British-Australian international mining group Rio Tinto has acquired 37 percent shareholding in a sand mining and mineral processing project in South Africa from Australian group BHP Billiton for $1.91 billion.

Rio Tinto said it has completed its acquisition of BHP Billiton’s entire interests in Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) , thus doubling its shareholding to 72 percent.

RBM produces titanium minerals, high purity pig iron, rutile and zircon as well as space age metals.

Rio Tinto is now majority shareholder of RBM which posted $1.2 billion in revenues in 2011. A consortium of local communities and businesses own the remaining 24 percent while 2 percent is held by RBM employees in line with South Africa’s Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment legislation.

“Doubling our stake in this tier one asset further strengthens Rio Tinto’s titanium dioxide portfolio at a time when the long-term outlook remains robust. Demand for feedstocks is expected to grow strongly, needing the equivalent of a new operation the size of RBM to be built every two and a half years,” said Rio Tinto Diamonds & Minerals Chief executive Alan Davies said

The RBM operation located in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, is one of the world’s lowest cost producers and has mineral resources to support 20 years of production. RBM produced 14 percent of global titanium dioxide feedstock sales and 18% share of global zircon sales last year.

Rio Tinto’s acquisition of BHP Billiton’s stake in RBM was triggered on February 2012 by BHP Billiton exercising a put option agreed with Rio Tinto as part of RBM’s restructuring in 2009.

“The divestment reflects the company’s commitment to a simpler, more scalable upstream portfolio,” said BHP Billiton.

Last month BHP Billiton signed an agreement to sell its wholly owned Yeelirrie uranium deposit in Western Australia to one of the world’s largest publicly listed uranium producers, Cameco Corporation for $430 million.

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