Flotation has been at the heart of the mineral processing industry for over 100 years, addressing the ‘sulphide’ problem of the early 1900s, and continues to provide one of the most important tools in mineral separation today. The realisation of the effect of a minerals hydrophobicity on flotation all those years ago has allowed us to treat oxides, sulphides and carbonates, coals and industrial minerals economically, and will continue to do so in the future.
There have been a number of important changes in the industry over the years as flotation technology and equipment have advanced. Xstrata Technology considers “the most noticeable has been the increase in sizes of the flotation machines, from the multiple small square cells that were initially used, to the 300 m³ round cells used today that are the norm in large scale plants.
“Other changes have been more subtle, but equally as important. One of these has been the design of the flotation circuit to make the most of the liberation and surface chemistry effects of the minerals. In a lot of these situations it is not a matter of ‘bigger is better’, that will make the process work, but being smarter in the application of flotation technology.”
Xstrata Technology is one company that believes the smarter use of flotation machines can deliver big improvements in plant performance. Through its use of the naturally aspirated Jameson Cell, Xstrata Technology has been making inroads into the processing of more complex ores. Having a small footprint, and using the high intensity mixing environment of slurry and naturally induced air in a simple downcomer, the Jameson Cell provides an ideal environment for the separation of hydrophobic particles and gangue, it says. The small footprint of the cells also makes them ideal to retrofit into a circuit especially where space is tight.
While the cell has been included in some flotation applications as the only flotation technology such as coal and SX-EW, the main applications in base metals have seen the cell operating in conjunction with conventional cells. The combination of the two technologies enables the Jameson Cell to target the quicker floating material, while the conventional cells target the slower floating material. “Such a combination provides a superior overall grade recovery response for the whole circuit, than just one technology type on its own,” Xstrata Technology says. Below are some of the duties for which the Jameson Cell can be used.
Jameson Cells in a scalping operation target fast floating liberated minerals, and produce a final grade concentrate from them. The wash water added to the Jameson Cell assists in obtaining the required concentrate grade due to washing out the entrained gangue. Scalping can be done at the head of the cleaner (also known as pre cleaning), or at the head of the rougher (also known as pre roughing), and minimises the downstream flotation capacity using conventional cells needed to recover the slower floating minerals.
Sometimes deleterious elements found in the orebody are naturally highly hydrophobic, and need to be removed at the start of flotation, otherwise they will report with the valuable minerals to the concentrate and effect concentrate grade. Mineral species such as talc, carbon and carbon associated minerals, such as carbonaceous pyrite, can all be difficult to depress in a flotation circuit. On the other hand, floating them off in a prefloat circuit before the rougher is an easier way to handle them. Jameson Cells acting as a prefloat cell at the head of a rougher circuit, or treating the hydrophobic gangue as a prefloat rougher cleaner, is an ideal way to produce a ‘throw away’ product before flotation of the valuable minerals, minimising reagent use and circulating loads.
Jameson Cells can be used in cleaning circuits to produce consistent final grade concentrates. The ability of the cell to keep a constant pulp level, even with up stream disturbances or loss of feed, enables a constant grade to be obtained.
Xstrata Technology concludes: “Importantly in a lot of these circuits, it is not the selection of one type of technology that produces therequired grade and recovery, but the selection of several technologies to get the best results. The interaction of slow floating and fast floating minerals, entrainment, hydrophobic gangue and a myriad of other variables make it rare for just one type of technology to prevail, but the combination of different flotation machines can achieve the required outcome more efficiently, as well as make the circuit robust enough to handle variations in feed quality.”
The Jameson Cell has benefitted from over 20 years of continuous development. Early this year, the 300th cell was sold into Capcoal’s Lake Lindsay coal operation in the Bowen Basin of Australia. Around this time there were a number of coal projects taking in new Jameson Cells, including expansion projects for Wesfarmers’ Curragh and Gloucester Coal’s Stratford operations (both in Australia), Riversdales’ Benga project in Mozambique and Energy Resources’ Ukhaa Khudag coking coal project in Mongolia.
Le Huynh, Jameson Cell Manager, said the interest for coal preparation plants has remained strong, where operators needed dependable and reliable technology to treat fine coal, an important source of revenue. During 2010, the Jameson Cell business also found success in other applications, including recovering organic from a copper raffinate stream at Xstrata-Anglo American’s Collahuasi copper SX-EW plant in Chile.
Le said the consistent generation of very fine bubbles and the high intensity mixing in the Jameson Cell, was ideal for recovering very low concentrations of organic from raffinate streams, typically less than several hundred ppm. High throughput in a small footprint, simple operation and extremely low maintenance due to no moving parts in the cell are distinct advantages in this application.
The cell is designed with features specific to suit such hydrometallurgy applications including specialist materials, a flat-bottomed flotation tank with integrated pump box and tailings recycle system, and large downcomers. The Collahuasi cell was the first of its type in Chile, though there are many other large cells installed in SX-EW plants in Mexico, USA and Australia to treat both raffinate and electrolyte streams.
Dominic Fragomeni, Manager Process Mineralogy, Xstrata Process Support (XPS), notes that accurate, rapid development of a milling and flotation flowsheet for a new orebody is key to successful mine development. Time honoured conventional practice has typically favoured the extraction of a bulk sample of up to several hundred tonnes for conventional pilot plant campaigns which could operate at several hundred kilograms per hour. Where sample extraction is limited, much reliance has been placed on locked cycle tests alone to produce design basis criteria. These approaches can be lengthy, expensive, carry scale up risk, and have seen a wide range of successes and failures at commissioning and during life of a mine.
