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The Formation of Bubble Clusters in Flotation Cells Effect of

Impeller Speed
S Ata1, A Agarwal1 and G J Jameson2

ABSTRACT Flotation cell

This paper is concerned with the observation and analysis of bubble The flotation tests were conducted in a 12 L mechanically-
clusters in a laboratory flotation cell. A device was used in which bubbles agitated flotation cell with dimensions 255 mm 255 mm
were allowed to rise in clean water containing the same frother and 225 mm high. The air flow rate was controlled using a rotameter
collector concentration as in the cell. Bubble clusters were recorded using a and was set at five litres per minute. The volume of liquid
high speed camera and analysed using an image analyser. Dodecyl amine initially added to the cell was ten litres, giving a nominal froth
was employed as a collector to float silica. The effect of impeller speed on depth of 65 mm, and an actual froth depth of 43 mm when the air
the cluster behaviour was investigated. The results were interpreted in
holdup in the agitated liquid in the cell is taken into account. The
terms of cluster diameter and shape factor. The sizes of the bubbles
forming the clusters were also measured and compared to the sizes of the
liquid level was maintained constant during experiments by a
independent bubbles in the cell. It was found that there was an optimum gravity control device. The lower end of the sampling probe was
impeller speed in which the cluster diameter was a maximum. Higher located at 25 mm below the liquid level in the cell, 85 mm from
agitation and the consequent higher power inputs resulted in cluster the front wall and 10 mm from the side wall. The impeller, of
break-up while lower shear rates promoted cluster formation. diameter 150 mm, consisted essentially of a flat disc from which
depended 18 peg-like blades of width 14 mm, thickness 10 mm
and height 30 mm. The impeller was surrounded by a stator of
INTRODUCTION conventional design, consisting of 16 vertical stationary guide
It has previously been shown that bubbles rising in a flotation blades.
cell form aggregates or clusters (Ata and Jameson, 2005). It was
observed that in the presence of floatable solids, bubble clusters Bubble sizing equipment
would form, held together by particles that attach to two or more
bubbles and form stable bridges between them. The equivalent The technique used in this work is based on the approach
diameter of the clusters in the cell increased with increases in the described by Jameson and Allum (1984). It is essentially a
reagent dosage, which could be directly related to increases in vertical column of clean water in which bubble clusters rise and
the hydrophobicity of the particles. are viewed, Figure 1. The location of the probe relative to the
walls of the vessel is shown in Figure 2. The apparatus consists
The current work involves understanding the bubble clustering
of a viewing cell, head box and sampling tube. The viewing cell
phenomenon through investigations made by varying some of the
is made of two glass sheets (45 45 mm) positioned 6 mm apart.
operating parameters of the flotation cell. In the current work,
It is connected to the sampling tube, which has an internal
experiments were conducted to investigate the effect of impeller
diameter of 10 mm and length 190 mm, and is made of
speed on cluster formation in the flotation cell, to develop a
transparent plastic. Its lower end is immersed at the desired depth
better understanding of the effect of energy input, and hence
into the flotation cell, and is fitted with a ball stopper held in
shear and turbulence, on cluster formation. This work is part of a
place by a spring. The ball itself is of diameter 15 mm, and when
larger research programme on cluster phenomenon and its effect
in position, covers the open end of the sampling tube. The ball is
on overall flotation efficiency and modelling.
mounted on a frame pivoted about a point on the axis of the
sampling tube. The end of the tube is immersed at the desired
EXPERIMENTAL position in the liquid in the flotation cell, and because of its
shape and position, the ball prevents bubbles from collecting
Materials beneath it prior to the capture of the sample; such bubbles would
otherwise enter the sampling tube immediately the ball stopper
was moved. The top of the head box is connected to a supply of
Silica water of the same composition as the liquid in the flotation cell.
Washed quartz purchased from Unimin, Australia under the brand At the start of an experiment, the sample tube assembly is
name Silica 400G was used in the experiments. The top size (d90) flushed and filled with clean water. The ball stopper is quickly
and average particle size of the sample (d50), were 36 m and 7 m moved sideways by an actuating lever, and bubbles rise from the
flotation cell and into the observation chamber where they may
respectively, as determined using a Malvern MasterSizer S laser
be photographed using either a digital camera, or a high-speed
light scattering instrument (Malvern Instruments Ltd, Malvern,
video camera. Above the viewing cell is a head box where
bubbles can disengage from the liquid.
A Phantom 5 high-speed camera (Vision Research, USA) was
Reagents used to record the motion of clusters in the viewing cell. The
Dodecylamine (DDA) (>99 per cent) obtained from Aldrich camera was programmed to take 100 pictures per second with an
Chemicals was used as the collector and methylisobutyl carbinol exposure time of 1 ms. The advantage of using the high speed
(MIBC; 4-methyl-2-pentanol) as frother without further camera was that the behaviour of clusters could be observed in
purification. The slurry pH was adjusted either using NaOH or detail, over the whole of their time in the observation system,
HNO3. from the point of entry just above the ball stopper, up to the point
where they had passed through the observation chamber. For the
analysis of bubble clusters, it was important to use a series of
1. Centre for Multiphase Processes, University of Newcastle, Callaghan digital images and not just a single frame. In a single frame,
NSW 2308. several clusters in the field of view might mistakenly be judged
2. FAusIMM, Centre for Multiphase Processes, University of Newcastle, to be attached to each other, whereas the high speed camera
Callaghan NSW 2308. showed clearly that the clusters were simply in close proximity

