Titanium – A fantastic mineral that the United States does not need near the Okefenokee Swamp

By guest columnist JOE COOK, Georgia River Network Guide Author and Freelance Journalist

Titanium. When a German scientist isolated the element in 1795, he named it after the fanciful tales of the Titans, the giants who once ruled Earth in Greek mythology.

Joe cook

Today in Georgia, the developers of a titanium mine project a few miles from the Okefenokee Swamp would have us believe in the equally fanciful myth that its mine “will produce substantial benefits for the nation – for the economy.” national as well as for national security ”… and not to harm the swamp.

When I heard Steve Ingle of Twin Pines Minerals make this statement to the media last fall and then read the company’s federal documents which further claimed that the mine would “reduce the dependence of the United States on foreign imports of critical mineral resources ”piqued my journalistic curiosity. .

Could a single Charlton County mine really accomplish so much? And what was that titanium that could mean so much for our “national security”. And, if this ore was so critical, was mining it from Trail Ridge along the eastern border of the Okefenokee Swamp worth the risk of the swamp itself? So, I investigated.

A titanium mine project seeks permission to draw water daily from the Florida aquifer. Defenders of the Okefenokee Swamp fear the abstraction will impact groundwater levels, as well as the swamp. Special: Joe Cook

Full Disclosure: I am a contract employee of the Georgia River Network, one of dozens of organizations that formed the Okefenokee Protection Alliance last year with the goal of shutting down the mine. Having said that, I am also a journalist by training, and I approached this investigation as best I could, with a journalist’s hat – not a lawyer. All of what I discovered can be read on this separate page of SaportaReport.

Here are some key points from this survey:

  • Titanium is an important mineral but not rare or difficult to find.
  • 90% of the world’s titanium is transformed into titanium dioxide to make pigments for use in paint, plastics, paper and other applications.
  • Virtually all of the titanium used to build US fighter jets and other national defense applications is imported. No US mine or processing company converts titanium-containing minerals into titanium sponge, the raw material needed to create metals and alloys.
  • The United States holds only 10% of the world’s titanium reserves and as such will likely always be dependent on foreign sources.

The bottom line: Any claim that the heavy mineral sands mine proposed by Twin Pines Minerals will produce “substantial benefits for the nation – for the national economy as well as for national security” is overstated at best, and at worst , clearly false.

titanium sands

The heavy minerals of the sands along the Georgian coast appear in the dark colors familiar to those who have walked along a Georgian beach. Credit: Rena Ann Peck

Titanium is sort of a wonderful mineral. It is corrosion resistant and as strong as steel, but weighs 40% less than steel. It is also one of the most biocompatible metals known to man. These properties have led to sexier uses of the titanium sponge in the manufacture of hip joints, mountain bikes, golf clubs, and especially bombers and fighter jets.

Because of these high-profile uses, titanium, the metal, has assumed almost mythical importance as “rare” and “critical” – one as giant, and equally dubious of truth, as the tales of its namesakes. Greek.

In truth, the main uses of titanium are for pedestrians – over 90% of the titanium mined in the world is transformed into titanium dioxide, an important pigment that has little in common with the titanium used to make sexy metals. .

And titanium is anything but rare. In the United States, it is found in 20 states, with the Atlantic Coastal Plain holding significant reserves. Visit any beach along the Atlantic coast, collect a handful of sand, and there’s a good chance you’ve got sand that contains titanium. Globally, it is found on every continent except Antarctica.

Currently, the only place in the United States where titanium is mined is along an 80-mile strip of land stretching from northern Florida to South Georgia, and none of that titanium ends its life in as a metal used for national defense purposes.

In fact, there is currently no domestic producer of titanium sponge. Instead, the United States imports 90 percent of its titanium sponge from a longtime ally, Japan. While the Trump administration has sounded the alarm bells over this dependence on imports, those within the industry remain indifferent.

Twin Pines Minerals is proposing to mine sand from a site on the southeastern edge of the Okefenokee Marsh, extract valuable minerals and return the remaining materials to the burrow and replant the area. Credit: Georgia River System

The Aerospace Industries Association, representing industries that are the primary users of titanium sponge, said in comments to the federal government earlier this year: “The current global market dynamics do not justify investing in US production. titanium sponge, so the US titanium industry import most of our industry’s raw materials, as has been done for over 50 years…. The partnership with Japan safely fills this gap, as Japan is a long-standing and reliable supplier of high quality titanium sponges.

With the United States holding only 10% of the world’s titanium reserves, we will always be dependent on foreign sources, for both titanium sponge and titanium dioxide. No amount of digging on Trail Ridge next to the Okefenokee will change that.

The good news is that the ore is plentiful and that our global rivals – China and Russia – while holding large reserves of titanium, are not our main suppliers. According to the US Geological Survey, in recent years, China and Russia have supplied around 2% of titanium sponge imports. The United States imports its titanium dioxide and other titanium mineral concentrates primarily from Canada, South Africa and Australia.

Visitors to the Okefenokee Swamp have an estimated economic impact of $ 64.7 million per year in local communities. Special: Joe Cook

Is titanium important to our national economy and our national defense? It’s certain.

But, it is pure myth to suggest that the proposed Twin Pines mine in Charlton County will help build fighter jets or reduce our supposed dependence on global competitors for titanium.

The question then becomes: is it wise to risk one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders in the Okefenokee Swamp to dig up a common ore that can be mined elsewhere without such risks?

The reporter in me leaves that question to you. The lawyer in me replies: “No, no, but damn it!

Note to readers: contact details for Joe Cook Paddle Georgia for the Georgia River Network and is writing the guide series produced by a partnership between Georgia River Network and University of Georgia Press.

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