Iluka Resources Ltd. on Wednesday said it intends to demerge the Sierra Leone mineral sands business it purchased five years ago to focus on its Australian operations, including its foray into rare earths.

Iluka acquired its Sierra Rutile business in December, 2016, in a bid to expand its resources base and get access to a rich deposit of rutile, used as a pigment for paints and plastics. But its operations there have faced production setbacks because of the Covid-19 pandemic and worker strikes, and Iluka failed to secure an investor to help advance its flagship development project.

The miner said it wants to spin off Sierra Rutile as an independent Australia-listed company this year, subject to shareholder and other approvals.

“Iluka’s business has evolved significantly since it acquired Sierra Rutile in 2016, with our strategic and capital allocation priorities now focused on our Australian operations and development projects,” said Managing Director Tom O’Leary.

Iluka last week said it had secured a loan from the Australian government to build a rare earths refinery at its Eneabba mine site in Western Australia. The planned refinery could supply up to 9% of the global market for rare-earth oxides once built, said Australia’s resources minister, Keith Pitt.

Mr. O’Leary called the refinery, which is expected to cost up to 1.2 billion Australian dollars (US$895 million) to build, “a defining opportunity” for Iluka to feed rising global demand for rare earths, used in electric vehicles and renewable energy infrastructure.

Directors have meantime decided demerging Sierra Rutile–which it bought for A$375 million–is the best outcome for shareholders, Iluka said.

That follows a failed campaign, started in late 2020, to find a partner to invest in Sierra Rutile’s flagship Sembehun project.

“Having progressed these discussions, the Iluka board has concluded that it is too early to crystallize an appropriate value for the Sembehun development; and that a demerger, which provides shareholders with the option to retain an exposure to Sembehun, is a more appropriate outcome,” said Iluka.

Mr. O’Leary said the Sierra Rutile unit had been improving operationally. “The business has demonstrated improved performance throughout the second half of 2021, which has continued in 2022,” he said.

Shares in Sierra Rutile would be distributed to Iluka investors on a pro rata basis in proportion to their shareholding in Iluka on a date to be determined by the board, the company said.