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Importance of Mineral Processing

No substance has been as important as metal in the story of man's control of his environment.
Advances in agriculture, warfare, transport, even cookery are impossible without metal. So is the
entire Industrial Revolution, from steam to electricity.

Goals and basics of mineral processing

- Mineral processing involves the processing of ores or other materials to yield concentrated
- Most of the processes involve physical concentration procedures during which the chemical
nature of the mineral does not change.
- The ultimate goal in the field of Minerals Engineering / Extractive Metallurgy is the
production of metals in a form which is suitable for their end use.
- Fig. 1 below shows the generalised flow diagram for metals extraction.

Fig.1 Generalized flowchart of extraction of metals

- The figure above shows the general processing route from the ore to metal, however the
specific unit operations applied differ from metal to metal.

Table 1 Processing sequences for a number of metals

- The table above shows the different processing routes for different minerals.

Minerals in Zimbabwe (Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, 2012)

- Zimbabwe has a huge and highly diversified mineral resource base dominated by two
prominent geological features i.e. the Great Dyke and the ancient Greenstone Belts also
known as the Gold Belts.
- The Great Dyke is a layered igneous complex extending north-south for about 550km. The
Great Dyke plays host to the largest high grade chromite resource base, Zimbabwe has the
worlds second largest resource of platinum group metals as well as significant reserves of
copper and nickel.
Fig. 2 Geological map of Zimbabwe

- With rock ages spanning a period of more than 300 million years, Zimbabwes
heterogeneous environment is favourable to occurrences of a variety of minerals and ore
bodies. Some of the major minerals include:

- Gold
There are over 4 000 recorded gold deposits, nearly all of them located on ancient workings.
Currently about 40% are being commercially exploited. More than 90% of gold deposits in
Zimbabwe are associated with greenstone belts.

- Diamonds
Diamond is a gemstone of enormous potential in Zimbabwe. If the deposits at Chiadzwa are
mined extensively, it is estimated that Zimbabwe has the potential of producing
approximately 25% of the worlds diamonds.

- Coal
Zimbabwe hosts large reserves of coal in the Lower Karoo rocks of the mid Zambezi Basin
and the Save-Limpopo basin. Over 20 coal localities are known with estimated resources of
>12 billion tonnes.

- Platinum Group Metals

Zimbabwe hosts the second largest platinum group metals resource in the world on the
Great Dyke. An estimate 2.8 billion tonnes PGM ore at 4g/t are estimated to be in the dyke.
- Chrome
Chrome occurs in the Great Dyke and the greenstone belts. Chromite reserves on the Great
Dyke approximate 10 billion tonnes. Zimbabwe is estimated to host over 80% of the worlds
resources of metallurgical quality chromite.

- Nickel
The geology of Zimbabwe is highly favourable for nickel occurrences. The countrys nickel
sulphide endowment includes a variety of komatiite and mafic intrusion-hosted deposits.

- Copper
There are over 70 known deposits in Zimbabwe that have produced copper either as the
primary or secondary product.

- Iron ore
Zimbabwe has huge iron ore deposits associated with banded ironstone formations in
greenstone belts. Major deposits are estimated to host over 30 billion tonnes of reserves.
The most important deposits with high-grade ore are the Buchwa and Ripple creek.

- Uranium
Uranium exploration in the Zambezi valley in the early 1980s resulted in the identification of
several anomalies including the Kanyemba deposit. Highest grade at Kanyemba is 7.4% U3O8.

- Pegmatite minerals
These are a source of a variety of minerals including tantalite, tin, wolframite e.t.c and

- Dimension stones
These include granite, gneisses, dolerite, marbles and quartzites.

