Technical Note - Thermally assisted liberation of cassiterite

Wills, B. A. ; Binns, D. G. ; Parker, R. H.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 3
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1988
Introduction With the increasing need to mine lower grade ores, high energy-related costs in comminution are of major concern. Very fine grinding is needed to liberate the fine mineral particles in these ores. Not only is this expensive, but it leads to greater losses in slimes. Gravity concentration techniques become unacceptably inefficient for particle treatment below 25 to 50 µm, and even flotation fails in the ultra-fine range. Ore from the South Crofty mine near Redruth, Cornwall, was subjected to thermal pretreatment in the hope that differential thermal expansion of the minerals would lead to intergranular cracking, and thus enhanced liberation. South Crofty ore contains about 1% tin as cassiterite associated with a complex assemblage of quartz, chlorite, tourmaline, and hema¬tite in granite and slate. Recovery of cassiterite can be as low as 70%, as overgrinding occurs during stage reduction of the material to 1 mm (primary grinding) and 180 µm (regrinding). Cassiterite is present in grain sizes ranging from submicroscopic to + 10 mm, the bulk being predominantly in the range of 50 µm to 3 mm. Experimental Flat polished sections of the ore were photographed in reflected light using a Vickers M17 microscope. The sections were then heated in a Carbolite LMF4 muffle furnace. The heating rate and temperature were monitored by a thermocouple immersed in the bed of particles. Previous work by Sherring (1981) on the same material showed that a 55% reduction in grinding resistance occurred when the material was rapidly heated and cooled through the quartz inversion tem¬perature (573°C), where a volumetric expansion of 0.86% occurs. The samples were therefore heated to 650°C at 26°/min, and were then water-quenched to room temperature. The effect of heat treatment on the mineralogy and fracture network was assessed by examining the same area after treatment. Results Most of the sections examined showed that extensive transgranular cracking occurred as a result of heat treatment. Such cracking, although weakening the rock and hence reducing the work index, would in no way enhance the liberation of the cassiterite from the host minerals. Intergranular cracking, which would lead to enhanced liberation, was difficult to discern under reflected light, but there was evidence of such cracking in some of the sections examined. Figures 1 and 2 are examples of typical sections before and after heat treatment. Figures la and lb - show cassiterite in hematite, Fig. lb, in normal incident illumination, illustrating clearly that after heat treatment, transgranular fracture is evident in the cassiterite. If any intergranular cracking has occurred, it is not evident in this photograph. Figures 2a and 2b show cassiterite in quartz before and after treatment. Fracturing in both minerals after treatment can clearly be seen, and there is evidence of intergranular fracturing. However, protruding "arms" of cassiterite are severed by transgranular fracture. Subgrains of quartz have also been isolated by trans¬granular fracture. There is major transgranular cracking across the wider sections of cassiterite. Discussion The effect of rapidly heating South Crofty tin ore to 650°C, followed by water-quenching to room temperature, has been studied by observing the fracture networks in mineral grains. The choice of 650°C as the heating temperature was influenced by the work of Sherring (1981), who found considerable reduction in grinding resistance after thermal pretreatment of the same ore. Scheding et al. (1981), however, have shown, by means of a crude calculation, that heat treatment cannot be justified solely on the basis of reduced grinding costs. The cost of heat treatment far out-weighs that of grinding, resulting in the combined costs for heat treatment being over six times that for grinding unheated material. The most economically attractive aspect of heat treatment is the possibility of enhanced liberation of the valuable mineral due to increased intergranular rather than transgranular fracture. Grinding costs would be greatly reduced by improved liberation at coarser sizes, and the costs of ancillary processes, such as dewatering and tailings disposal, would be reduced. The most significant economic effect, however, would be in improved metallurgical efficiency. Improved liberation would increase concentrate grades, and recoveries would be higher, particularly in the case of ores where high slime losses are produced due to the excessively fine grinding required to produce adequate liberation. Manser (1983) has shown that only a 1% increase in tin recovery, at the same concentrate grade, would be sufficient to offset heat treatment costs on South Crofty ore. Heavy liquid analysis and shaking table separation have been used to evaluate the effect of thermal treatment on processing (Binns, 1984; Scheding, 1981; Sherring, 1981). However, treatment of unheated and heated samples of South Crofty ore, ground to the same product size, by such methods have shown little evidence of improved metallurgical efficiency after thermal pretreatment. The large amount of transgranular fracturing revealed by reflected light studies helps to explain this lack of improvement. Nevertheless, from the evidence of some of the fracture work, it is surprising that no improvements in metallurgical
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