By Ramoutar Seecharran, Plant Superintendent, Frontier Mine, DR Congo 1: Introduction The author was asked to visit our sister plant, Guelb Moghrein, in Mauritania, and advise on matter pertaining to flotation issues. Guelb had been encountering low concentrate grades with high arsenic content in their final product. A visit was made from 24th to 28th December 2008, allowing 3 full days of study. During this period, it was unfortunate that refractory material, high graphite content, from the surface stockpile was treated. This is evident by the fact that the use of frother was suspended at 0900 hrs on 25th until the time of departure, and the physical appearance of the froth still indicated high frother content. At the time, a polypropylene glycol frother was being used; such frother does not build up in the recycled process water. In the unlikely event of a build up occurring, it would have taken 20-30 hours to purge the system; here it lasted over 72 hours, proving the deleterious effect of graphite.

Figure 1: Open pit at Guelb The copper mineralisation at Guelb is predominantly Chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) comprising about 80% and Cubanite (CuFe2S3), making up the remaining 20%. The main sulphide gangue being Pyrrhotite (FeS). The predominant non sulphide gangue is fibrous Amphibolite, called Anthophyllite, a cousin to the other asbestos mineral, Tremolite. Anthophyllite is highly surface active and it causes severe scaling problems with plant piping. Guelb started off as a TORCO (Treatment Of Refractory Copper Ore) plant in 1970 and closed down in 1977 as a result of technical difficulties and rising oil prices. When it was in operation, it was the only TORCO plant in the world. The existing plant was added as an appendage to the original Torco plant, and it worked well at lower tonnages and with favourable mineralogy. As tonnage increased, and mineralogy became more refractory, the weaknesses started to surface. 1

It is evident that some modifications were carried out under stress and panic rather than judiciously, the highly accurate and thorough plant sampling exercise carried out in May 2007 corroborates this assessment. Overall, although the plant operators, and local supervisors, are not of a high academic standard, compared to plants like Kansanshi and Frontier, they showed immense capacity and eagerness to learn. Language is not perceived as a problem. However, it could take another 6 months or so to get them up to international standards where their own initiative will come into play, rather than that of the expat shift supervisor. Continuous on-the-job training, round the clock, like that which was implemented at Frontier at start up, in late 2007, is called for. Despite the refractory ore which was treated during the visit, the author is convinced that a concentrate grade of 23-25% Cu with arsenic below 2500ppm and a tailings grade of 0.18-0.21% Cu can be achieved as the plant norm. The Courier on-stream analyser proved invaluable here, and this was backed up by plant samples analysed by the lab. This compares with INTERMET’s theoretical metallurgical modelling of 25% Cu in cons and 0.20% Cu in tails. Plant hygiene was not of the highest standard, this was as a result of pump boxes overflowing, rather than the reluctance of the plant operatives to carry out clean up. They were literally being overwhelmed, from hour to hour. Plant technical personnel are aware of where pumps needed speeding up, or bigger pumps installed, and their mechanical counterparts enthusiastically facilitated the installations, only to find that the equipments have not been installed because of a lack of electrical upgrade. To draw a parallel with Frontier, the electrical upgrade is made prior to the actual installation!

Figure 2: Flowsheet of Mauritanian Copper Mines processing plant


2: Observations and Recommendations 2.1: The roughing/scavenging bank is running too slow. Scavenger cells 5 and 6 are running like rougher cells 1 and 2 should run. This invariably leads to lower than anticipated recoveries. Operators are forced to do so because pump, PMP3001A is unable to cope with the volume. PMP3001B has been upgraded but is awaiting electrical upgrade prior to commissioning. This should be treated with greater urgency. In addition, speeding up this bank increases the load to the first cleaner bank, this results in the tails sump overflowing. Pump PMP3009B has been upgraded and is also awaiting an electrical upgrade. 2.2: The operators need to be taught the difference between a good and a bad froth. After 4 hours with them, they were able to decipher for themselves the difference, and were engaging in dialogues for future improvements, Figure 3. And 72 hours later, the remarkable results is shown in Figure 4. Froth crowding often occurs on the first cell in a bank. Because the froth is thick and viscous, insols get entrained. The misconception of most plant operators is to instinctively speed up such cells, this only leads to a higher mass pull of insols. It is often best to accommodate this distasteful appearance, and use that cell as a conditioner. This practice gives the “hydrophilic” particles a chance to get wetted. As a result, there is better segregation in the succeeding cells between hydrophilic and hydrophobic particles. Judiciously speeding up the succeeding cells in that bank gives better flotation grades. The ideal froth is the one shown in Figure 4. Here the bubbles are constantly breaking and reforming, giving the hydrophilic insols a chance to sink to the bottom of the flotation cells and report as tailings. The ideal froth is shown in Figure 5.