XPS has miniaturised the pilot plant process. At the same time, it has improved the representativeness of results from the pilot plant campaign by using exploration drill core to formulate the pilot plant sample. This Flotation Mini Pilot Plant (MPP) was developed in collaboration with Eriez subsidiary Canadian Processing Technologies (CPT) and operates in fully continuous mode either around the clock or can be made to demonstrate unit operations on a shift basis. The feed samples are in the range of 0.5-5 t and can consist of exploration ½ NQ drill core which improves the sample representativeness. The MPP operates in the range of 7-20 kg/h, an order of magnitude lower in sample mass and typically at a lower cost when compared to conventional pilot plants.
XPS has developed and validated a representative sampling strategy, an appropriate quality control model for metallurgical results and has accurately demonstrated operations results using Raglan and Strathcona ores and flowsheets. These validation campaigns, in ‘scale down’ mode from the full scale plants, have produced actual mill recoveries to within 0.5% at the same concentrate grade with internal material balance consistent with the
When designing a plant to recover copper, Scott Kay, Process Engineer with METS suggests (in METS Gazette, issue 32, October 2011) it would be prudent “to perform some mineralogical analysis test work such as QEMSCAN (Quantitative Evaluation of Mineral by Scanning electron microscopy) to provide some knowledge on the proportion of sulphide and oxide minerals present, the grain sizes of each mineral and a suggested grind size before jumping into the bulk of the beneficiation test work.
“Ideally, the characteristics of the copper bearing minerals should suggest an appropriate grinding circuit P80 of between 100 and 200 μm (0.1 and 0.2 mm), which can be controlled by cyclones, or in some cases fine screens.
“Flotation reagent selection is paramount and test work is necessary to ensure the optimum reagent suite is utilised. If the ore contains a low amount of iron sulphides, xanthate collectors are often suitable to float copper sulphideminerals. If native gold is present, dithiophosphates can be used which are less selective to iron sulphides. Increasing and controlling the pH within the flotation vessel to between 10 and 12 causes the process to become more selective, away from iron sulphide gangue minerals such as pyrite to produce a cleaner copper mineral concentrate. Depending on the ore mineralogy, activators and depressants may be required to achieve the optimum reagent suite.
“Recovery of copper oxide minerals can be achieved with flotation by sulphidising the ore. In essence, this creates a thin layer of copper sulphide (chalcocite) on the oxide grains which can then be activated and collected in the froth. When employed, this occurs after the sulphide flotation stage, however, this is not commonly used as other beneficiation processes, such as leaching and SX-EW are often more cost effective for copper oxide minerals.
“A common flotation circuit usually includes a rougher/scavenger and a cleaner stage. As most copper orebodies exhibit an in-situ grade of less than 1% Cu, the mass pull to the rougher froth is often low. This means that the throughput of the cleaner stage is significantly less than the throughput of the rougher stage which imparts a relatively low capital and operating cost to the flotation circuit.
“To counteract the possible absence of a scavenger stage, a slightly higher mass pull to the rougher froth is targeted (although still low overall) to increase overall copper recovery. The rougher froth can then be reground to increase the liberation of the copper sulphides from the iron sulphides before being fed to the cleaner flotation vessels. This results in a significant upgrade in copper in the cleaner froth whilst still achieving a high copper recovery. The final flotation concentrate usually contains between 25 and 40% Cu.”
Alain Kabemba, Flotation Process Specialist at Delkor notes the major trend to treating lower-grade and more finely disseminated ores and lately the re-treatment of tailings. He also points to the broad applicability of size to below 10 μm.
Real systems do not fulfil ideal conditions, mainly because of feed variation or disturbances. “Before considering disturbances to flotation specifically,” Kabemba says “it is important to emphasise the interlock between grinding and flotation, not only with respect to particle size effects, but equally to flotation feed rate variations. The grinding circuit is usually designed to produce the optimum size distribution established in testing and given in the design criteria. When the product size alters from this optimum, control requires either changing feed tonnage to the circuit or changing product volume, with either causing changes in flotation feed rates.
“While grindability changes due to the variation in ore properties are disturbances to the grinding circuit, they generate feed rate changes as disturbances to the flotation circuit. The variations in ore properties which affect flotation from those assumed in the design criteria must therefore necessarily include grindability changes.
“This reflects important differences in flotation machine characteristics between the two processes. Grinding circuits are built and designed with fixed total mill volumes and energy input, so the grinding intensity is not a controllable variable, instead grinding retention time is changed by variation of feed rates. In contrast, the flotation circuit is provided both with adjustable froth and pulp volume for variation of flotation intensity by aeration rate or hydrodynamic adjustment. Reagent levels and dosages provide a further means for intensity control.”
One recent trend has been towards larger, metallurgical efficient and more cost effective machines. These depart from the simpler tank/mechanism combination towards design which segregates and directs flow and towards providing an external air supply for types which had been self aerating and towards the application of hydrodynamic principles to cell design, like the Delkor BQR range of flotation machines, initially the Bateman BQR Float Cells.
