Norway’s ilmenite: where history and innovation combine


Norway has a long tradition of ilmenite mining – believed to have started as early as 1785 in the Egersund area of Rogaland County in southwest Norway. This is exactly where we are investigating ilmenite deposits again today. Although allegedly the element ‘Ti’ was first isolated in 1789, it was to be nearly 130 years before it could be used on an industrial scale. Chemists Drs Peder Farup and Gustav Jebsen developed in 1916 a method to produce the white Ti02 pigment – known today as the sulphate process. From then on, ‘modern’ technology allowed titanium dioxide to be mass produced.

Black and white

Ilmenite – the mineral in its rawest form – is black or dark grey with a metallic lustre. And this is certainly true of the ilmenite found at Norge Mining’s sites in Egersund; it’s almost completely black. Surprisingly perhaps, titanium, its ore, and the main source of titanium dioxide, is mostly used as a white pigment in the manufacturing of many products – from paint to food additives, ceramics, cosmetics, and adhesives.

Here are just a few other ways Ti02 is already commonly used:

  • Sunscreen: titanium dioxide is very effective at blocking ultraviolet rays from the sun.
  • Toothpaste: it doesn’t have any dental benefit, but Ti02 does improve the whiteness of the product itself.
  • Soap: used to lighten the colour of the bar.

Innovation & art

Interestingly, this ability to turn such a vast array of things white has led researchers in Norway to explore how the colour has changed surfaces in art, architecture, and design worldwide. A new project called ‘How Norway Made the World Whiter’ – that’s been funded by a national Norwegian grant – will connect the themes of whiteness, technological innovation, and investigations into natural resources.

Associate Professor of Bergen University, Ingrid Halland – the brains behind this new endeavour – and her partners, such as Titania AS and the Dalane Folkemuseum, have received NOK 12 million from the Research Council of Norway for this project.

“The overall goal is to critically examine the cultural and aesthetic prerequisites of a complex and unexplored part of Norwegian technology and innovation history that has – as this project boldly claims – made the world whiter,” explains Ingrid Halland.

Industrial history

In due course, the exhibition will be shown in the Jøssingfjord Science Museum, part of the Dalane Folk Museum. In the words of June Stuen, the Museum Director: «The industrial history of Jøssingfjord and Sokndal is so exciting, with the development of titanium white. It was easy to say yes to being part of this collaboration when we were invited 1.5 years ago. If you want to take a stand, it’s important to know what mining is actually being used for and the history behind it.»

It’s hoped the project will reveal the complex and interesting story of how a local Norwegian innovation has come to have such huge worldwide consequences and benefits. It’s certainly a timely investigation, as interest in Norway’s huge deposits of titanium (containing ilmenite) – an EU Critical Raw Material – is growing once again, nearly two and a half centuries after its initial discovery in the country.