Selection and Sizing of Sedimentation-Based Equipment

Emmett, R. C.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 11
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1986
Gravity sedimentation is one of the most widely used unit operations in mineral processing and hydrometallurgy. Properly selected and operated sedimentation equipment can provide probably the most economical means of concentrating solids or clarifying solutions. Because of the variety of different approaches possible, including the use of modern flocculants, it is easy to overlook the optimum approach in selecting equipment. The different types of sedimentation systems that can be used in the minerals field and the sizing methods that are currently employed will be discussed here. Sedimentation applications usually fall into two areas, clarification or thickening. While the two operations are basically similar, the difference in emphasis (a well-clarified overflow as opposed to a highly concentrated underflow) results in significant differences in testing, equipment design, and operation. Clarifiers may be merely simple settling vessels with no special features, other than ample volume to provide the detention time needed for suspended solids to settle out of the feed slurry. Or, they can be designed to employ elaborate solids-contact techniques utilizing coagulants or flocculants to achieve more rapid clarification through the growth of particle agglomerates. Thickeners also are available in a wide variety of designs, with the main differences concentrated in the design of the raking mechanism. Thickeners operating in series (continuous countercurrent decantation or CCD) are used to recover valuable solution or purify the insoluble solids. Tray thickeners are used for recovering fine particulate solids such as alumina seed, but in other applications have been supplanted largely by unit thickeners or inclined plate units. Thickeners and clarifiers sometimes are used for storage of either solids or overflow liquor, or employed as precipitating reactors, such as in desilication applications. The use of flocculants and coagulants is much more common in modern processing plants, primarily due to the reduction in capital costs rendered possible through the use of these reagents. The terms flocculant and coagulant are often used interchangeably; generally, it is understood that flocculants refer to organic, high molecular weight synthetic or natural polymers which are useful in flocculating most suspended solids, but generally are ineffective on colloidal suspensions. Coagulants refer to chemicals such as those commonly used in water treatment, alum, ferric salts, lime, etc., which are usually far more effective on colloidal solids but cannot achieve the degree of agglomeration that is possible with the polymers. In some cases, both coagulants and flocculants are used in order to achieve optimum results.
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