Bateman has steadily developed the BQR flotation cells which have been in application for the past 30 years, and with its acquisition of Delkor in 2008, decided to rebrand the equipment into the Delkor equipment range. Kabemba explains that BQR cell capacities range from 0.5 to 150 m3 currently installed, and can be used in any application as roughers, scavengers and in cleaning and re-cleaning circuits.
“The main objectives of the BQR design were to achieve the following core hydrodynamic functions:
■ Provide good contact between solid particles and air bubbles
■ Maintain a stable froth/pulp interface
■ Adequately suspend the solid particles in the slurry
■ Provide sufficient froth removal capacity
■ Provide adequate retention time to allow the desired recovery of valuable constituent.
“This led to the following benefits:
■ Highest possible effective volume and reduced the froth travel distance
■ Improved metallurgical performances in terms of grade recovery and reduced capital and operating costs based on reduced fabrication material and ease of maintenance
Kabemba says “there are not many differences in terms of design between BQR Flotation cells; however, from the BQR1000 upwards, the flotation cells have internal launders to maintain the design objectives and benefits highlighted.
“Operating variables, such as impeller speed, air rate, pulp and froth depths have to be adjustable over a sufficient range to provide optimum results with a given ore, grind and chemical treatment, but adjustment should not extend beyond the hydrodynamic regime in which good flotation is possible.”
The largest current BQR flotation machine is shown in the table. In the near future the BQR2000 (200 m3) and BQR3000 (300 m3) will be available to the market. Kabemba also explained that “circular cells reduce the amount of dead volume when compared to square cells. This enables a much higher effective pulp volume, hence increasing the effective energy input into the flotation cell. In addition ‘tank type’ cells offer enhanced froth removal due to the uniform shape of the circular launders.” He concluded that “fully automated flotation cells are becoming more and more common with the aid of smart control and advances in software in the marketplace.”
Better fine particle recovery
FLSmidth’s flotation team notes that fundamental flotation models suggest that a relationship exists between fine particle recovery and turbulent dissipation energy1. Conversely, increased turbulence in the rotorstator region is theoretically related to higher detachment rates of the coarser size range2. Conceptually, the suggested modes of recovery for the extreme size distribution regions appear to be diametrically opposed.
Industrial applications have previously confirmed that imparting greater power to flotation slurries yields significant improvements in fine particle recovery. However, recovery of the coarser size class favours an opposing approach, the FLSmidth team believe. An improvement in the kinetics of the fine and coarse size classes, provided there is no adverse metallurgical influence on the intermediate size ranges, is obviously beneficial to the overall recovery response. Managing the local energy dissipation, and hence the power imparted to the slurry, offers the benefit of targeting the particle size ranges exhibiting slower kinetics.
New concept, Hybrid Energy FlotationTM (HEFTM), was recently introduced by FLSmidth. In principle it decouples regimes where fine and coarse particles are preferentially floated. HEF includes three sections:
1. Standard flotation machines (energy, rpm, rotor size) at the beginning of the row, whereflotation is froth phase limited and operational and set-up parameters have small influence on the recovery
2. Higher power flotation machines (high rpm, standard rotor size) at the end of the row to increase recovery of fine particles
3. Lower power flotation machines (low rpm, larger rotor) at the end of the row (mixed with higher energy cells) to increase recovery of coarse particles.
This concept was successfully implemented at the Mineral Park concentrator in Arizona and will be expanded at various mines in the near future.
This subject will be expanded upon at the 5th International Flotation Conference (Flotation ’11) in Cape Town, South Africa. The fundamental parameters that influence fine and coarse particle recovery will be reviewed. The potential dual recovery benefit is then presented in terms of its practical implementation in a scavenging application. HEF is proposed as the preferred methodology of recovering these ‘slow-floating’ size ranges; a method that opposes the traditional approach of residence time compensation.
Eriez® Flotation Group introduced the StackCell® flotation concept in 2009. This innovative technology recovers fine particles more efficiently than mechanical flotation cells. “We’ve taken the inherent advantages of mechanical flotation and adapted them to a new design that is significantly smaller and requires less energy,” explained Eriez Vice President Mike Mankosa. “We focused on reducing the retention time and energy consumption by implementing a completely different approach to the flotation process. This new approach provides all the performance advantages of column flotation while greatly reducing capital, installation and operation costs.”
At the core of the StackCell technology is a proprietary feed aeration system that concentrates the energy used to generate bubbles and provides bubble/particle contacting in a relatively small volume. An impeller in the aeration chamber located in the centre of the cell shears the air into extremely fine bubbles in the presence of feed slurry, thereby promoting bubble/particle contact. Unlike conventional, mechanically agitated flotation cells, the energy imparted to the slurry is used solely to generate bubbles rather than to maintain particles in suspension. This leads to reduced mixing in the cell and shorter residence time requirements.
The StackCell sparging system operates with low pressure, energy efficient blowers that decrease power consumption by 50% compared to air compressors or multi-stage blowers used in other flotation devices.
The low-profile StackCell design features an adjustable water system for froth washing and also takes advantage of a cell-to-cell configuration to minimise short-circuiting and improve recovery rates. Space requirements for the StackCell design are approximately half of equivalent column circuits, with corresponding reductions in weight leading to reductions in installation costs. Units can be shipped fully assembled and lifted into place without the need for field fabrication.