Original Froth

Improved Froth

Figure 3: Original and Improved froth at Guelb, after 4 hours of training


Figure 4: Froth 72 hours later

Figure 5: Ideal froth, note clear patches signifying imminent breakage 2.3: From the grind vs grade regression graph shown in Figure 6, and to avoid the question of fineness of grind being raised in the future, it should be placed on record that a grind of 67-70% passing 75microns be adhered to. More often than not, the plant has operated within this envelope.


25.5 GRADE % Cu 25.0 24.5 24.0 23.5 23.0 22.5 64.5 65.5 66.5 67.5 68.5 69.5

GRIND % -75um

Figure 6: Grade vs Grind regression (June – December 2008) 2.4: Concentrate from Rougher cell 6 should be isolated and pumped back to the head of flotation. It bears a close resemblance in grind and copper content to flotation feed, as shown in Figure 7. Such a move will have a
double pronged effect, firstly, that cell can then be run as a conventional scavenger, and secondly, that reagents associated with such a froth might make the froth in the first two cells more brittle, thus giving better control over grade. The feed box to cell 1 already has ports to accommodate this material, Figure 8.
Float Feed
Size - µm +212 +180 +150 +106 +75 +53 +45 -45 Total Grade Total Weight % Dist Cu Dist As 1.87 1.84 2.76 9.60 12.87 12.07 5.35 53.63 1.0 1.0 1.5 6.9 12.4 12.8 6.0 58.4 1.62 P80 (µm) 0.6 0.2 0.0 5.2 9.4 15.4 6.3 62.8 638 Dist Au 1.2 2.2 3.0 9.0 13.5 14.2 7.5 49.4 1.99

Rougher Cell 6 Concentrate
Size - µm +106 +75 +53 +45 -45 Total Grade Total Weight % Dist Cu Dist As Dist Au 7.30 12.59 16.14 6.07 57.90 14.0 11.2 10.2 3.0 61.6 1.70 P80 (µm) 0.0 0.0 4.1 2.4 93.4 1283 10.6 7.1 10.8 3.9 67.6 3.30



Float Feed

Rougher Cell 6 Cons

Figure 7: Note similarity between Rougher Cell 6 Cons and Float Feed (16/05/2007)


Figure 8: Ports on feedbox of Rougher cell 1 2.5: At least 40% of the copper lost in tailings is in the minus 53 microns size faction, as shown in Figure 9. Clariant, the reagent manufacturer does produce a frother reputed for generation of small bubbles. Such a frother, if used on the gold scavenger flotation circuit, might float most of that copper in the first 2 cells of that bank. A plant trial is highly recommended. This concentrate can probably then join that of the rougher/scavenger bank.
Rougher Tail
Size - µm +212 +180 +150 +106 +75 +53 +45 -45 Total Grade Total Weight % Dist Cu 2.54 2.22 3.28 10.76 13.24 12.78 4.63 50.55 9.6 6.7 6.8 16.5 13.1 6.6 2.0 38.9 0.12 P80 (µm) Dist As 0.0 1.6 0.0 0.1 0.1 4.0 5.3 88.8 256 Dist Au 3.4 4.3 7.6 13.1 14.3 12.3 4.3 40.8 0.96


Figure 9: Metal distribution in Rougher tailings (16/05/2007)

2.6: Flotation cell level control is an art which has been mastered by the most experienced operators. The less experienced ones do so by trial and error. 6

The tail end of each group of cells is controlled by two valves, one manual and the other automatic. At low flows there is no problem, but at high flows, the manual valve has to be partially opened so that the auto valve does the controlling. It is recommended that actuators be procured to make both valves automatic. The cell level measuring device is state of the art! 2.7: Note the similarity between 1st cleaners cell 7 (or cleaner scavenger cell 4) cons grade and that of 2nd cleaners (or recleaners, at the time of sampling) tails. Figure 10. Those two should follow the same route. Re-examination of the rerouting of these streams ties in with the reevaluation of the regrind circuit operation.
Cleaner Cell 7 Concentrate
Size - µm Weight % Dist Cu Dist As Dist Au +150 +106 +75 +53 +45 -45 Total Grade Total 1.19 3.93 6.32 7.96 3.25 77.35 1.8 5.7 8.7 8.3 2.5 73.1 7.43 P80 (µm) 1.0 3.7 6.6 7.6 4.3 76.8 1968 1.9 5.9 10.6 9.9 3.4 68.3 8.23

ReCleaner Tail
Size - µm Weight % Dist Cu Dist As Dist Au +75 +53 +45 -45 Total Grade Total

