Process Mineralogy Today

A discussion resource for process mineralogy using todays technologies


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Category: Tailings

Reprocessing Tailings Dams – A systematic characterisation approach (Part 2)

In the first part of this blog (2nd April 2014) a brief introduction was given on having a systematic approach to tailings characterisation. There is no argument that tailings dam reprocessing can be profitable, and this blog is not about the methodology to do the actual reprocessing. The research being done is rather on the best way to characterise a tailings dam before processing starts. From published literature it seems that sampling on tailings dams is limited, and variations in tailings mineralisation (and thus grade and recovery potential) are not always taken into account. Yes, a profit can be made using this approach, but is it the optimum profit? Companies involved in reprocessing all drill and sample their tailings dams – the question lies however in whether there can be improvements in the sampling and testing done to provide a more comprehensive picture of the tailings dam. How many companies develop a block model of the tailings dam that includes metallurgical parameters? This is especially important when dealing with a multi commodity tailings dam which will require different processing options for different metals and minerals.


EL_Ernest Henry Tailings Dam



Reprocessing Tailings Dams – A systematic Approach (Part 1)

This is the first of two blogs examining the reprocessing of tailings dams.


Millions of tonnes of sulphide tailings are produced each year from base metal and gold flotation operations. Of these tailings a substantial amount is stored in tailings dams of which an example is shown in Figure 1. These tailings invariably contain sulphides which have potential to cause acid mine drainage (AMD). Sustainable environmental management of tailings is required to mitigate acid mine drainage and to ensure potential future liability at mine closure is obviated. If the sulphide component of tailings could be separated out relatively simply into a low volume fraction that could be separately stored and managed it would represent a major step forward in the environmental management of sulphide tailings (Bruckard and McCallum, 2007).


Fig 1. Ernest Henry Mine – Tailings Dam



Mineralogy: The missing “M” in AMD prediction?

The previous blog of 5th December 2013 Flotation Mineralogy: Valid and Valuable examined the role of mineralogy in flotation.  Indeed, many of these same ideas, challenges and solutions are experienced when dealing with environmental characterisation of ore deposits.  However, the challenge extends further as often environmental managers and superintendents are left with smaller budgets, and fewer staff to undertake such predictive characterisation works.  The key to predicting environmental issues such as formation of acid mine/rock drainage (AMD/ARD) lies in understanding the mineralogy.  If there was just one piece of information or test that one could perform in this field, it would be to obtain mineralogical data, and yet, the current trend is to collect as much geochemical data (i.e., net acid generation and net acid producing potential values) as possible.  Furthermore, when such geochemical data is collected, it is rarely correlated back to the original mineralogy, or indeed to the lithology from which the sample originated. Therefore, how can an ARD block model be produced based on a handful of numbers which do not have any mineralogical or lithological context?


Absence of Mineralogy in ARD



Reinventing the Acid Rock Drainage testing wheel

The Challenge

Acid rock drainage (ARD) testing as practised by the mining industry is in need for reinvention. With the global financial liability associated with ARD estimated at US$100 billion (Tremblay and Hogan, 2001), now is the time to reduce costs, increase knowledge, prevent environmental impacts and reshape environmental ARD testing.  How can Best Practice ARD sampling as recommended by the Australian Government (Price, 2009) be achieved and ARD accurately predicted when using such costly tests and outdated protocols? The scale of the problem increases further when considering that 20-25 Gt of waste rock is produced globally by the mining industry (Lottermoser, 2010). Lower grade deposits are being mined (Mudd, 2007), and whilst much research is conducted as to how to process and extract the value, how should the additional waste rock be most appropriately managed?


ARD at Haulage Creek, Tasmania

ARD at Haulage Creek, Mt Lyell Mine, Tasmania


Operational Health Check Suite

Over the last few months, MinAssist has progressively launched a series of “Operational Health Checks” that have been developed as suite of off-the-shelf process mineralogy studies targeted at giving rapid performance gains for a minimum of fuss.  Each of these fit in to a Suite of programs that are focused on bringing cost savings, recovery improvements and general risk reduction through improved understanding of ore types.


Key points within the processing circuit have been identified, and a mineralogical testwork program developed to:

     – target the typical challenges encountered

     – indicate overall circuit efficiency

     – identify possible areas for improvement


The sample points have been pre-determined, the analytical testwork process developed, and the critical information to examine identified.  This removes much of the hassle for a busy plant metallurgist looking to undertake a process mineralogical study.  It also reduces the overall time-to-result: providing a concise, metallurgically focussed report of the mineralogy in a meaningful time frame.


HC Benefits

The Health Check suite is ideal to for:

     – the busy process metallurgist looking to get the best from a circuit

     – taking a quick look at the health of a circuit to make sure things are running as they should be

     – as a prelude to a more in-depth study based on the findings of the health check


A Health Check can be run as a one-off study, or on a routine basis to build up a complete picture over time.


Tailings Health Check


Lost material going out to the tailings is a hard reality – however are all the losses unavoidable without a major change to the flowsheet or the economics of an operation… or is there material that could still be recovered?  A process mineralogical study of the tailings stream can provide a valuable insight in to the proportion of recoverable vs non-recoverable losses; and may pinpoint some material that can be recovered without major operational changes.  MinAssist has developed the second in it’s suite of off-the-shelf process mineralogy studies; making it quick, simple and cost effective to undertake a Tailings Health Check.


The tailings stream provides the ultimate ‘truth’ for how well a processing operation is running; is everything being recovered that should be recovered?  If not; why not, and what can be done about it?  


What’s in my tailings? Mineralogy as a diagnostic tool for process performance

Tailings evaluation using mineralogy is an area that I believe can define the actual losses in a plant, while simultaneously providing the first step in defining why they occur.  There is massive scope to use an understanding of tailings to see what is and what isn’t working in your process.