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Exploratory hand auger drilling for rutile at Sovereign’s Wofiira prospect in central Malawi.

Premium titania product from Sovereign rutile play

Sovereign Metals’ Wofiira rutile prospect in the African nation of Malawi just got interesting, with analyses of the titanium-rich ore concentrate showing the products are likely suitable for all major end-user markets, including the chloride pigment, titanium metal and welding flux sectors.

Detailed metallurgical studies have shown that the Wofiira ores have a favourable particle grain size distribution and are comparable to other leading natural rutile products in the market.

These include the well-known Rio Tinto-administered Richards Bay Minerals rutile and Tronox Limited Namakwa Sands rutile products, which are both sourced from South Africa.

In January, Sovereign discovered large areas of the rutile mineralisation from re-assaying of historical auger drill holes adjacent to its existing Malingunde saprolite-hosted, graphite project in central Malawi.

The company subsequently carried out preliminary metallurgical test work in June that demonstrated that the ore materials from the Wofiira prospect are potentially premium, high-value products, with low levels of penalty elements.

A rutile product containing 96% titanium dioxide was produced using conventional mineral sands processing methods at a recovered rutile grade of 1.16%.

For comparison, Iluka Resources controls the world’s largest and currently highest-grade primary rutile mine in Sierra Leone - in West Africa – that contains 714 million tonnes grading 1.1% rutile.

Sovereign Managing Director Dr Julian Stephens said: “These initial results have confirmed the ability to produce a natural rutile product to commercial specifications in terms of both chemical composition and particle size distribution.”

“Sovereign’s rutile product compares favourably to other leading natural rutile products in the market and is likely to be suitable for all major end-user applications including chloride pigment, titanium metal and welding flux.”

The company has now accelerated its exploration work programs in Malawi, focussing on the rutile potential of its extensive land holdings in the country.

Natural rutile is a sought after, high-grade titanium feed source, which currently sells for about USD$1,100 per tonne, with longer-term pricing likely to be higher and closer to USD$1,250 per tonne.

The primary uses for rutile are in the manufacture of refractory ceramics, as a pigment and for the production of titanium metal.

Finely powdered rutile is a brilliant white pigment and utilised in paints, plastics, paper, foods and other applications that call for a bright white colour.

Sovereign has identified extensive rutile mineralisation straight from the surface at Wofiira and believes that its Malawi tenements may contain a new province capable of supplying a high-quality product at a time of decreasing stocks worldwide.

The company said in July that it could transport rutile concentrates from the mine-gate in Malawi to the deep-water port of Nacala in Mozambique, 750km to the east, for an all-in transportation cost of less than USD$66 per tonne.

Sovereign also continues to advance key elements of its definitive feasibility study for the low-cost Malingunde saprolite-hosted graphite project in the same region.

With two highly sought-after mineral commodities within the confines of its extensive tenement package in Malawi and recent metallurgical test work showing that it might be sitting on an extensive area containing premium quality rutile mineralisation, the cashed-up company looks to be sitting pretty in Africa.  

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