5.03 6.14 3.44 85.40

8.3 9.1 3.9 78.8 8.84 P80 (µm)

4.3 12.3 5.8 77.6 1829

19.3 22.3 11.5 47.0 5.67



Cleaner cell 7 cons 2 Cleaner tails Figure 10: Note similarity between Cleaner Cell 7 Cons and 2nd Cleaner Tails (16/05/2007) 2.8: The regrind mill is operating in open circuit. This is highly unconventional. But it is assumed that the results shown in Figure 11 precipitated such a move. It is felt that a more critical look at the classification circuit would have led to a more plausible solution. Krebs engineering are capable of running a highly accurate simulation of the circuit. It is strongly felt that such an avenue should be pursued. Without classification, how do we know that the regrind circuit is effective? However, in the interim, the operation of the mill should be optimized, especially by ensuring that the ball load is approximately 15-20% by volume. The plant survey of 16 May 2007 indicates that the material being fed to the regrind mill does not require further comminution, as shown below: Cleaner scavenger cell 4 p80 60.0 microns Cleaner scavenger cell 5 p80 65.3 microns Cleaner scavenger cell 6 p80 47.5 microns Cleaner scavenger cell 7 p80 51.5 microns


Regrind Mill Feed (Cleaner Concentrate)
Size - µm +106 +75 +53 +45 -45 Total Grade Total Weight % Dist Cu Dist As Dist Au 3.43 6.83 10.41 4.82 74.51 3.5 7.9 11.3 5.5 71.9 18.83 P80 (µm) 5.6 11.5 17.3 7.0 58.6 2988 4.4 9.8 12.4 4.6 68.9 16.64

Regrind Mill Cyclone Feed
Size - µm Weight % Dist Cu Dist As Dist Au +106 +75 +53 +45 -45 Total Grade Total 2.78 6.16 11.43 6.31 73.33 2.7 7.7 12.8 6.6 70.1 7.59 P80 (µm) 1.4 5.2 11.7 7.7 74.0 2272 9.5 20.3 19.6 7.3 43.2 11.61

Regrind Mill Cyclone O/F
Size - µm Weight % Dist Cu Dist As Dist Au +75 +53 +45 -45 Total Grade Total 1.55 4.52 4.57 89.36 2.6 6.9 5.3 85.1 8.56 P80 (µm) 1.3 9.1 7.8 81.8 1816 6.9 18.9 17.5 56.7 4.92




Mill Feed

Mill Discharge

Classifier Product

Figure 11: Comparison between Regrind Mill Feed, Discharge and Product (16/05/2007) 2.9: At present, approximately 50% of Sodium Ethyl Xanthate (SEX) is added to the mill discharge sump, 25% to rougher cell 3 and the remaining 25% to rougher cell 5. This is a good practice, however, the 50% added to mill discharge sump could be replaced with one of the sodium dithiophospates (DTP) with an addition rate of 3-5gt-1. This could prove to be useful against the flotation of arsenopyrite. It is used successfully at Grasberg in Indonesia, where they also have a problem with high arsenic. However the Grasberg deposit is a skarn type and does not contain graphite and anthophyllite. In the early 1990’s, Grasberg’s concentrate, then called Ertsberg concentrate, was renowned as the concentrate with the highest arsenic content in the world. Grasberg produces a 28% Cu concentrate at a recovery of 86%. Instead of the mill discharge at Guelb, the DTP should be added to mill feed. 2.10: The thickeners should operate with a slight bed, up to 30%. The cone at the bottom of the feed wells on thickeners of this type diverts the feed into such a bed which then acts as a trap. This is synonymous to the teeter bed on the old fashion thickeners. This ensures that a clear supernatant is achieved. A bed level indicator is installed but needs refurbishing. The current system of using a dipstick to measure and maintain a bed level of about 1 metre seems to work and should continue.


Fresh Feed

Clear Supernatant

Thickened Underflow

Figure 12: High rate thickener, note deflector cone to divert feed into solids bed 2.11: A froth retaining ring, Figure 14, needs to be fitted to contain the froth within the thickeners. This invention came into being after these thickeners were constructed. Figure 13.

Figure 13: Froth on Guelb’s thickener, no froth retaining ring


Figure 14: Froth retaining ring on a modern thickener 3: Acknowledgements The author is indebted to the management of Frontier mine for releasing him to conduct this study. The efficiency with which Diana and Merlin handled visa and travel arrangements was beyond belief. Silas gave full freedom of the plant. Steve, acting as General Manager, gave continuous encouragement, be it in the car park, at lunch or in the club. The entire metallurgical team was receptive. It was an honour to interact with such professional people. The close knit family at Guelb will continue to be the bright jewel in the larger First Quantum crown.


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful