Extensive testing conducted by a Kalgoorlie, Western Australia-based research hub has found Western Australian Goldfields mine sites can add value to their operations by focusing on small size fractions.
In recent decades, the primary driver to maximise profitability of mining operations has been to mine and process as much material as possible to exploit economies of scale. This has led to bigger equipment, higher throughput and greater production, but not necessarily efficient use of resources.
With the concerns of declining grades, more complex orebodies, greater haulage distances, higher energy costs and water usage, any approach that can alleviate the impact of these issues is highly desirable.
The Kalgoorlie-Boulder Mining Innovation Hub recently explored use of a pre-concentration technique known as “Grade by Size Deportment”.
“This technique exploits the propensity for some ores to exhibit preferential breakage leading to concentration of minerals in specific size fractions,” it explained.
Several sites within the Goldfields region of WA showed significant potential for separation by size to provide value to their operations, according to the hub. This is particularly the case where either marginal grades are present or growing distances from face to surface, or, from mine to mill, are subject to increasing transport costs, it said.
Research and test work by the hub show that natural grade by size deportment during coarse rock breakage and screening is a key lever for generating high-value coarse separation, it said. This, in turn, can drive better productivity and returns for mine operators.
The Kal Hub, established in 2018 by the Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE), enables focused collaboration between researchers; mining equipment, technology and services suppliers; and mining companies to unlock value for Australian mining through technology development.
CRC ORE Chief Operating Officer, Dr Luke Keeney, said: “In a short amount of time, the hub has been able to bring together some of the most innovative people in industry and research, enabling collaborative innovation to occur.
“This collaboration is good for the Goldfields, and for the wider mining industry, as it demonstrates the benefits mine sites can experience by deploying various aspects of Grade Engineering®, including grade-by-size deportment.”
Grade Engineering is a system-based methodology developed by CRC ORE designed to reject low value material early in the extraction value chain and pre-concentrate processing plant feed. A key lever for successful Grade Engineering is grade-by-size deportment, the hub said.
The Kal Hub Technical Advisor, Dr Laurence Dyer, said the objective of the Grade-by-Size Deportment project was to undertake initial representative sample testing to determine natural deportment Response Rankings at a range of deposits in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder region.
“This project provided an introduction for industry participants to Grade Engineering and an indication of potential opportunities that grade-by-size deportment may present,” Dr Dyer said.
“A number of companies came on board and we were able to obtain diamond drill core and reverse circulation (RC) drilling samples from a variety of sites in the Goldfields to crush, screen and assay to develop a snapshot of responses to this approach.”
Samples were crushed where necessary and screened into up to six size fractions, with a finer set of screens used for the RC samples to accommodate the difference in particle size distribution.
As expected, gold sites displayed significant variation in response, while all nickel sites tested showed significant upgrade in the finer fractions of both nickel and cobalt, the hub said.
“RC samples were a compelling sample option due to their prevalence and self-preparation for screening, however there remains a question as to the legitimacy of the results they generate,” it added.
Dr Dyer said: “Gold samples produced varied data with the majority of sites producing low to moderate upgrades on average.
“The RC samples generated greater variation and often decreased in grade at the finest size fractions, likely due to particles being below liberation size, creating issues with the response ranking fit.”
The Kal Hub research also showed nickel produced far more consistent behaviour with all sites producing moderate to high responses for both nickel and cobalt. While for some samples the nickel and cobalt response rankings matched well, in others, the nickel upgraded significantly better, it said.