Mineral Chemistry of Heavy Minerals in the Old Hickory Deposit, Sussex and Dinwiddie Counties, Virginia
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The Old Hickory is the largest of a series of Pliocene (?) age heavy mineral sand deposits in Virginia and North Carolina. The high density of heavy minerals allows for selective concentration during transport and deposition. Under the right conditions, placers of considerable size can be formed. The elliptically shaped ore body of the Old Hickory Deposit extends in a North - South direction and is approximately 13 km (8 miles) long and up to 2.5 km (1.5 miles) wide, with an average thickness of 6.5 m (20 feet). The deposit lies along the Fall Zone, where a thin wedge of Cenozoic Coastal Plain sediments unconformably overlies the older rocks of the Piedmont.
The principal minerals of economic interest found in the heavy mineral sands at the site are ilmenite (FeTiO3), leucoxene (Fe2-xTi3+xO9+x/2) where x is less than or equal to 2, rutile (TiO2), and zircon (ZrSiO4). An important focus of this study is the alteration of ilmenite by leaching away of iron, which results in enrichment in titanium. Titanium metal is highly valued for its light weight and high strength. In terms of total economic value, however, the use of titanium dioxide pigments for paint, coated paper, and other products is far more important. As the value of the ore is heavily dependent on the titanium content, the weathering process is a matter of considerable interest to the mineral industry.
Analysis of ilmenite grains using reflected light microscopy revealed a wide range of alteration textures. Quantitative analysis and mapping of trace elements showed altered areas with enrichment in Ti and depletion in Fe, Mn, Mg, and Cr. It is believed that the weathering process took place in a reducing environment prior to final deposition according to the reaction:
Fe2+TiO3 + 2H+ --> Fe2+ (aq) + TiO2 + H2O
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