Zircon Industry Association, 24 Old Bond Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4AP, UK

ZIA Research Projects

ZIA aims to promote and support the development of new applications for zircon and its derivatives, as well as existing applications. As part of this mission, market development activity includes the commissioning of zircon related research.

Below is a summary of the most recent research projects supported by ZIA. It is notable that both of these projects relate to the ceramics industry. The ceramics industry is the most significant market for zircon, consuming approximately 50% of the zircon produced globally. However, the ZIA Technical Committee welcome all research proposals. Find out how to apply.

Understanding the effect of metamictization on the efficiency of zircon milling

Metamictization is a term used to describe the natural process by which the crystal structure of a mineral is destroyed over time by alpha radiation. The effects of metamictization on the physical properties of zircon include changes to hardness, density, and fracture toughness.

The aims of the project were to develop a classification of zircons based on metamictization level, and to assess the relationship between metamictization and milling performance.

Samples with low levels of metamictization were found to achieve a marginally smaller particle size compared to samples with high levels of metamictization. The results also reveal a poorer overall dry milling efficiency for high metamict samples, which could impact energy consumption, product quality, and require further processing of zircon with a high level of metamictization. The authors conclude that this study creates a novel link between the milling behaviour of zircon and the level of metamictization. Results and knowledge gained from this work are relevant to both zircon millers and zircon producers. The peer-reviewed paper ‘Understanding the effect of metamictization on the efficiency of zircon milling’ was published in Minerals Engineering journal.

The research was completed at Birmingham University (UK) with the support of ZIA’s Technical Committee and those members who generously provided zircon sand samples.

Thermal performances of ceramic glazes containing zircon

A ZIA commissioned study has concluded that the addition of zircon increases the solar reflectance of ceramic tiles. A paper summarizing the findings of the study was presented at the ECerS conference in Turin (June 2019). It reported how if zircon-containing ceramic tiles are used as a building envelope, they improve the thermal comfort within the building by reducing energy requirements. When compared to other existing solutions including paints and cool paints, it reduces maintenance costs due to the high resistance of ceramic tiles to wear, dirt and stains.

The study, commissioned by the Zircon Industry Association and Centro Ceramico (Bologna), evaluated the effect of adding zircon to ceramic glazes of various colours. Carried out both on a laboratory scale and by field trials, zircon was added to 36 tile samples both as an opacifier directly into the glaze formulation (up to 10wt%), and as frit component (up to 6.6 wt%). The solar reflective index (SRI) was calculated on all samples. The colorimetric coordinates were also determined, to evaluate any colour variation due to the presence of zircon. The thermal performance of the samples was automatically monitored every 30 minutes in an outdoor environment during the hot Italian summer period (June to September 2018). Results of tests carried out on the samples of glazed ceramic tiles show that, in general, the addition of zircon increases the solar reflectance index (SRI) of the glazes, the effect being more pronounced when zircon is added as an opacifier. Also, as the zircon percentage in the glaze increases the SRI value increases linearly for all the colours analysed. Monitoring of the surface temperatures of the tile samples when exposed outdoors to solar radiation confirms that the higher values of brightness and solar reflectance parameters of the glaze are associated entirely to the addition of zircon.

Performance and cost optimisation in ceramic tile production: achieving whiteness and opacity through zircon opacifier

This paper, published in Ceramic Forum International, October 2015, reports the findings from a ZIA commissioned study by the Spanish Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica (ITC). They undertook a comparative study of the performance of zircon against alternative materials in ceramic tile applications, namely bodies, glazes, frits, and engobes. This paper presents the key findings, particularly the effect of opacifier particle size on performance in porcelain tile bodies.

Market Support & Development

We aim to support the zircon market by responding to industry issues, by developing new applications for zircon and by enhancing existing applications for zircon wherever possible.