Centenary of Flotation Symposium Brisbane, QLD, 6 - 9 June 2005 403


to 2200 rpm. The pH was kept constant at pH 7 using either

sodium hydroxide or nitric acid to make adjustments during the
conditioning period.
In operation, the measurement unit was filled with water
containing reagents at the same concentrations as in the cell and
the sampling tube was submerged into the cell. For focusing
purposes a needle was inserted into the centre of the viewer at
the plane of focus and its image was recorded. All further
recording for a given experimental series were carried out
without changes to the camera and lighting. After 15 minutes
conditioning time, air was introduced into the cell and the ball
valve was immediately opened to allow bubbles to enter the
sampling tube. The valve was opened at this point, because it
was found experimentally that bubble cluster characteristics
depend on the concentration of solids in suspension in the cell. It
will be appreciated that in batchwise flotation, the solids
concentration is continuously being reduced as solids are
collected by the bubbles and are removed from the cell, so for
standardisation, it is preferable to collect bubble samples for
analysis immediately after air is introduced, and the solids
content is essentially that of the suspension as prepared. The
images were recorded for approximately 45 s after the air was
introduced into the cell.

Data analysis
The captured images were downloaded to a personal computer
and sized using Optimas imaging software (Media Cyberbetics
Inc, Silver Spring, MD, USA). The software was calibrated by
placing an object of known size in the field of view of the
camera. For the purposes of cluster analysis, two parameters
were calculated and reported: the mean arithmetic equivalent
diameter and the cluster shape factor.
FIG 1 - Diagrammatic sketch of the apparatus. To calculate the mean arithmetic equivalent diameter, Optimas
first counts the number of pixels within a tracing. Then knowing
the dimensions of a single pixel, Optimas calculates the area
within the tracing. Optimas finally calculates the diameter Deq of
a circle with the same area as the traced image:
4np 2s
255 mm

of probe impeller blades Deq = (1)

85 mm

Deq is the mean arithmetic equivalent diameter

n is the number of pixels within the traced area
75 mm

ps is the width of a square pixel
The mean arithmetic circularity is defined as the square of the
10 mm launder perimeter of a traced area, divided by the area, according to
255 mm
Equation 2:

C = (2)
FIG 2 - Sketch showing the location of the bubble sampling probe A
in the flotation cell.
to each other at the time the image was recorded. Only by C is the mean arithmetic circularity
inspecting a series of frames, could it truly be concluded that a
group of bubbles are in fact rising as a cluster. P is the perimeter
A is the area
Experimental procedure
The circularity thus defined is a dimensionless number lying
Experiments were carried out in batch mode. A known amount of between 4 for a perfect circle and infinity for a line. The
silica was added in the cell to produce slurry at ten per cent circularity is related to the shape factor Sf described in Equation
solids by mass. Dodecylamine (DDA) and frother were then 3, which ranges from zero for a line to one for a perfect circle:
added and conditioned for 15 min. The collector concentration
and the frother concentration were 200 g/t of silica and 25 ppm 4A 4
in all tests, respectively. The impeller speed was varied from 700 Sf = = (3)
P2 C

