Microwave Energy as an Aid to Smelting

Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 4
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1989
The dielectric properties of practically all oxide and sulphide ore minerals are such that they heat rapidly when irradiated with microwaves particularly at the standard frequency of 2450 MHz. The presence of carbon or low rank coal mixed with the minerals still further enhances the heating rate. Amongst the patented technologies being investigated are: (i) the direct reduction of oxides with or without carbon included in the pellets or briquettes; (ii) microwave precursor heating of composites ahead of smelt reduction; (iii) microwave smelting of ore or concentrate mixtures with carbon, sometimes assisted with oxygen. Microwaves appear to stimulate endothermic reduction reactions as readily as they do exothermic oxidation reactions. Being a method of achieving "bulk" heating, composites or columns of ore-char blends rapidly heat throughout rather than from the outside inwards as in conventional heating. The microwaves of themselves do not generate any gas - the only gases to be cleaned are the products of reaction in the composites or blends, plus the products of oxygen smelting. In the case of sulphide composites, depending on the quantity and type of low rank coal or char present, sulphur may be eliminated, and collected, in the elemental form. Furthermore, reactions seem to take place at lower temperatures than in conventional smelting but no doubt at the "points" where actual reactions are taking place the atomic or molecular vibrations are such as to satisfy the laws of thermodynamics. Examples are given of the production of unusual products of smelting sulphide concentrates and also the alloys produced from refractory minerals such as chromite and ilmenite. The techniques have been used to produce products with as wide a range of melting points as relatively pure tin and tungsten-molybdenum alloys. Special equipment is being designed and evaluated for these new fields of pyrometallurgy.
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