Extracting Rare Earth Metals with Precious Chemicals

Unearthing rare earth metals with precious chemicals

5:28 AM, 22nd September 2016
Rare Earth Metals Extraction using Precious Chemicals
The demand for zinc, copper, iron and silver is witnessing an exponential growth especially in industries like construction, oil & gas and packaging.

Deteriorating quality and quantity of mineral deposits is failing to keep up with the rising demand for minerals and ores across the globe. To maintain the balance, mineral processors are looking for solutions that can ensure high mineral recovery from ore. One such solution that is gaining momentum in the mining industry is that of mining flotation chemicals which has proved to obtain better grade/recovery curve and meet the surging demand of minerals.

The demand for high quality ore is ever increasing due to the dire need for better quality and quantity metal in the maze of urbanization and industrialization across the globe. The demand for zinc, copper, iron and silver is witnessing an exponential growth especially in industries like construction, oil & gas and packaging. However, an overall decrease in the quality of ores has struck the mining industry hard and has forced the industry to use complicated processing methods. With this, the role of mining chemicals has undergone an overhaul.

The Grand View Research estimates the global mining chemicals market to reach $38.01 billion by 2024. Major extraction companies have accelerated their investments in countries with high mineral reserves like China, Peru, Chile, India, Australia and South Africa. New methods like deep surface mining activities have increased, while high end R&D activities are working towards making sophisticated, and environment friendly chemicals which can eventually lower the cost of mining activities.

On the other hand, stringent government regulations regarding the use of cyanide, environment protection etc, is expected to draw a line on the utilization of certain chemicals for mining activities. To add to this, high transportation cost, high price of chemicals etc are going to affect the growth of the industry in the future.

Changing mining methods

Globally, the industry is witnessing a stark decrease in ore quality of zinc, lead, copper, and nickel which can lead to a heavy blow to the industry growth. Taking cognizance of the issue, sophisticated technologies requiring frothers, flocculants, grinding aids, and solvent extractants are making their way into the industry. In 2015, grinding aids dominated the global market. However, with the deteriorating quality of ores, mining flotation chemicals, including collectors, frothers, dispersants, activators, depressants and flocculants, will rule the industry dynamics.

Flotation technique predominantly separates mineral from ore, based on differences in ability of bubbles to bind with different minerals particle surface in mixed slurry. Miners are looking for increased floatability of the ore for easy extraction making way for growing demand for frothers in froth floatation process of nickel, copper and other rare elements. The growth of flocculants too is expected to be significant in the coming years due to the rising concern over water and wastewater treatment and environmental protection. In purification and extraction of minerals, solvent extractants including ketoxim blends and modified aldoxime are being used increasingly.

Research activities are shifting towards glycol-based frothers, environment-friendly chemicals and advancements in flotation chemicals for phosphate & iron ore, etc. Mining flotation chemicals is expected to witness a major demand surge after 2017 to support the growing urbanisation and increasing construction activities across the globe. Mining flotation chemicals is broadly categorised as sulphide ores and nonsulphide ores, which the former capturing the larger market share, in terms of value.

Future Market Insights predict that the projected CAGR for consumption of mining flotation chemicals in sulphide ores is anticipated to be around 1.0 times higher than the overall market CAGR, whereas non-sulphide ores is projected to 0.8 times lower than the overall market CAGR. While collectors account for largest share in the global mining flotation chemicals market representing over 25 percent of the total market revenue in 2014, flocculants held 20 percent market share and is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 4.5 percent between 2014 and 2020. Frother is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 5 percent during the same period. Methyl isobutyl carbonyl (MIBC) is the most commonly used frother as it offers maximum recovery of metal, followed by pine oil, polyglycol ethers and certain alcohols.

Dispersants, which is used to remove slimes produced during the flotation process and which helps facilitating the process of separation and recovery of minerals, will also witness a steady growth.

Green Mining

Mining is constantly increasing environmental risks which have raised the need for eco-friendly processes at every stage of mining activity, thus giving rise to the concept of ‘green mining’. Mining companies are pushed towards implementing better methods which can ensure reduction of greenhouse gases, selective mining approaches to reduce the ecological footprint, reduction in chemical use in the mining process and reduction in the use of water.

Apart from being major energy consumer, mining industries consume almost 20 percent of the world’s water supplies as almost every stage of the mining process requires huge volume of water. More and more companies are implementing automated mine ventilation system and real-time calculations on water usage to curb the energy and water wastage.

On these lines, Clariant launched, INVOQUE™, a single sediment dewatering package with substantial ecological benefits designed to improve user productivity and profitability. Unlike conventional conditioning / flocculating agents, INVOQUE’s mineral-based additives provide multiple modes of action in a single process. It destabilises, flocculates, precipitates and releases water at the same time as naturally mopping up a number of trace contaminants from the water phase.

“Worldwide close to 800 million tonnes of sediments require costly dewatering and decontamination. Clariant is therefore proud to present the market with this new solution for more sustainable sediment dewatering. With INVOQUE we are already seeing that customers achieve a high level of technical performance in the dewatering step, with operational, ecological and cost benefits on top,” said Gerry Southwood, head, business line sediment management at Clariant Business Unit Functional Minerals.

To address the issues of energy consumption and pollution, Orica recently announced its Ultra High Intensity Blasting technique (UHIB) - an environmentally friendly blasting technique that simultaneously enables a reduction in the total cost of mining while lowering the amount of energy used in comminution to consequently cut CO2 emissions. It does this by safely utilising blast energies several times higher than normal in a completely novel design. The method is also used to reduce dust and vibration from blasting.

“We believe the adoption of the UHIB technique will increase as electricity costs rise and the cost of building new mineral processing plants increases. It is most applicable in regions where electricity supply is expensive; and for mines with hard rock or constrained milling capacity,” said Stephen Boyce, chief mining engineer, Orica.

However, that is not enough. Many mining operations use chemicals including mercury, cyanide etc in the recovery of precious metals. Mining companies are under constant pressure to adopt clean operations that will provide a safe working environment, and stop soil and water pollution.

This has led to the rise of clean technologies by way of implementing membrane based water filtration, hydrometallurgical processes, biologic remediation, carbon capture, near-zero emissions processes, closed-loop systems and other innovations. Miners are developing means of recovering gold without the use of cyanide leaching, and treating acid rock drainage (ARD) with biologically safe materials.

Making mining procedures safe is also an issue struggled by most companies. One such initiative was done by Clariant Mining Solutions who developed several new technologies which are effective alternatives to hazardous xanthate collectors. In powder and pellet form, xanthates have been an industry staple for the collection of sulfide minerals for over a century. However, they pose health risks to workers, present disposal challenges to mining companies, may require additional infrastructure for handling, and are classified as a fire and explosion hazard.

“This is groundbreaking new collector technology for those operations mining copper,” said John Gordon, global head of Clariant Mining Solutions. “With the HOSTAFLOT products being shipped and dosed in liquid form, they offer a high flotation performance and a safer handling and disposal solution than xanthates, can lower the capital expenditures for mines to convert powdered xanthate into a liquid solution, and provide a longer shelf life than solid xanthate.”

The more we dig the more complexities we will unearth. And to untangle these complexities, better chemicals will make its way into the industry to extract the finest of rare earth metals.

© Chemical Today Magazine

See the Story Coverage in Chemical Today magazine (Pg 36)




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