A method for the concentration of fine-grained rutile (TiO2) from sediment and sedimentary rocks by chemical leaching

Economic Geology
By:  and 



Quaternary marine sediment in the Gulf of Maine basins contains 0.7 to 1.0 wt percent TiO2 (determined by X-ray fluorescence spectrometry). Most of this TiO2 exists in the form of silt-size rutile crystals that are visible by using the petrographic microscope with transmitted light (Valentine and Commeau, 1990). The identification of rutile was confirmed by using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) equipped with an energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometer (EDS) system. To quantify the amount of TiO2 in the sediment contributed by rutile and its polymorphs, anatase and brookite, it was necessary to eliminate as many of the other minerals as possible, especially titanium-bearing minerals such as ilmenite, ilmenomagnetite, biotite, hornblende, oyroxene, and sphene. We accomplished this by developing a method of chemical dissolution that removed the bulk of the raw material and left the TiO2 minerals intact.

Many methods using acids and bases have been developed over the years to dissolve rocks, minerals, and sediments for chemical analysis or to concentrate specific minerals (Dolcater et al., 1970; Church, 1971; Campbell, 1973, and the references cited therein). The method developed by Raman and Jackson (1965) to concentrate rutile and anatase in soils and sediments requires digesting the sample in concentrated hydrofluoric acid (HF) for 24 hours. However, Campbell (1973) found that digestion in HF for more than 2 hours results in a loss of anatase. The method of Dolcater et al. (1970) for concentrating titanium as a free oxide requires the use of hydrofluotitanic acid (H2TiF6), which is difficult to find on the commercial market. The acid can be prepared by the reaction of concentrated HF (48%) with an excess of TiO2, but the procedure requires 36 hours to complete and should be attempted with caution because it is highly exothermic. Jackson (1979) provides a detailed method for digesting soils, but many of the recommended pretreatment steps employ sodium compounds such as sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), sodium citrate (Na3C6H5O7-2H2O), and sodium dithionate (Na2S2O4), which are used for the removal of calcium carbonate, iron oxides, and phosphates. In combining the methods of Dolcater and Jackson, sodium compounds must be thoroughly washed from the sample because they form sodium fluotitanate (Na2TiF6) in the presence of hydrofluotitanic acid (Fig. 1K). French and Adams (1973) described an inexpensive method for decomposing silicates by HF digestion in polypropylene containers. Their technique was effective for a wide variety of rock types. However, it did not address the problem caused by the precipitation of insoluble fluorides, nor did it outline a procedure to concentrate any residue that remained.

As no one method gave the results we required, we modified procedures described in the literature and developed a process that removes 96 to 98 wt percent of the raw sample material. The residue is composed of rutile and minor amounts of micro- and cryptocrystalline TiO2 (Fig. 1A-J), barite (Fig. 1L), elemental carbon (coal), and insoluble fluorides (Fig. 1J). The fluorides precipitate during the decomposition of siliceous material in hydrofluoric acid (e.g., MgF2 and MgAlF5-2.7H2O; Lanmyhr and Kringstad, 1966).

Most of the sample analyzed by the method described were marine muds collected from the Gulf of Maine (Valentine and Commeau, 1990). The silt and clay fraction (up to 99 wt% of the sediment) is composed of clay minerals (chiefly illite-mica and chlorite), silt-size quartz and feldspar, and small crystals (2-12 um) of rutile and hematite. The bulk sediment samples contained an average of 2 to 3 wt percent CaCO3. Tiher samples analyzed include red and gray Carboniferous and Triassic sandstones and siltstones exposed around the Bay of Fundy region and Paleozoic sandstones, siltstones, and shales from northern Maine and New Brunswick. These rocks are probable sources for the fine-grained rutile found in the Gulf of Maine.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A method for the concentration of fine-grained rutile (TiO2) from sediment and sedimentary rocks by chemical leaching
Series title Economic Geology
DOI 10.2113/gsecongeo.86.4.878
Volume 86
Issue 4
Year Published 1991
Language English
Publisher Society of Economic Geologists
Publisher location Lancaster, PA
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 5 p.
First page 878
Last page 882
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N