This technology can provide recoveries and product qualities comparable to column flotation systems while using a low profile design. Not intended to replace the need forcolumn flotation, it does provide an alternative method to column-like performance where space and/or capital is limited. The small size and low weight of the new StackCell makes possible lower cost upgrades where a single cell or series of cells may be placed into a currently overloaded flotation circuit with minimal retrofit costs.
Steve Flatman, General Manager of Maelgwyn Mineral Services (MMS) also comments on the “trend of moving towards a finer grind to improve mineral liberation. Unfortunately conventional tank flotation cells are relatively inefficient in recovering these metal fines below 30 μm and very inefficient at the ultra fine grind sizes below 15 μm. The incorporation of regrind mills on rougher concentrates has further exacerbated this problem. To date the conventional flotation tank cell manufacturers have attempted to counter this fall off in recovery of fine particles by inputting increasing amounts of energy (bigger agitation motors) into the system to improve bubble particle contact. Unfortunately this tends to compromise coarse particle recovery.”
He says the solution is MMS’s “Imhoflot pneumatic flotation technology and specifically the Imhoflot G-Cell. Recent pilot plant test work at a nickel operation with a three stage Imhoflot G-Cell pilot plant enabled an additional 30% nickel to be recovered from the conventional flotation tank cell final plant tails. The recovery was predominantly associated with the minus-11 μm fraction indicating that this improved recovery was not just related to additional residence time. The above results are in line with an earlier pilot plant trial using G-Cells on a zinc operation where an additional 10-20% zinc was recovered from cleaner tailings this time being associated with minus 7 μm material.
“It is postulated that the above improvements are related to the order of magnitude increase in terms of air rate (m³/min/m³ pulp)for the G-Cells due to their principle of operation where forced bubble particle contact takes place in the aeration chamber rather than the cell itself with the cell merely acting as a froth separation chamber. Typically in percentage terms the G-Cell air rates are five to ten times that of conventional flotation although the overall or total air usage is approximately half.
“When this additional targeted energy input is combined with the centrifugal action of the GCell and small bubbles benefits are obtained in both the flotation rate (kinetics) and overall recovery. The improved kinetics results in a much lower residence time than conventional flotation facilitating a double benefit of both reduced footprint and improved recovery.”
A technical paper will be presented at the MEI Flotation 11 Conference in South Africa providing more detail on the specific case studies.
Metso notes a main drawback of column cells being low recovery performance, typically resulting in bigger circulating loads. Its CISA sparger is derived from the patented MicrocelTM technology and enhances metallurgical performance by allowing flexibility on the graderecovery curve. Metso Cisa says the main advantages of its column technology include:
■ Improved recovery and optimised grade
■ Increased throughput
■ Enhanced bubble particle contact
■ No plugging
■ On-line replacement and reduced wear and maintenance
■ Unique sparger Technology.
At the bottom of the column, the sparger system raises mineral recovery by increased carrying capacity due to finer bubble sizes. This maximises the bubble surface area flux which is a standard parameter in evaluating flotation device performance. It also provides maximum particle-bubble contacts within the static mixers and effective reagent activation from the mechanical operation of the pump.
It is well known that coarse particles behave poorly in a conventional flotation cell and were previously regarded as ‘non-floatable’. However, recent laboratory work demonstrates that Fluidised Bed Froth (FBF) flotation extends the upper size limit of flotation recovery by a factor of 2-3 resulting in significant concentrator performance benefits. AMIRA’s P1047 project, Improved Coarse Particle Recovery by FBF Flotation, is expected to commence in 2012, and will be structured in two phases.
Some of the benefits for FBF technology are:
■ Early rejection of gangue with minimum mineral loss. Potential for significant increase in concentrator throughput or significant improvement in capital efficiency
■ Reduced energy consumption. Independent modelling predicts that if particles of 1 mm can be floated, comminution energy consumption will be lowered by at least 20%.
■ Better management of water requirement. FBF cells can take product straight from the milling circuit without dilution, and the feed to the FBF cell could be up to 80% w/w solids, which could lead to significant savings in process water demand.
■ Improve recovery of metallic and other dense minerals. In a continuous FBF Cell, dense mineral particles will tend to sink to the bottom and accumulate in the cell, thus they can be recovered in a concentrated form by emptying the cell periodically. This could be a significant benefit where the concentration of the heavy metallic material is too low to warrant a separate treatment plant to recover them.
In Australia, Northgate Minerals’ Stawell gold mine recently completed a project through which it aimed to increase recoveries by 3.5% by upgrading the flotation plant. This upgrade was implemented after Stawell changed its production profile to process lower grade ore at higher throughput rates.
Instead of the projected 3.5% improvement, the upgrade from Outotec Services has resulted in an increase of 4.5% since the project was completed on time and on budget last year, despite the wettest seasonal weather in recorded history. Payback was also impressive, occurring within less than four months. “The projected payback was 5.5 months, so it was a pleasant surprise when it happened so soon” explains Jodie Hendy, senior metallurgist at Stawell.
The project has also achieved payback in less than four months and has delivered further ongoing benefits, including easier operation and reduced maintenance costs, says Outotec Services, which worked in close partnership with Stawell Gold to ensure the site remained fully operational during the upgrade.
The mine, which has produced more than 2 Moz in its 26-year history, previously employed a flotation circuit consisting of a bank of eight mechanical trough cells in the rougher circuit, followed by two banks of 2 x OK3 Outotec cells as cleaners. The feed rate to the cells was between 90-105 t/h, at 50-55% solids. The overall flotation circuit was not performing at optimal rate due to entrainment problems in the rougher cells when feed density increased from 45% to 55% solids, typically at 105 t/h.
