In the field of extractive metallurgy, mineral processing, also known as mineral dressing or ore dressing, is the process of separating commercially valuable minerals from their ores.
Before the advent of heavy machinery the raw ore was broken up using hammers wielded by hand, a process called “spalling”. Before long, mechanical means were found to achieve this. For instance, stamp mills were used in Samarkand as early as 973. They were also in use in medieval Persia. By the 11th century, stamp mills were in widespread use throughout the medieval Islamic world, from Islamic Spain and North Africa in the west to Central Asia in the east. A later example was the Cornish stamps, consisting of a series of iron hammers mounted in a vertical frame, raised by cams on the shaft of a waterwheel and falling on to the ore under gravity.
The simplest method of separating ore from gangue consists of picking out the individual crystals of each. This is a very tedious process, particularly when the individual particles are small. Another comparatively simple method relies on the various minerals having different densities, causing them to collect in different places: metallic minerals (being heavier) will drop out of suspension more quickly than lighter ones, which will be carried further by a stream of water. The process of panning and sifting for gold uses both of these methods. Various devices known as ‘buddles’ were used to take advantage of this property.[when?] Later, more advanced machines were used such as the Frue vanner, invented in 1874.
Other equipment used historically includes the hutch, a trough used with some ore-dressing machines and the keeve or kieve, a large tub used for differential settlement.
Mineral processing can involve four general types of unit operation: comminution – particle size reduction; sizing – separation of particle sizes by screening or classification; concentration by taking advantage of physical and surface chemical properties; and dewatering – solid/liquid separation. In all of these processes, the most important considerations are the economics of the processes and this is dictated by the grade and recovery of the final product. To do this, the mineralogy of the ore needs to be considered as this dictates the amount of liberation required and the processes that can occur. The smaller the particles processes, the greater the theoretical grade and recovery of the final product, but this however is diffucult to do with fine particles as they prevent certain concentration processes from occurring.
Comminution is particle size reduction of materials. Comminution may be carried out on either dry materials or slurries. Crushing and grinding are the two primary comminution processes. Crushing is normally carried out on “run-of-mine” ore, while grinding (normally carried out after crushing) may be conducted on dry or slurried material.
Sizing is the general term for separation of particles according to their size.
The simplest sizing process is screening, or passing the particles to be sized through a screen or number of screens. Screening equipment can include grizzlies, bar screens,wedge wire screens, radial sieves, banna screens, multi-deck screens, vibratory screen, fine screens, flip flop screens and wire mesh screens. Screens can be static (typically the case for very coarse material), or they can incorporate mechanisms to shake or vibrate the screen. Some considerations in this process includes the screen material, the aperture size, shape and orientation, the amount of near sized particles, the addition of water, the amplitude and frequency of the vibrations, the angle of inclination, the presence of harmful materials, like steel and wood, and the size distribution of the particles.
Classification refers to sizing operations that exploit the differences in settling velocities exhibited by particles of different size. Classification equipment may include ore sorters, gas cyclones, hydrocyclones, rotating trommels, rake classifiers or fluidized classifiers.
An important factor in both comminution and sizing operations is the determination of the particle size distribution of the materials being processed, commonly referred to as particle size analysis. Many techniques for analyzing particle size are used, and the techniques include both off-line analyses which require that a sample of the material be taken for analysis and on-line techniques that allow for analysis of the material as it flows through the process.
There are a number of ways to increase the concentration of the wanted minerals: in any particular case the method chosen will depend on the relative physical and surface chemical properties of the mineral and the gangue. Concentration is defined as the number of moles of a solute in a volume of the solution.
Historically the earliest method used,particles can be classified based on their specific gravity. Air is the main fluid medium used for the process. Gravity concentration processes include:
Heavy media or dense media separation (these include, baths, drums, larcodems, dyana whirlpool separators, and dense medium cyclones)
Shaking tables, such as the Wilfley table
Centrifugal bowl concentrators, such as the Knelson concentrator
Jig concentrators are continuous processing gravity concentration devices using a pulsating fluidized bed.
Multi gravity separators (Falcon, Knelson, Mozley and the Kelsey Jig)
Inline pressure Jigs