Humans have decorated their bodies and their surroundings with paint, tinted with various natural substances, for hundreds of thousands of years. The oldest of these colors is ochre, made from a form of iron oxide — which also turns streams affected by acid mine drainage orange.
A new plant on Truetown Road will use a process developed at Ohio University to turn the iron oxide in mine runoff into commercially usable pigments for paint. Water from polluted waterways is treated to reduce its acidity, then infused with oxygen. That makes iron oxide form crystals, which separate from the water as a slurry that is dried and ground into pigment.
That pigment isn’t limited to ochre: The process can create shades of yellow, brown and black by heating the powder at different temperatures.
Natural pigments like those sold by True Pigments don’t tint paint as heavily as synthetic ones. That allows artists to build color in multiple layers to create the desired effect, or mix colors without any one pigment dominating the rest. They’re also a better match to colors used by artists before the development of synthetic pigments in the 19th century.
On the other hand, natural pigments are less vibrant than synthetic ones, and are more vulnerable to fading over time by exposure to light.
Less than 10% of the iron oxide pigment used in the U.S. was produced domestically in 2021, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Sources of natural iron oxide pigment are Cyprus, Spain, France and Austria. The True Pigments plant on Truetown Road will be able to fulfill 0.5% of the U.S. market for iron oxide pigment, according to Rural Action.
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