In anticipation of future production levels and as part of Stawell’s focus on operational excellence, it was decided to upgrade the flotation circuit. Following a site audit from Outotec Services, a 2 x TankCell® -20 configuration equipped with larger TankCell -30 mechanisms was proposed to help optimise flotation. The larger mechanisms would allow operation at very high percent solids (50% and over).
The TankCell design also allows a much deeper froth depth and better concentrate grade through optimised launder lip length and surface area. These cells known for great performance, ease of operation and reduced power and air consumption. Outotec Services was commissioned to handle the complete turnkey solution of the new rougher circuit, including design, supply, installation and commissioning.
The schedule was demanding but achievable, in just 30 weeks. It was decided to adopt the partnering approach between Stawell and Outotec Services, because this collaborative method ensured open communication, with all parties having greater ownership of the project and its aims. This close teamwork resulted in meticulous planning and site remaining fully operational at all times. Pipework and electrical easement ducts, for example, were rerouted early in the project. Tie-in points for new cells and rerouting of pipework were also planned upfront in the project and all disruptive work was completed during shutdowns.
The project overcame a number of challenges, including an extremely limited footprint, which was adjacent to a gabion wall, close to the runof-mine pad and also close to a reagents shed, which could not be moved. Additionally, existing process requirements at Stawell required specific elevations for the new TankCells. Structural stability was the main issue when designing the tank support structure due to the height of the tanks and the limited footprint. Sufficient stiffness was required such that the operation frequencies of the TankCells would not interfere with the natural frequency of the tank support structure. Through FE modelling of the structure, section sizes and bracing orientations were optimised to produce the required stiffness.
Despite the challenges, the turnkey installation of the new rougher circuit, along with blowers for the complete flotation circuit, was completed within deadlines. Because all tie-in points had been already carefully planned upfront, commissioning was a seamless exercise.
Designed to cope with projected increases in production and considerably more operator friendly than its predecessor, the new TankCell – 20 cells have quickly proved their worth at site. The air demand for the old rougher cells, for example, was estimated at over 3,000 Am3/h, whereas the estimated air demand on the Outotec TankCells is a maximum of 992 Am3/h.
The Outotec FloatForce® rotor-stator mechanism, with its unique design, delivers enhanced flotation cell hydrodynamics and improved wear life and maintenance. “Maintenance on the Outotec TankCells has also been minimal since the upgrade, Hendy commented. “Basically we check the cells during shutdowns but there has been no maintenance required in the nine months since commissioning. “The TankCells have really delivered on their reputation. Basically, they do exactly what they are supposed to do.”
Smarter reagent use
Turning to flotation reagents, Frank Cappuccitti, President of Flottec explains that Flottec and Cidra are “working very hard jointly on developing instruments that will measure hydrodynamics in the flotation cell and circuit in a bid for better flotation control. This would be a great step forward in using a combination of reagents and sensors to optimise flotation systems. It brings together the knowledge we have developed in both how reagents effect hydrodynamics and measuring the hydrodynamics to maintain optimum conditions. He explains that back in the 1990s, when he worked at a well-known mining chemicals supplier, “we spent most of our research on trying to find the best collectors. The thinking was that we could try to develop collectors with absolute specificity. In other words, we could develop a collector that would float only specific minerals and provide clients with an almost perfect flotation separation. This was our approach to flotation optimisation. Unfortunately, we discovered that there was no such thing as absolute specificity. In fact, we had trouble measuring any improvements in the circuits because they were multi-variant and highly complex. Every change made was always a trade off between grade, recovery and cost. Changing one thing in the circuit seemed to improve something but always got a negative response in some other variable. It was also very hard to measure the performance of the flotation circuit because the only real parameters you could measure on line were concentrate grades and tails of the circuits, which were always after the fact. There was little ability and understanding about what real time measurements we could take other than air rates, cell levels and flow rates. So even if we got an improvement or a response to a change, we never knew if that was a response to a change or a natural variation in the system. Every test needed long term statistical trials to get some confidence in any real change.
“So, I wrote a paper in the 1990s that basically said that until we could measure the real time variables in a flotation system and learned to really understand and control the system, we were limited in our ability to work on continuous improvement in reagent optimisation. We needed new sensors that could measure the performance of the flotation circuit so we could learn to control it. Once we got this, then we could actually measure improvements and use this to develop reagents.
“Fortunately, with the advent of strong computing power and software, we have moved forward tremendously in the last decade in understanding the flotation circuit. Froth cameras that tried to measure froth grade and velocity were one of the first new sensors developed to assist in optimising circuits. Through the work of universities such as McGill and organisations like JKtech, new sensors have been developed that could actually measure reliably and in real time the hydrodynamic parameters in the flotation cell. Flotation cell hydrodynamics (gas dispersion parameters) is critical to the performance of the cell. When we talk about these parameters, we are talking about measuring what is happening in a flotation cell. Flotation is really about making bubbles and using the surface area of the bubble to do the work of transporting hydrophobic minerals to the froth. In flotation cells, we add air, create bubbles of a certain size and speed that provide the surface area to do the flotation. The more bubbles and the smaller the bubble, the more surface area we have to do the work. This surface area we create is known as the surface bubble flux (Sb) and controls the kinetics of flotation. Now that we have instruments that can measure the air into a cell (known as Jg), measure the size of the bubble diameter (Db) and the gas hold up (Eg), we can figure out how the relationship between these parameters and how they affect the Sb and flotation circuit performance. We can also now do research on how reagents can be used to control these parameters as well.
