BRINK, VA. -- A study by a scientist at the College of William and Mary has found relatively high concentrations of titanium in Southside Virginia and sparked a rush of companies coming in to set up test mines and negotiate leases with landowners.
While 3 percent titanium is the industry standard for opening a mine, most Greensville County sites tested so far range from 2 percent to 20 percent.
One field was found to have concentrations of 40 percent to 60 percent.
C.R. Berquist of the College of William and Mary found titanium specks in soil samples in 1982, but he largely forgot about them until titanium showed up in samples from along the coast in 1986.
After noting the Southside concentrations were much higher, he went back to Southside for more testing, and published his work in 1988.
The United States imports 80 percent of its titanium from Australia, and an Australian firm, Southeast TiSand Joint Venture, has rushed in to negotiate leases for about 3,000 acres.
A Florida company has signed leases for 7,000 acres.
The economic potential is difficult to judge because the companies don't want to discuss finances while they are negotiating leases.
Titanium sells for about $100 a ton.
Roy McMillan, technical director for Southeast TiSand, said at least one mining operation and a separation plant are planned for Greensville County and that the cost will exceed $20 million.
McMillan said about 30 people would be employed at each facility.
Titanium is mined by scooping up about 20 acres of topsoil to make a shallow pond.
Dredges scoop sand from the bottom of the pond and the sand is taken to a separation facility. The leftover sand is returned to the pond, and as one end of the pond fills up, the other end is dredged.
McMillan expects to start applying for all the necessary state permits -- including water, which is heavily used in titanium mining -- by this fall. He hopes to have test mines working by next March.
McMillan added that the titanium deposits could last for 12 to 15 years.