Scielo RSS <![CDATA[Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy]]> vol. 109 num. 10 lang. en <![CDATA[SciELO Logo]]> <![CDATA[<b>A Mintek perspective of the past 25 years in minerals bioleaching</b>]]> SYNOPSIS The microbial leaching of metal sulfides is now an established biotechnological technology. Over the past 25 years, refinements in the engineering design of bioleaching processes have paralleled advances in our understanding of the diversity and role of the micro-organisms driving the process and the mechanisms by which micro-organisms enhance metal sulfide oxidation. Commercial success started with the treatment of refractory gold concentrates using mesophilic micro-organisms, followed by the development of tank bioleaching processes for the treatment of base metal concentrates. This was, initially, a mesophilic process with limited potential for recovery of copper from chalcopyrite concentrates due to slow rates and low copper extractions. The exploitation of thermophiles represents a major breakthrough in the development of bioleaching technology for the treatment of chalcopyritecontaining ores and concentrates. This development also opened the route to heap bioleaching of chalcopyrite ores, which is now a major focus of research programmes and piloting campaigns. This paper reviews the historical development of minerals bioleaching processes and gives an update on the current status of commercial tank and heap bioleach operations around the world. <![CDATA[<b>Automated SEM study of PGM distribution across a UG2 flotation concentrate bank: Implications for understanding PGM floatability</b>]]> SYNOPSIS The characterization of platinum group minerals (PGMs) from concentrator flotation circuits provides valuable information towards understanding PGM recovery under given milling and flotation conditions. Additional mineralogical characterization also provides information on ore variability, which may affect recovery. Considering the low grades involved, automated scanning electron microscopy (SEM) characterization of PGMs has enabled relatively quick analyses, compared with older, time consuming and less accurate optical microscopy methods. Over the years, parameters, such as species, size distribution, liberation, gangue and base metal sulfide (BMS) associations, have been used to characterize the PGMs in a process mineralogical context, to aid metallurgical interpretation. This paper considers whether flotation indices determined for PGMs can be empirically validated, using initial results from analysis of PGMs in a concentrate bank from a South African concentrator treating UG2 ore from the western limb of the Bushveld Complex. The aim is to determine whether floatability is adequately described by these parameters, or whether other mineralogical factors must be considered when assessing PGM floatability, and hence accounting for recovery vs. losses to tails. The data obtained to date, show that flotation parameters (including liberation index, BMS/gangue relationships and size distribution) have merits where large changes in PGM concentration occur, as observed in the first four cells of the concentrate bank. Larger data sets, however, are required to assess floatability, particularly where concentrate cell grades are similar, as observed in the last six cells of the concentrate bank. Furthermore, the floatability indices could be enhanced by the incorporation of selected associated gangue mineral information, chief amongst these being the content and mode of occurrence of naturally floatable talc and associated orthopyroxene. <![CDATA[<b>Recovery of base metals and PGMs in a DC alloy-smelting furnace</b>]]> Base metals and platinum group metals can be collected in metallic alloy form, via a wide variety of smelting processes. The recovery, or degree of collection, of the valuable metals is a function of the extent of reduction in the furnace, which, in turn, is indicated by the fraction of iron present in the feed materials that report to the alloy. An equation has been developed that relates the recovery of various metals (such as Ni, Co, Cr, and PGMs) to the recovery of Fe. This recovery equation (for each metal) is characterized by a single parameter (Ky) that can either be empirically fitted to the data, or expressed in terms of the equilibrium constant and the ratios of the activity coefficients involved. Data from a number of varied DC arc furnace campaigns are presented to illustrate this behaviour. <![CDATA[<b>The effectiveness of current control of submerged arc furnace electrode penetration in selected scenarios</b>]]> The electrical control of three-electrode submerged-arc furnaces suffers from a number of complexities, mostly due to the nature of the furnace electrical circuit providing power to the furnace where the three electrodes are interconnected within the furnace through the molten metal bath. This gives rise to what is known as the interaction effect2, where variations in one electrode's current can cause comparable changes to the currents in the other electrodes, particularly in larger furnaces with low power factor. Resistance-based control of the electrode penetration has largely alleviated these problems, since the resistance encountered by each electrode is predominantly dictated by the length and conductivity of the current path from the electrode's tip to the molten metal bath, which acts as the three-phase circuit's floating neutral point. Hence resistance changes due to tip position or conductivity changes beneath one electrode do not affect the resistances beneath the others, effectively decoupling the control of the individual electrodes┬╣. Although resistance-based control is therefore generally accepted as superior to current-based control for the regulation of submerged-arc furnace electrode penetration, a few furnace operators still prefer to use current control under specific furnace conditions. This paper presents