“Research of the last few years has shown that frothers actually play a much more important role in flotation hydrodynamics than once thought. Frothers perform two major functions. They create and maintain small bubbles in the pulp to transport the minerals and they create the froth on top of the cell to hold the minerals until they can be recovered. The froth is created because frothers allow a film of water to form on the bubbles which makes them stable enough not to break when they reach the surface of the cell. Fortunately, the water drains over a short period of time and the froth will eventually break down. Froth breakdown is essential for cleaning and transporting the concentrates. Small bubbles are essential in making flotation efficient. For the same volume of air in a cell, smaller bubbles give much higher surface area, which in turn gives much higher kinetics.
“We now know that as you increase the concentration of frothers to the cell, the bubble size gets smaller, and the film of water on the bubble gets bigger. But bubble size does not keep getting smaller forever. The frother will reduce the bubble down to a certain size, which is about the same for all frothers in the same set of conditions. The concentration of frother where the bubble is at a minimum is known as the critical coalescence concentration or CCC.
Each frother has a different CCC. Each frother also has a different ability to add water to the bubble and hence provides different froth stability. This also changes with concentration. We have learned in the last few years that each frother has a hydrodynamic curve which relates the bubble size with the froth stability. Strong frothers give very high froth stability at the CCC, while weak frothers give very low stability of the froth at the CCC.
“This new understanding of how frothers affect flotation cell hydrodynamics has lead to new methodologies to optimise flotation circuits. Flottec has worked on an optimisation system where a frother is added to a circuit at the CCC (which guarantees maximum kinetics or maximum Sb) and the performance is measured. Then frothers of different strength are added (always at the CCC) until the right strength for maximum performance is determined. Adding the frother at the CCC is the critical optimisation difference. By doing this you are always guaranteed to have maximum kinetics. If the frother used is too strong, the dosage will have to be cut back below the CCC or the froth will be too persistent. This lowers flotation kinetics. If the frother is too weak, too much has to be added to get the froth strength and this increases cost and likely reduces recovery. Flottec has been conducting research with McGill University to develop the hydrodynamic curves and CCC for all families of frothers in order to implement the new methodology of frother optimisation in plants.
“The next step in this research is to be able to use new sensor technology to measure and control the flotation system by controlling the hydrodynamics in the cell. With our current knowledge of how air rate, cell levels, and frother addition affect bubble size, water recovery and gas hold up, we can use these control variables to maintain the optimum hydrodynamics in the cell resulting in the optimum flotation circuit performance. Flottec is working with companies like Cidra to develop new sensors that can provide real time information on cell hydrodynamics (gas dispersion parameters) and on froth stability properties in order for us to optimise the reagents and operating strategies used in a plant. This will bring flotation performance to the next level.”
Clariant Mining Solutions business is investing considerably in mining chemicals. It has opened a new laboratory at its US headquarters in Houston, Texas, dedicated to the development and optimisation of chemical solutions for North American customers. The laboratory is part of a planned multi-million dollar investment into Clariant’s global Mining Solutions business, which includes establishing several new Mining Solutions laboratories around the world. This network is intended to enable the business to better support customer needs and address regional challenges. Most recently, Clariant has opened new mining labs in South Africa (Johannesburg) and in China (Guangzhou). The new laboratories will complement existing facilities in Europe and Latin America.
“Mining is a strategic focus area for Clariant,” said Christopher Oversby, Global Head of Clariant’s Oil & Mining Services business unit. “This investment further demonstrates Clariant’s ongoing commitment to providing innovative technologies and solutions for our mining customers around the world.”
The Houston laboratory will process ore samples from customers in the USA and Canada. These samples were previously handled in Clariant’s mining laboratories located in South America and at the company’s global research facility in Frankfurt, Germany. “We are very excited about the new mining laboratory and the opportunity it provides us for offering our North American mineral processing customers even more localised services and attention,” said Paul Gould, Global Head of Marketing and Application Development for Clariant Mining Solutions. “The Houston lab will allow Clariant technicians to more efficiently develop optimised reagent solutions for our US and Canadian customers.”
Additionally, Clariant is in the process of developing a new Innovation Center in Frankfurt at a cost of €50 million. Employing nearly 500 people and covering 30,000 m2, the facility will focus on customers using an integrated multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. Clariant says “an open innovation approach on joint ventures with external partners will ensure the acceleration of the ‘idea-to-market’ process. Mining research and development will also be part of this facility.”
Axis House has been developing reagent technologies for the past 10 years, at its flotation laboratory in Cape Town, South Africa and more recently at it metallurgical labs in Sydney and Melbourne. These were acquired when Axis House bought the oxide flotation reagent technology from Ausmelt Chemicals. A practical application technology strategy was followed with Axis House providing a complimentary suite selection and optimisation service to its clients, who were then mainly interested in the Axis developed technology of combining fatty acids, hydroxamates and sulphidisation suites to effectively and economically float oxide minerals.