404 Brisbane, QLD, 6 - 9 June 2005 Centenary of Flotation Symposium



The power drawn by an impeller in a liquid system is mainly The variation of the average cluster and bubble size with impeller
determined by the rotational speed, impeller geometry and fluid speed.
rheology. In the literature, the power draw is usually presented in Impeller Power Cluster Diameters of Diameters of
three forms: speed intensity diameter bubbles in independent
1. absolute power draw, clusters bubbles
rpm kW/m3 mm mm mm
2. power input per unit weight of the slurry, or
700 7.7 0.83 0.38 0.24
3. power input per unit vessel volume.
850 13 1.01 0.27 0.23
The latter two methods of presentations are very convenient 1100 29 1.23 0.27 0.23
for comparison purposes. Further, the last form is independent of
the solids density, and has been used as one of the scale-up 1380 55 1.28 0.28 0.22
criteria in both flotation and multiphase mixing processes 1650 94 1.19 0.28 0.24
(Paglianti et al, 2001; Schubert, 1998). Accordingly, it has been 1900 147 1.08 0.20 0.25
adopted in this study. 2000 217 1.01 0.31 0.25
The power consumed by an impeller can be expressed as:

P = PO N 3 D5 (4)

is the density of the pulp
N is the rotational speed
D is the impeller diameter
Po is the dimensionless power number
The impeller design used in this study was similar to that of a
Chile-X impeller, for which the dimensionless power number is
0.67 (Jameson, 1989).
Values of the power input at various impeller speeds, as
calculated using Equation 4, are shown in Table 1, together with
measured cluster equivalent diameters, which are also shown in
Figure 3. The cluster size increases continuously with increasing
impeller speed, to reach a maximum at approximately 1400 rpm
(after which it decreases with further impeller speed. The initial FIG 3 - The equivalent diameter of bubble clusters, bubbles in
increase in the clusters size indicates that initially the turbulence clusters and freely rising individual bubbles, as a function of
created in the cell promotes cluster formation probably due to impeller speed.
increasing collision rates between individual bubbles or bubble
aggregates. It seems that at higher impeller speeds, the bubble towards smaller bubbles due to bubble break-up. However, the
aggregates undergo break-up because of high shear rates, as is shear rate does not have a pronounced effect on the bubble size for
evident from the decrease in cluster size above 1400 rpm the impeller speed range used in the present work (see Figure 5).
approximately. Figure 4 shows the average shape factor Sf of the clusters, as a
The rates of bubble-particle collision and bubble-particle function of impeller speed. The average shape factor, which has a
aggregate break-up are largely determined by the local energy value of zero for bubbles arranged along a straight line, and one
dissipation rate. For a given system, the local dissipation rate in for a perfectly spherical cluster, is not strongly affected by the
an agitated vessel decreases rapidly with the distance from the impeller speed, assuming values between 0.4 and 0.5 which is
impeller. In a flotation cell, the energy dissipation around the midway between the two extremes. Thus it appears that the
impeller zone is usually five to 30 times higher than the average clusters do not adapt a particular shape as the energy intensity
value which means that successful cluster formation is unlikely and hence the shear in the cell is increased.
to be achieved there. It has been shown that the spatial An increase in shear rate affects not only the collision rate
distribution of local energy dissipation is practically independent between bubbles and particles but also the breakup of the bubbles
of impeller speed, but is strongly influenced by impeller type and themselves in the cell. To investigate the effect of the agitation
cell geometry (Hui, 2000). Therefore, it is likely that different rate on the bubble break-up, the bubble size was measured as a
impellers and flotation cells will result in different bubble function of impeller speed ranging from 450 to 1000 rpm, in the
aggregate behaviour. absence of particles. The results are given in Figure 5 where the
The effect of the agitation rate on the average size of the average and Sauter-mean diameters of the bubbles are shown as a
bubbles in the clusters is shown in Figure 3. It is seen that the function of the impeller speed in the cell. The difference between
bubble size shows a very small continuous increase with impeller the Sauter-mean diameter, which is the volume-to-surface mean
speed, suggesting that the clustering phenomenon has a minimal bubble diameter, and the average diameter, is an indication of the
influence on the bubble size within the clusters. Also shown in spread of bubble sizes. For a mono-size distribution, the average
Figure 3 is the average size of the individual free bubbles in the and the Sauter-mean bubble sizes are the same while for a scatter
cell, ie those not involved in clusters, as a function of impeller of sizes, the Sauter mean is larger then the arithmetic mean,
speed. The average sizes of the independent bubbles do not show because the former is strongly influenced by the larger bubbles
much change with changes in impeller speed. As the shear (Parthasarathy et al, 1992). As can be seen from Figure 5, as the
increases, the bubble distribution is expected to shift more impeller speed is increased, both the Sauter-mean diameter and

