.

There is no partial prize within the challenge. Here is further information on this topic from the Challenge Guidelines section: “Any individual/entity that is not in a position (or does not elect) to support further development and demonstration of their concept in Stage 2 may still consider a submission for Stage 1, with the understanding that promising submissions could potentially result in a negotiated license or other agreement with Rio Tinto for internal development. The concept must be sufficiently advanced such that Rio Tinto or others could undertake further development for potential commercialization if an agreement is reached. By participating in the Stage 1 Challenge, you are not forfeiting your rights to your intellectual property, since you have not provided proprietary information with your submission. Any licensing negotiations and potential agreement would be handled separately and outside of the scope of this Challenge.”

The main challenge is about separating ilmenite from hematite in a cost-effective manner. Separation of gangue form hemo-ilmenite is well known, efficient and used every day in current operations. However, gangue separation cost should also be included in your process total cost since this new process will be a separate from existing operations.

While the main challenge is about separating ilmenite from hematite in a cost-effective manner, your submission should include all steps including grinding and gangue removal. In Stage 2, you will receive a sample of minus 3-inch ore and you will have the opportunity to demonstrate the feasibility of your process.

Yes, the proposed process has to respect all applicable regulations. While we are not expecting you to define the implementation of your process at this point, if there are concerning aspects to your concept, you should address these issues in your submission as much as possible.

We understand and agree that you should not provide any confidential/proprietary information about your process at this stage. Without revealing proprietary information, we encourage you to provide a basic explanation of the basis on which your process can separate ilmenite from hematite: gravity, magnetism, hydrometallurgy, etc. See the question "What is the best way to increase the credibility of my idea?" above for additional guidance. 

Permeability of this ore is limited. You can read more information  in this article.

Ilmenite & hematite are paramagnetic and conductive minerals.

Yes, but it’s quick and easy. Just click the “Accept Challenge” button on this page and follow the instructions to complete your registration. All you need to provide is your name and email address.

If you have a question not answered in the FAQ, we recommend that you post it in the Forum where someone will respond to you. This way, others who may have the same question will be able to see it.