Melting Of Platinum Group Metal Concentrates In South Africa

Nell, J.
Organization: The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 6
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2004
An overview is given of the matte melting process used for the beneficiation of South African platinum group metal (PGM) ores. Most producers use six-electrode furnaces to melt the concentrate and Pierce Smith converters to oxidize excess iron sulphide from the furnace matte. Concentrates from two reef types (the so-called Merensky and UG-2 reefs) dominate the feedstock supply. Concentrate from the Merensky Reef is low in chromium and does not pose significant melting problems. Concentrates from the UG-2reef contain much higher levels of chromium, which results in the formation of chromium-rich spinels during melting. This is attributed to the low solubility of chromium in furnace slag under typical operating conditions (an oxygen partial pressure of 10-8?10-9bar at temperatures of 1550°C to 1600°C). During the converting process, care is needed to avoid excessively oxidizing conditions, which result in cobalt, nickel and copper losses to the slag. High nickel losses result in the formation of Fe2NiO4 (trevorite), which often forms solid solutions with FeCr2O4and Fe3O4. In future, the main challenge in the processing of South African PGM ores will be to cope with ever-increasing levels of chromium in the concentrate. A short-term solution to the problem would be to melt the concentrate under slightly reducing conditions to promote the formation of CrO, which is more soluble in the slag than Cr2O3.A longer-term solution to the problem would be to abandon the current matte-smelting process in favour of an alloy-based process, which would offer total flexibility with respect to the amount of chromium that can be tolerated in the feed. Keywords: Merensky, UG-2, furnace, slag, matte, converting, spinel, chromium
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