Early on the focus was on developing reagents to float complex ores which contained multiple minerals with varying flotation kinetics. Often the limiting factor was not only the sluggish flotation kinetics of the minerals but the process plant’s own equipment limitations, like flotation and conditioning times. Developing a reagent that floated a certain mineral was simply not enough. The solution was to develop suites of reagents which could function synergistically. By altering the types of collectors and the dosages, the company could optimise both the use of the processing equipment and the collecting power. It says “this approach has successfully been applied to various types of base metal oxide ores.”
It is now taking this innovative approach into the field of rare earth element (REE) flotation. This fits into the Axis House business plan as the chemistries are quite similar to what is in existence at Axis already. Of course some tweaks will have to be made to the reagents as well as the laboratories – this process has already started, with the first batch of REE test material having arrived at Cape Town, and new reagent samples at the ready. There are a large number of REE projects coming online in the next few years. Most of these orebodies have not been previously treated at industrial level and so will face difficulties when scaling up. REO (Rare Earth Oxides) are often difficult to float and the development of multiple collector systems for these ore types would help increase the viability of these projects.
Jerry Sullivan, Global Marketing Manager-Mineral Processing, Cytec Industries Inc, discussed collectors, which contain mineralselective functional groups. “They have a hydrophobic hydrocarbon tail. Changing the molecule’s functional group changes the preference for what mineral it will adsorb on to. Changing the length of the hydrocarbon chain changes the hydrophobicity of the molecule. This is related to the strength of the collector.
“Within the collector molecule, there are donor atoms whose goal is to form bonds with acceptor atoms within the ore. Nitrogen, oxygen, and sulphur are the most important donor atoms in all reagent chemistry. Sulphur is the most important donor in sulphide collectors. Nitrogen and oxygen are additional donor atoms. Phosphorous and carbon are central atoms carrying the donors. They only have indirect participation in interactions.” He noted the general characteristics of sulphide collectors to be:
■ Ionic collectors are stronger and less selective
■ Neutral, ‘oily’ collectors are weaker, more selective
■ Higher homologues (more carbons) are stronger than lower homologues (fewer carbons)
■ Cytec’s NCPs are very selective collectors
Selectivities of collectors have been extensively studied, and are well established in terms of mineralogical preferences and pH effects.
“There is a strong case for formulated products (or blends),” he continued “That is because mineralogy is complex. Plant performance is also inherently variable. Mineralogy changes routinely. In addition, different minerals have different affinities for reagents. Various minerals will compete for a given reagent. Modifiers used will also influence reagent partitioning. Particle size distribution will also affect recoveries (recovery losses in coarse and fine size range). A single collector will not be sufficiently robust. Indeed, most plants use two or more collectors. The goal is to pick reagents that will get to the right minerals. Utilising a collector blend can balance cost and performance.
“Cytec has multiple collectors and collector blends that are continuously being developed to tailor to the customer’s application.” A few of the collector families that have recently been introduced to the market include the new XR Series Xanthate Replacement Collectors, developed to meet the desire to replace xanthates. “This new series of collectors are cost competitive with xanthates and are strong collectors but with high selectivity. In addition, they are safer and vastly improves handling and level of toxic exposure of the personnel to product, stock safety management and simplifies plant operations.
The XD 5002 blends were developed to operate in a broad pH range 8-12 and be highly selective in Cu/Mo, Cu/Au sulphide ores, enhance Mo recovery in Cu/Mo bulk float and enhance Au recovery in Cu/Au ores. The MAXGOLDTM blends were introduced to float primary Au ores; auriferous pyrite, arsenopyrite, and tellurides and are also capable of enhancing recovery in Cu/Au ores.
Monitoring and control
It is now possible to use measurement devices based on impedance tomography to create realtime 3D images. The technology opens up entirely new possibilities in controlling flotation processes. “With Flotation Watch the operator can see what takes place underneath the surface. Flotation Watch measures several parameters at the same time, on-line. The sensor can measure the stiffness of the froth, the thickness of the froth, analyse the interface area between the froth and the slurry and it can analyse the slurry too depending on the customer needs,” says Jukka Hakola, Numcore’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
With Numcore measurement devices, the size and quantity of air bubbles and the solid matter content of the froth bed can be monitored by means of electric conductivity distribution. “With Flotation Watch the stiffness of the flotation froth can be measured and this helps to keep the recovery in higher level. The signals for the production failures, such as hardening and collapse of the froth bed, can be seen beforehand and avoided. This way we can help to minimise the losses in the flotation process,” says Hakola.
Real-time characteristics are a key in this technology; in other words, the system continuously provides the operator with factual data on what is happening in the flotation cells, for example the location of minerals and the bottom surface of the froth bed. “Because it has not been possible to look inside tanks, controlling a mineral concentration process has largely been based on experience-derived knowhow. Now that operators can ‘look’ inside the process, it is possible for them to maintain an optimal mix all the time,” says Hakola.
Numcore has, in close co-operation with a few key customers, developed measurement technology to better serve everyday work. “We have now delivered several Flotation Watch sensors to flotation cells in several markets and for different metals such as copper, zinc and gold. One of the main benefits is that contamination of the probe is taken into account in mathematical formula and the measurement probe does not need to be cleaned. Our sensor has been in a zinc rougher flotation cell for nine months and is giving accurate results to the operator. We can now offer automated control for flotation process with Flotation Watch and see that this can bring new benefits for our customers,” he promises.
