Southern deposit yields rich minerals and economic growth
At its Mission Mine in Southeast Georgia, Southern Ionics Minerals (SIM) extracts high-quality Zircon sand that has unique properties of strength and endurance, enabling SIM’s U.S. customers to produce high end products that are important to our country’s security and economy. For the segment of rural Georgia that comprises Brantley, Charlton and Pierce counties, SIM’s operations are a productive and vital economic component. It takes people to turn ancient beach sands into industrial treasures; SIM employs more than 130 workers from the area, and keeps many more contractors and vendors busy.
The company also mines other minerals such as Titanium, but manufacturers of high performance industrial parts consider Zircon to be the mineral of choice. That’s because it’s tough, durable and resistant to extreme heat.
Ancient beach sands to high-tech components
From SIM’s mine in Charlton County, mineral sands enter a processing chain that ultimately morphs them into the Zircon diamond-in-the rough -- expensive but always in demand. SIM’s crews extract Zircon-containing mineral sand from the Mission Mine in Charlton County and transport it to the Mineral Separation Plant in neighboring Pierce County for processing before it’s transported to customers. Using advanced technology, the SIM team produces these valuable minerals with a minimal impact to the environment.
After it leaves the SIM plant, the Zircon undergoes several stages of refining along the way before it becomes the prime ingredient in an industrial process called “precision investment casting”—making valuable and completely fail-safe parts for equipment such as airplane turbine blades.
Treasured by customers who make these precision investment casting parts for defense, industrial and consumer products, this premium Zircon is only found in southeast Georgia and north Florida. Here’s how precision investment casting works: after a product’s wax pattern is coated with ceramic material (which contains Zircon when extra durability is needed), it hardens into the shape of the casting while the wax melts out. Molten metal is poured into the remaining cavity, forming a part such as a turbine blade for an airplane engine or a natural gas turbine.
Supporting our national security while promoting our local communities
SIM-produced Zircon also serves a dual national security purpose: the minerals not only enable the production of completely reliable parts for defense aircraft, but the availability of U.S.-produced minerals means American manufacturers can reduce their reliance on raw materials from overseas.
Offerman-based SIM is one of only two domestic producers of Zircon.
What makes Georgia Zircon so valuable?
The Zirconium Silicate mineral Zircon is often referred to as “Zircon sand.” It’s also known as “ZrSiO4” – an appellation that reflects its main components: Zirconium, Silicon, and Oxygen.
The type of Zircon sand found in Georgia and North Florida has unique physical properties that make it the only Zircon in the world suitable for precision investment casting: it’s highly heat-resistant, with a melting point of 4,000 Fahrenheit. This gives it the insulating ability to be used in high temperature refractory applications such as steel foundries, glass furnaces and automotive brake pads.
Through its successful operations in Southeast Georgia, SIM has demonstrated it has the commitment and the capability to extract and process the valuable Zircon in a way that is safe and protective of the environment, and supportive of its communities. So far, SIM has invested more than $150 million in Southeast Georgia operations and personnel. The company sources at least 56 per cent of its goods and services in Georgia.