You are on page 1of 5

So far in this module we've looked at how coal and minerals are found and how they're

mined. In this topic, we will look at the next step in the process that is upgrading the
mined material to increase the concentration of the valuable component before it is then
transported to the customer. The process of upgrading the concentration of the valuable
00:30product in the mined material is variously described as beneficiation, washing,
cleaning, preparation, or processing.

In this topic, we focus on the beneficiation of coal. In the next topic, we will look at the
processing of metalliferous ores. The purpose of beneficiation of coal is to reduce the
concentration of unwanted material or gangue, which in the coal industry, is referred to
as mineral matter or ash.This is so as to reduce transport costs. Why pay freight costs
for worthless rock? And increase the calorific value.

The run of mine feed to a coal preparation plant consists of many lumps of pure coal,
some lumps of pure mineral matter or gangue, and some composite or so called
middling
particles which consist of some coal and bangs of mineral matter. Because most coal
breaks readily during mining, it requires only minor crushing to break it down to a
manageable size for handling with a top size of around five to ten centimeter. Hence,
coal plants don't require multiple stages of crushing and grinding to grind the coal down
to a fine powder as is done with most mineral processing. Instead, coal plants screen
and classify the run of mine feed into a series of size fractions referred to as coarse,

small, fine, and ultra fine. This series of figures shows that there are many different
steps in the processes that follow.

First, each of the size fractions is treated in parallel using cleaning methods that work
best for that particular size fraction. The large and small fractions can be beneficiated
using dense medium processes. The fine size is treated in various ways including
spirals
and reflux classifiers. The ultra fine fraction, if there is sufficient valuable material to
justify processing, is usually treated using flotation. We'll talk more about dense medium
processes in a moment and flotation in the next topic. Afterwards, the products need to
dewatered before shipping to the customer. The tailings or reject solids also need to be
dewatered before they too are disposed of. The water recovered in the dewatering step
is reused wherever possible.
Coal and gangue minerals can only be separated on the basis of some difference in
their basic physical properties such as their colour, their density, or their surface
chemistry. In optical or x-ray separation techniques, the fact that coal is black and that
most of the gangue rocks are light coloured is used as the discriminating characteristic.
When a stream of particles is passed along and scanned using x-ray or optical light and
the colour difference is detected, the lighter coloured gangue particles can be blasted
from the stream using a directed jet of air. Density or gravity based separation
techniques utilize
the fact that coal has a density of about 1.2 times that of water, but the common gangue
rock minerals have a density of between 2.4 and 2.6 times that of water. And so this
difference in density can be used in gravity separation techniques. Flotation is a
technique that uses differences in a particle surface chemistry. It works particularly well

on the ultra fine fraction of coal, but we'll talk about this in the next topic with
metalliferous ores.
There are a wide variety of industrial processes that seek to separate particles on the
basis of differences in their density. For two particles of the same size, a particle with
high
density will settle faster than a particle with lower density. Another way to separate coal
from its gangue minerals is to use dense medium separation. The principle of dense
medium separation relies on the fact that coal particles have a density of around 1.2
times
04:24that of water, but the gangue that it's associated with has a density of around 2.6
times that of water. So what that means is if we can find a fluid with a density
somewhere between 1.2 and 2.6 times that of water, and if we can then suspend coal
and gangue particles in that fluid, the coal particles at 1.2 times that of water will float to
the surface and the gangue particles, at 2.6 times that of water, will sink to the bottom.
Such fluids exist but they are expensive. The mining industry has up with a novel way of
creating a fluid of the required density by employing a suspension of fine magnetite
particles in water.
The jar beside me contains a layer a fine magnetite particles, around 100 microns in
size, sitting at the bottom of a layer of water. If you look inside the jar, you will actually
see that
05:18there are two dice sitting on the surface of the magnetite. These two dice, in fact,
have identity about the same as coal, about 1.2 times that of water, which is why they've
sunk to the bottom of the layer of water. Why have I used dice? Well I could put two
particles of coal in there, but because coal particles are black they 'd be very hard to
see amongst the black magnetite. So let's imagine for this experiment that the dice are
particles of coal. So if I take the jar and shake it up to form a suspension with the fine
magnetite particles, the suspension will have a density of about 1.9 times that of water.
That means that the dice or the coal with a density of 1.2 times that of water will float on
the top and any gangue minerals with a density of 2.6 times that of water would sink to
the bottom. Let's give the jar a shake and see what happens. Now we can see the dice
are sitting at the surface of the magnetite suspension. In this topic, I introduced you to
the purpose and philosophy of coal beneficiation. There are many more clever and
complex processes to separate coal from its gangue, and probably the most important
of those is that of flotation. But we'll talk about that in the next topic when we look at the
way we separate metal ores from their gangue.