Pre-Concentration More than Bulk Ore Sorting

Author(s) L. Pyle, W. Valery, P. Holtham, K. Duffy

The mining industry is becoming increasingly focussed on pre-concentration due to its potential economic and environmental benefits, particularly for the more complex, low grade, high throughput operations now being developed. Advances in technology have seen bulk ore sorting (BOS) trialled at several operations. However, BOS should not be seen as a ‘silver bullet’, it can offer significant benefits, but only under the right conditions. Deposits with interspersed mineralogy or disseminated, fine-grained minerals can be difficult for BOS. Large batches of barren or low-grade material are required for BOS to be effective.

Hatch has recently completed several studies for clients who believed that bulk sorting was the most suitable pre-concentration technique for their operation, based only on an assumed sorter recovery or on laboratory trials of the chosen sensor. However, minimal consideration had been given to the heterogeneity of the deposit, the achievable separation batch size or sensor repeatability.

Evaluation of BOS needs to consider both heterogeneity and sensor suitability. The valuable or gangue mineral must be present in such a way that it can be separated effectively in the large bulk sorting batch sizes, without competing minerals or changing ore characteristics affecting the metal upgrade or recovery. Also, the sensor chosen must be able to detect either the valuable mineral, a proxy for the valuable mineral, or a gangue mineral for rejection with sufficient accuracy and precision (repeatability).

This paper presents three recent case studies, emphasising markers which indicated that bulk sorting was unsuitable for the project whilst highlighting the pre-concentration technologies which were applicable (including particle sorting, and coarse particle gravity separation). The modelling methodology, equipment sizing and forward work plans developed to verify these alternative solutions are also presented, demonstrating the key factors contributing to a thorough scoping assessment.