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 2 (Feasibility):
A particular Rio Tinto mine produces ilmenite ore containing 32% (by weight) TiO2. If the TiO2 content can be increased to the range of 50%, new growth opportunities can be addressed within downstream pigment production markets where this ilmenite is used as feedstock. This upgraded ilmenite must be price competitive with other available ilmenites that are currently on the market as sulfate-process feedstocks.
The TiO2 content within this ore body is concentrated within ilmenite, not within hematite or other silicate gangue (non-valued) minerals. The microstructure of this particular ilmenite ore also shows fine hematite lamellae intergrown in ilmenite. To concentrate the TiO2, hematite and gangue silicates must be separated as much as possible from the ore. Conventional physical separation and heat treatment techniques have been shown to improve the TiO2 content only up to 42%. Other pyro/hydrometallurgical upgrading methods (smelting, acid leaching) are projected to be too costly for ilmenite upgrading relative to a sulfate-process feedstock. An economical way to separate hematite particles from ilmenite remains a difficult technical challenge.
The overall goal is to identify economically viable technology/process solutions that can help Rio Tinto to improve ilmenite ore TiO2 content from 32% to up to 50%+ (by weight) and enable new growth opportunities for our ilmenite ore in the (sulfate-process) TiO2 pigment production market.
This particular ore is mainly comprised of hemo-ilmenite mineral, a mix of hematite and ilmenite, and anorthosite (gangue mineral part of the feldspar group). The hemo-ilmenite is made of micro lamellae of hematite in an ilmenite matrix. The primary (larger) hematite lamellae are 10-30 µm wide and the secondary ones are ~2 µm wide. The ilmenite also contains other elements in its structure, notably MgO. Removing all the gangue (feldspar) mineral associated with the hemo-ilmenite is currently leading to a ~39% TiO2 product. The hematite rich lamellae contain ~18% TiO2 and ilmenite rich ones contain 46 - 48 % TiO2 (including secondary hematite lamellae). In between secondary hematite lamellae, ~50% TiO2 ilmenite can be found. A more complete technical description and supporting images are included as supplemental information under the Resources tab.
Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium (RTIT) is seeking new technical solutions that can provide a cost-effective means to isolate and separate out lower-quality hematite inclusions (lamellae) and gangue material from its ilmenite ore. The following potential solution paths are provided as examples of areas of interest, but we welcome ideas and solutions beyond those listed.
Example Solution Paths:
Whether your idea follows one of the paths mentioned above or a completely different approach, keep in mind that any eventual successful solution must:
The Ore Upgrading Challenge is designed to identify promising new ideas and solutions (in Stage 1) which would be selected for further development work (in Stage 2). Your Stage 1 concept for increasing the TiO2 content of ilmenite ore should be sufficiently advanced such that, if selected, it could be developed and demonstrated for initial feasibility by the end of the 4-month Stage 2 development period. Strong submissions for Stage 1 will provide well-reasoned scientific rationale and any preliminary data supporting the proposed idea.
Stage 1 is open to everyone (see eligibility rules). The deadline for submitting your proposal is March 2, 2020, 12 noon ET. All submissions will be judged by a group of experts within Rio Tinto, using the evaluation criteria shown below. Up to three (3) of the most compelling concepts will be selected as Stage 1 winners. Each winner will receive $50,000 to support development and demonstration activities performed during Stage 2. This funding will be contingent on signing a mutual non-disclosure and separate acknowledgement of Rules, Terms & Conditions related to your participation in Stage 2 of the Challenge.
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 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 any of your rights to your intellectual property. Any licensing negotiations and potential agreement would be handled separately and outside of the scope of this Challenge.
Stage 1 Evaluation Criteria:
Only Stage 1 winners can participate in Stage 2. Accepted Stage 2 participants will each receive $50,000 in development funds and a sample of ilmenite ore at the start of this stage. The Stage 2 participants will undertake analytical and prototyping development work in order to demonstrate initial feasibility of their concept. At the end of the Stage 2 development period, participants will submit a report that addresses the criteria listed below. Additionally, they will send back the upgraded ore for Rio Tinto to analyze, as well as any unused ilmenite ore.
Stage 2 submissions will be judged by a group of experts within Rio Tinto, using the evaluation criteria shown below. Rio Tinto analysis of the upgraded ore will also be a factor in the Stage 2 submission process. Results of these analyses will be shared with each participant respectively. The winner will be awarded up to $200,000 to further develop the winning technology and will receive support from Rio Tinto technical and production experts.
Stage 2 Evaluation Criteria:
Stage 1 Submission Form