the results of analysing the performance of both current and resistance-based control in typical scenarios encountered on industrial furnaces, taking into account a number of factors including electrode penetration, power distribution, efficiency and asymmetry of the electrode currents. In order to accomplish this, three typically encountered scenarios were simulated. The results obtained show that resistance control provides more benefit in all cases, however, the uneven electrode current distribution generated by resistance control when electrodes are on top stops may cause some concern if baking of the electrodes is required in this scenario. <![CDATA[<b>Impact of silica on hydrometallurgical and mechanical properties of RIP grade resins for uranium recovery</b>]]> Resin-in-pulp (RIP) technology has recently often been considered for the direct recovery of base metals and uranium from dense pulps. Implementation of RIP will eliminate the requirement for any solid-liquid separation downstream of leaching and has the potential to combine the recovery and purification steps, hence reducing both capital and operating costs. The recovery of the valuable metal is expected to be higher when RIP is used, especially where the leached solids are difficult to settle or filter, and to wash. The main concerns about the use of RIP for uranium recovery from dense pulps are the impact of silica on the resin's metallurgical performance and the operating costs that would be associated with resin loss. Although a number of resin manufacturers have been developing much improved RIP-grade resins, it is critical that the most cost-effective resin be selected. Mintek currently is doing a significant amount of work on silica fouling of RIP-grade strongbase resins in acidic leach liquors and the effect it has on the performance of the resin, including its durability. This paper describes the results of the test work done on silica fouling and its impact on plant design input data. Resin durability test work was done using various laboratory techniques, but durability was also evaluated on a relatively large scale using actual pumps, screens, and mechanical agitation. Based on the results generated, a preliminary economical evaluation was done to estimate the impact of resin loss on the overall economic viability of a specific application. <![CDATA[<b>Business improvement in the mining and metals industry</b>]]> SYNOPSIS In the mining and metals industry, business strategy demands that leaders extract more from any set of capital assets. This improvement is achieved through a combination of continuous improvement and upgrading of the assets. Continuous Improvement involves a series of incremental changes in the workplace to stabilize the process, remove waste, and test the limits of process capability. Enhanced Technology involves the replacement of an existing asset with a different process or equipment, to achieve a similar function in a more efficient and effective manner. The paper compares and contrasts the two methodologies and outlines the key business considerations which dictate how and when to select one or other improvement method. The paper also addresses the implications for these two improvement methods for those undertaking R&D in support of the mining and metals business. <![CDATA[<b>Production of Al-Ti master alloys from TiO<sub>2</sub> in a DC arc furnace</b>]]> The production of a 40% Al-Ti alloy was successfully proven at the lab scale, using pure TiO2, aluminium, and lime. These tests were conducted in an induction furnace maintained at 1600-16250C. The introduction of rutile into the feed recipe resulted in an alloy containing between 0.35 and 1.10% Zr, depending on rutile to TiO2 ratio. DC arc production of the alloy was largely accomplished at 40 and then 200kW scale. These tests evaluated various metallurgical and operational factors including target slag composition, Ticontent in the alloy, co-feeding versus sequential, furnace bath depth, and rutile as part of the Ti containing feedstock. Overall, an alloy containing 24-33%Ti was consistently produced with cofeeding of the reactants and with lower taphole tapping. When rutile was added, the zirconium analysis in the alloy remained below 0.2%. The main impurity elements were iron, silicon, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. <![CDATA[<b>Kinetic gold leach monitoring including cyanide speciation</b>]]> Traditionally, bottle roll tests have been used to optimize the extraction process for best gold extraction and recovery. Such tests typically involve exposing the ore to defined reagent concentrations (lime, cyanide and sufficient oxygen) and balance the gold input with recoveries and losses. With mounting pressures to accommodate sustainability issues during development work, it became apparent that much more information would be required on the interactions and kinetic behaviour of solid and solution species during the entire leach process. This information is vital to enable proactive management of critical issues such as cyanide, arsenic, water and tailings management. Inadequate management of these aspects has led to temporary closures and, in cases of noncompliance, to the dynamically changing regulations. MINTEK's advanced leach facility (ALF) is being developed with the aim of bridging the knowledge gap between the gold leach process and the predictable environmental impacts upon discharge. The facility aims to monitor all parameters of relevance such as pH, Eh, dissolved oxygen, metals, cyanide species, and viscosity during the entire process to enable more informed decisions on practical interventions. The presented set of data reflects first experiences gained from processing a refractory gold ore concentrate. Attempts at optimizing the process were limited due to the developmental nature of the work. Data relating to leaches with differing preoxidation conditions and cyanide staging is presented.