Titanium in Virginia

titanium has eroded from the Blue Ridge, including the Tye River region, and accumulated in Coastal Plain sediments (yellow)
titanium has eroded from the Blue Ridge, including the Tye River region, and accumulated in Coastal Plain sediments (yellow)
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Heavy-Mineral Sand Resources in the Southeastern U.S.

Titanium, in commercially-valuable deposits, has been found in Virginia in the Blue Ridge on the Piney River, in Hanover County, and near Emporia in the Old Hickory Heavy Mineral Sand Deposit.

Within the United States, titanium is mined in just Virginia, Nevada and Utah. In Virginia, in addition to the Roseland-Piney River district, titanium ore has been mined from Montpelier metanorthosite (a metamorphosed rock that was once molten magma) in the Goochland terrane in the Piedmont physiographic province, and from sediments on the Coastal Plain.

The Piedmont deposits in Hanover and Goochland counties were in thick saprolite. It had formed from the decay of underlying granitic biotite gneiss where the bedrock was cut by pegmatite dikes rich in rutile and ilmenite, which are oxides of totanium. Titanium, like quartz, dissolves very slowly in water. Crystals of other minerals such as feldpar transform into clay particles and wash away, concentrating the titanium that is less mobile.

Mining titanium started in 1957. Since 1993, the operation has focused on producing feldspar and silica products.1

titanium has been mined in the Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain
titanium has been mined in the Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain
Source: Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), Titanium

Titanium minerals washed downstream from ore bodies west of the Blue Ridge, and from saprolite in the Piedmont, to the location of the Atlantic Ocean shoreline. As much as five million years ago, the heavy grains of ilmenite, rutile, and zircon were concentrated by wave action in Pliocene Epoch beach deposits now located in Dinwiddie, Greensville, and Sussex counties.

Similar deposits in South Carolina, far from major rivers, suggest that titanium grains were carried by major rivers from the Piedmont and initially deposited on the Continental Shelf. As sea level rose, offshore sand shoals were carried inland. Currents and waves sorted the sands as they were redeposited, enriching them with relatively heavy titanium and zircon grains. When sea level dropped again, the enriched deposits were left on the upland.2

Because the titanium minerals are particularly heavy, the grains are separated from quartz sand by gravity; waves did this naturally when sea level was higher and the ocean shoreline was further west. The Old Hickory Heavy Mineral Sand Deposit has been mined commercially by RGC Mineral Sands and its successor corporation, Iluka Resources.

titanium oxides have eroded from around the Blue Ridge and accumulated in sediments on the Coastal Plain
titanium oxides that eroded from west of the Blue Ridge, and from metamorphic rocks in the Piedmont, have accumulated in sediments on the Coastal Plain
Source: Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Titanium

Other wave-concentrated titanium deposits may still be located offshore, underneath the modern ocean. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) has identified the sandbars offshore of Sandbridge, Assateague, and Wallops Island as having the greatest potential for commercial development. The first opportunity to mine deposits naturally enriched with titanium may be associated with beach replenishment efforts, which dredge up the sandbars and barge/pump them onshore to restore beaches from which the sand has eroded. Commercial mining might be possible by sorting out the heavy titanium grain when sand is dredged/pumped, or as it is emplaced on a beach.3

old beach sands which concentrated titanium-rich minerals have been mined near Emporia
old beach sands which concentrated titanium-rich minerals have been mined near Emporia
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Titanium was first valued as a pigment, before being used during the 20th Century in airplanes such as the SR-71 Blackbird where the metal could withstand high temperatures. "Titanium white" pigment was discovered in 1908, and its brilliance revolutionized pigment technology.

Yale University used the relatively recent development on titanium in inks to determine that its Vinland Map was a fake. The university proposed in 1965 that the map dated from 1440, four centuries after Vikings settled in Newfoundland and 50 years before Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Within a decade, Yale acknowledged the map could be a modern forgery, but not until 2021 did chemical analysis of the ink conclusively reveal a titanium compound (anatase) that was commercially produced in Norway in 1923.

A 1908 metallurgist was not the first to discover the capacity of titanium to make a bright white color. Around 1530 the Inca started to use titanium dioxide in their geometrical designs on wooden drinking cups. The titanium was extracted from the Giacomo Deposit on the modern Peru-Chile border, where quartz sands had been enriched naturally with the mineral. After 50 years of Spanish occupation, the Inca switched to lead oxide to make their white pigment, and their use of titanium was not recognized until 2018.4

Minerals of Virginia

Mining Titanium on the Tye River

Titanium in the Old Hickory Heavy Mineral Sand Deposit

Virginia Blue Ridge Railway

discovery of titanium-based ink developed in the 1920's revealed the Vinland map to be a modern forgery, not a product dating from 1440
discovery of titanium-based ink developed in the 1920's revealed the Vinland map to be a modern forgery, not a product dating from 1440
Source: Wikipedia, Vinland Map

Links

titanium occurrences occur in bedrock, saprolite, and old beach sands
titanium occurrences occur in bedrock, saprolite, and old beach sands
Source: Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), Potential Titanium Occurrences in Virginia

References

1. "Titanium," Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), https://www.dmme.virginia.gov/dgmr/titanium.shtml (last checked April 21, 2021)
2. Anjana K. Shah et al., "Mapping Critical Minerals from the Sky," GSA Today, Volume 21, Number 11 (November, 2021), https://doi.org/10.1130/GSATG512A.1 (last checked November 6, 2021)
3. "Iluka Resources Inc. Concord Mine Conditional Use Permit Support Document," Iluka Resources, October 2013, p.3, http://www.dinwiddieva.us/DocumentCenter/View/1816/C-13-4-Iluka-Support-Doc; "Titanium," Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), https://www.dmme.virginia.gov/dgmr/titanium.shtml; Jessi S. Blanchette, William L. Lassetter, "Assessment of offshore sand resources for beach remediation in Virginia," Open File Report 2019-02, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, July 2019, p.1, https://dmme.virginia.gov/commercedocs/OFR_2019_02.pdf (last checked April 21, 2021)
4. "How the Inca Discovered a Prized Pigment," Smithsonian, June 2021, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/inca-discovered-prized-pigment-180977704/; "Yale Says Its Vinland Map, Once Called a Medieval Treasure, Is Fake," New York Times, September 30, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/30/us/yale-vinland-map-fake.html; "Analysis unlocks secret of the Vinland Map - it's a fake," Yale News, September 1, 2021, https://news.yale.edu/2021/09/01/analysis-unlocks-secret-vinland-map-its-fake (last checked October 5, 2021)


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