Centenary of Flotation Symposium Brisbane, QLD, 6 - 9 June 2005 405


and hence main change in the sizes of individual free bubbles is

due to bubble clustering phenomena. This may come about by
preferential entrapment of larger bubbles into the clusters, during
the process of cluster formation.

The effect of impeller speed on cluster formation in a flotation
cell was investigated. A device was used in which bubbles were
allowed to rise from the cell into a viewing cell containing clean
water and frother where clusters could be recorded and analysed.
The sizes of the bubbles in the clusters, the effective diameters of
the clusters, and the diameters of the individual bubbles not
involved with clusters, were all measured as a function of
impeller speed. It was found that there was an intermediate
impeller speed where the equivalent diameter of the clusters was
a maximum, and beyond this speed, the cluster size decreased
due to breakage of clusters in the cell.
FIG 4 - The effect of impeller speed on the shape factors Sf of The sizes of the bubbles in the clusters were measured, as were
the averages of the independent bubbles present in the cell, for
comparison. It was found that the equivalent diameter of the
bubbles included in clusters was not strongly dependent on the
impeller speed but was slightly larger than the size of the
independent bubbles, indicating that lager bubbles are more
effective in forming bubble clustering. The average cluster shape
factor Sf was about 0.4, showing that the clusters were rather
irregular in shape, intermediate between a linear and a spherical
shape. The shape factor was not sensitive to the impeller speed.

The authors would like to acknowledge the Australian Research
Council for its support the Special Research Centre for
Multiphase Processes.

Ata, S and Jameson, G J, 2005. The formation of bubble clusters in
flotation cells, Int J Miner Process, 76:123-139.
Hui, S, 2000. Three-phase mixing and flotation in mechanical cells, PhD
FIG 5 - The Sauter-mean and arithmetic mean diameters of thesis, Department of Chemical Engineering, Newcastle.
bubbles in the stirred cell as a function of impeller speed. There Jameson, G J, 1989. Private communication.
were no particles in the liquid.
Jameson, G J and Allum, P, 1984. A survey of bubble sizes in industrial
flotation cells, AMIRA International, Melbourne.
the mean diameter decrease up to 800 rpm, but thereafter there is Paglianti, A, Takenaka, K and Bujalski, W, 2001. Simple model for
little effect of agitation speed on the bubble size. The decrease in power consumption in aerated vessels stirred by Rushton disc
bubble size is obviously due to bubble break-up of the larger turbines, A I Ch E Journal, 47(12):2673-2683.
bubbles in the population. At lower impeller speeds, the Parthasarathy, R, Ahmed, N and Jameson, G J, 1992. Bubble breakup in
difference between the Sauter-mean diameter and the mean stirred vessels predicting the Sauter mean diameter, Trans Inst
Chem Engrs, 60:295-301.
diameter is large, suggesting that bubbles here have a wide size
Schubert, H and Bischofberger, C, 1998. On the micro-processes of air
distribution. Assuming that the bubble breakage in the presence dispersion and particle-bubble attachment in flotation machines as
and absence of solid particles is very similar, the results from well as consequences for the scale-up of macroprocesses, Int J Miner
Figure 5 suggest that in the present system the effect of shear rate Process, 52:245-259.
on the bubble size is minimal for the impeller speed range used

406 Brisbane, QLD, 6 - 9 June 2005 Centenary of Flotation Symposium