Numcore’s measurement technology is currently in test use at Inmet’s Pyhäsalmi copper-zinc mine (IM, April 2010, pp10-18), among others. According to Seppo Lähteenmäki, Processing Mill Manager, the system has provided accurate information on the condition of the froth bed, and the technology has functioned reliably. “We have tested the device for a few months, and it has provided clear benefits for those operators who have received operator training for it and actively monitored the data provided by the system. The device appears to be so useful, in fact, that we are seriously considering buying it after the test period,” he says.
Mettler Toledo notes that pH greatly determines the efficiency of the flotation, which minerals will float, or even if there will be any flotation at all. The critical pH value for efficient flotation depends on the mineral and the collector. Below this value the mineral will float, above it, it will not (or, in some cases, vice versa).
In a recent white paper www.mt.com/pro-phflotation, the company says “in order to overcome difficulties with the hostile environment in flotation cells, sensor manufacturers are very creative in their choice of sensor design. It is possible to find pH electrodes with a ceramic, plastic, rubber or even a wood reference diaphragm. Still, their performance can be severely limited as the colloidal particles and sulphides interfere almost instantly with the reference system. The sensor’s maintenance requirement is therefore high, requiring very frequent cleaning and calibration, and usually sensor life is short.”
Mettler Toledo has acknowledged this issue and to combat it has designed the InPro 4260i pH electrode with Xerolyt® Extra solid polymer electrolyte. The InPro 4260i does not have a diaphragm and instead features an open junction, which is an opening that allows direct contact between the process medium and the electrolyte. Contrary to the miniscule capillaries of any other type of diaphragm in conventional pH electrodes, the diameter of the open junction is extremely large and much less susceptible to clogging or fouling. Another significant difference is in the choice of polymer electrolyte. Xerolyt® Extra was designed specifically for service in tough environments to provide a strong and lasting barrier against sulphide poisoning.
The company’s Intelligent Sensor Management (ISM) is a platform based on sensors with embedded digital technology for better pH management. The integrated system consists of a digital sensor and ISM-compatible transmitter. The key to the technology is a microprocessor which is contained within the sensor head and is powered by and read through the transmitter. Critical sensor information such as identification, calibration data, time in operation and process environment exposure are all recorded and used to continuously monitor the health of the sensor.
By constantly keeping track of process pH value, temperature and operating hours, ISM calculates when sensor calibration, cleaning or replacement will be needed. Any need for maintenance is recognised at an early stage.
In recent years, researchers at Imperial College have been focusing on measuring air recovery in industrial flotation cells and have found that a peak in metallurgical performance (improvements in both grade and recovery) corresponds well with a peak in air recovery. Major platinum and copper operations have already observed the benefits of using this methodology as developed by the researchers. JKTech is now licensed by Imperial Innovations to commercially provide this methodology and associated benefits to the global minerals industry.
The PAR technique comprises two stages – evaluation and implementation. The evaluation stage involves determining the effect of the technology at a mine site, typically determining the peak air recovery for a bank (or banks) of flotation cells and evaluating the resultant metallurgical performance. The implementation stage involves setting the air rates to those that maximise the air and/or metal recovery, and support and training of site personnel including operating manuals. The implementation stage requires an end-user license to be obtained by the sites through Imperial Innovations.
GIW Industries has launched its new High Volume Froth (HVF) pump. Unlike any other pump on the market, GIW says, the HVF pump can pump froth without airlocks. It provides continuous operation without shutdown or operator intervention. The new hydraulic design actually removes air from the impeller eye while the pump is running, so you can keep your process moving and improve efficiency.
The GIW HVF can be retrofit into many existing froth applications. The pump’s deaeration system includes a patent-pending vented impeller and airlock venting. This helps to eliminate sump overflow due to pump airlock; reduce downtime; and allow water use to be restricted to the bare minimum. Fewer pumps are required for less capital expense, requiring less water and power usage.
The HVF pump has been fully tested on froth and viscous liquids. The pump exceeded expectations at a large phosphate company in Finland. The company’s existing pumps were not able to provide the required flow and were airlocking at only one-third of process design capacity. After installing an HVF pump, the company achieved a flow of 415 m3/h.
Traditional slurry pumps are prone to airlock when working with slurries that incorporate froth. A pump works by pulling in a liquid at a certain pressure and adding mechanical force to expel the liquid at a higher pressure. The air in the froth does not want to move to a higherpressure zone, and it is prone to build up at the lower-pressure pump entrance. The accumulation of air can eventually block the pump entrance completely, leading to airlock, which requires pump shutdown or operator intervention to avoid sump overflow.
How is GIW’s HVF pump different? The main innovation is in the impeller design. Typically, air bubbles gather at the centre of the impeller as the heavier fluids are spun to the outer edges. The HVF pump’s de-aeration system includes the vented impeller and airlock venting. In the HVF pump, small holes in the centre of the impeller allow air bubbles to pass through to a separate port. The port vents air up and out of the pump to normal atmospheric pressure.
Any liquid that passes through the port is returned to the process tank. Air is no longer building up at the impeller eye or pump entrance, so airlock is avoided. IM
1. Schubert, H. “On the optimization of hydrodynamics in fine particle flotation.” Minerals Engineering 21, 2008: 930-936.
2. Jameson, G. J. “New directions in flotation machine design.” Minerals Engineering 23, 2010: 835-841.