1998 Gaudin Lecture - Fundamental fallout from column flotation

Finch, James A.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 8
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1999
The Gaudin lecture is devoted to fundamentals. Given my involvement with column flotation over the last 20 years, this is my topic. I have tried to identify spinoff basic research and provide a personal list of favorites. Two are selected for discussion here. They are single bubble rise and bubble surface area flux. The rationale for such work, as well as some of the findings, are reviewed. Support for fundamental work seems as volatile as the economy (and the link is probably not coincidental). I hope some utility to the minerals industry is evident in the text. Column flotation in its current form originated in the early 1960s. The method was invented by Boutin, patented by Boutin and Tremblay and pursued doggedly by Wheeler. Their aim was to overcome the problem of mechanical entrainment of fine particles in the water carried by the bubbles, which they were convinced contributed to lowering flotation concentrate grades (Wheeler, 1988; Finch and Dobby, 1990). The solution was a combination of columnar geometry, the addition of wash water into a deep froth and the maintenance of an excess of water to the tailings, as compared to the feed (a so-called positive bias). Success at Les Mines Gaspe, Quebec, on cleaning Mo in the early 1980s signaled the start of industrial acceptance, making the column one of the flotation machines of choice today. Over the next 20 years, column applications mushroomed to cover virtually all mineral commodities, as well as nonmineral applications such as soil decontamination, deoiling of water and deinking of recycled paper. In the wake, research groups are continuing to probe the fundamentals, conferences and workshops have been transferring the technology and specialist companies have emerged to service the demand. Innovations were triggered as problems arose (for instance, in gas injection systems) and novel flotation cells, much in vogue in the 1990s, had the door opened. Mechanical cell manufacturers have not been idle - there is nothing like competition to provoke a fresh look at an established business. Flotation-cell technology has probably not seen so much activity since the patent rush in the early days of flotation, which occurred around the turn of the century. For an industry often considered reluctant to risk innovation, this is not a bad record. A good idea will find a place, but patience (not always an innovators strong suit) and careful preparation are required. Two books (Finch and Dobby, 1990; Rubenstein, 1996), three symposia (Sastry, 1988; Agar and Huls, 1991; Gomez and Finch, 1996), and a series of reviews (Dobby and Finch, 1991; Finch and Dobby, 1991; Finch, 1995; Finch et al., 1995) document the period. Like many good ideas, column flotation has been overexposed, and there have been disappointments. In a recent example, columns performing scavenging duty were replaced by mechanical cells (Chong et al., 1998). The further applications stray from the original - to
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