Austpac Resources became involved in the Westport ilmenite sand deposits in New Zealand in 1988. Extensive trialling and innovative experimentation have led to the development of Austpac's ERMS roasting process to separate refractory ilmenites, and subsequently to the EARS acid regeneration process and more recently to a continuous leaching process. Since the mid-1990s Austpac has focused on its mineral processing and waste recycling technologies, and they have now reached the point where they are ready to be used commercially.
A 3,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) ERMS SR Demonstration Plant was built in two stages during 2008 at Austpac’s facilities in Newcastle, NSW. The purpose of the Demonstration Plant was to successfully prove the Company’s technologies by operating continuously under commercial conditions, thereby providing data for detailed engineering design and costing for a 60,000 tpa commercial ERMS SR plant. The ERMS SR process, which combines aspects of the ERMS and EARS technologies, cost competitively produces the world's highest quality synrutile (>97% TiO2). Austpac's technologies are environmentally friendly and the end products are free of the radioactivity issues associated with some alternative technologies. Over 70 ilmenites from deposits around the world have successfully been treated, indicating the versatility of the ERMS SR process.
In 2009, it was recognised that the EARS section of the ERMS SR Demonstration Plant could be used to recycle waste from the steel industry on a commercial scale. However, the existing plant required refurbishing to enable long term operation, and Austpac focused on the design and funding for this section, and the Newcastle Iron Recovery Plant project commenced. Construction of this Plant commenced in 2011 and the project is now 85% complete. Commissioning is expected to commence later in 2015.
Austpac has also developed the LTR process for low temperature roasting of both fresh and weathered ilmenites. The LTR process removes deleterious minerals such a chromite with ilmenite recoveries generally over 90%. LTR-roasted ilmenite can be used to make titanium dioxide pigment using either the chloride or sulfate route processes.
Austpac has patented a reactor for the continuous leaching of ilmenite. This produces high grade synrutile more efficiently than the batch processes currently used to upgrade ilmenite. Austpac's competitive advantage is that the ERMS SR process produces superior products at a lower cost. Austpac’s technologies are protected by patents around the world.