A practice to extract sand through open pit is known as sand mining. Usually, the sand is mined from the dredged ocean beds, river beds, beaches and inland dunes. Sand mining is done to extract minerals such as rutile, ilmenite and zircon, which hold elements like titanium and zirconium, which are industrially useful. The sand mining industry is misunderstood, because it has caused concerns in the past.
Sand mining is practiced in India by various industries. The beaches of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, yield these rare earth minerals through sand mining. They are abundant in seven elements i.e. garnet, ilmenite, leucoxene, monazite, rutile, sillimanite, and zircon. These elements or ores yield niobium, tantalum, titanium, thorium, and other elements, when processed. They are utilized by a wide range of industries i.e. such as electronics, energy, plastics, paints, construction, shipping, paper, and nuclear.
Based on their physical properties, these rare earth minerals are extracted using different techniques and methods. The raw material extracted is then sorted using magnetism, conductivity, and gravity to separate the six or seven minerals. High tension and magnetic separators pull out ilmenite, monazite, rutile, and garnet while zircon and sillimanite are separated by their specific gravity in spiral concentrators. Generally, chemicals are not used in the separation of these minerals.
India’s one of the largest sand mining firm is VV Mineral (VVM). VVM uses sun to dry the minerals rather than using diesel powered kilns. The water which is used during the separation process is recycled and treated. Few tailings that are generated are dumped into a small pond of recycled water where the sand bed acts as a natural filter. VV Mineral is India’s largest garnet and ilmenite exporter. They have won several awards and certifications for their environmentally friendly mining processes. Their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) involves employment of local youth, health coverage, education, and several other services to the area.