Question 1. Conduct research on mineral resources found in Africa and the rest of the world.
Formation and composition of the earth
The accretion theory
- Current models suggest that our solar system formed from the gravitational collapse
of a rotating interstellar cloud, which may have been triggered by a nearby
supernova (Cameron, 1988; Wetherill, 1990).
- The evolution from a rotating cloud of gas and dust to a highly structured solar
system is modelled as a series of collisional processes having some degree of
hierarchical evolution.
- Dust grains accrete to form small particles and these combine to form planetesimals
and protoplanets (asteroid like bodies). (Accretion is the gradual increase in the size
of an object by the build-up of matter due to gravity).
- Following this, and perhaps at a slower accretion rate (due to decreased probabilities
of collisions for they are fewer in number), the protoplanets coalesce to form larger
- Such large collisions may explain the origin of our Moon, the high Fe/silicate ratio of
Mercury, and the retrograde orbit of Venus, among other things.
- Material that contributed to the growing Earth came from the same interstellar
cloud that gave rise to the other planets and the sun, the latter of which contains
>99% of the solar systems mass.
- In its initial state, the interstellar cloud was likely to have been compositionally
homogeneous to a first order, but became chemically heterogeneous during the
formation and evolution of the planets (Cameron, 1988).
- The Sun and the outer planets have a substantially greater complement of gases and
other volatiles than the inner, rocky planets.

Structure of the earth

- The Earth is made up of 3 major and distinctly different units: the core, the mantle-
crust system and the atmosphere-hydrosphere system. These units are the products
of planetary differentiation and are distinctive in composition.
- The mass of the core is about 1/3 of the Earths mass, its volume is about 1/8 of the
Earths and it radius is about 1/2 of the Earths. The silicate part of the Earth (crust
and mantle) makes up the remaining 2/3 of its mass, and the rest of volume, aside
from that of the atmosphere/hydrosphere.
- The Earth, thus, has 2 distinct boundary layers, the core-mantle boundary and the
Earths surface, with grossly contrasting physical properties above and below these
- The core is an Fe-Ni alloy, with lesser amount of other siderophile (iron-loving)
elements and ~10% by mass of a light element.
- The crust-mantle system is a mixture of silicates containing primarily magnesium,
iron, aluminium and calcium.
- The atmosphere-hydrosphere system is dominated by the mass of the oceans, but
the atmosphere is unique within the solar system in that it is an 80/20 mixture of N2
and O2.
Question 2. Draw a labelled diagram showing the composition of the Earth, your diagram
should include approximate quantities of elements/compounds in each part?

Formation of rocks and ores

Igneous rocks

Formed by the solidification of magma (i.e. molten rock material and dissolved
If solidification takes place completely deep within the earths crust, without
reaching the surface the rocks are called intrusive rocks.
If solidification takes place on the earths surface these rocks are called
extrusive/volcanic rocks.
Mineral deposits are associated with both types of igneous rocks.
The solidification process is very complex and depending on the conditions of
temperature and pressure, rate of cooling and presence of dissolved gases a large
number of rock types are formed with entirely different chemical composition.
If the rock is formed by volcanic action it cools quickly and fine grains are obtained.
If the rock id formed in a magma chamber (i.e. beneath the earths surface) it cools
slowly and course grained crystals are formed.

Classification of Igneous Rocks

The classification of igneous rocks in its simplest form is mainly a reflection of the
silica content.
The different classes are:
(1) Granitic (acidic) SiO2 > 66% light coloured
(2) Andesitic (intermediate) SiO2 52-66%
(3) Basaltic (basic) SiO2 45-52%
(4) Ultra-basic SiO2 <45% dark coloured
Only ten elements make up 99% of the mass of magma and igneous rocks these are:
O2, Si , Al , Fe , Ca , Na , K , Mg , T and Hz
The remaining 1% constitutes the common metals, which during the solidification
process are heterogeneously distributed and locally concentrated forming the ore

Formed from sediments deposited (usually) by a fluid medium at surface
temperatures and pressures.
Normally derived from products of weathering or erosion of other rocks, they also
include derived particles.
Most surface rocks are sedimentary and many economic deposits are sedimentary or
are contained within sedimentary sequences.

Classification of Sedimentary Rocks by Mode of Origin


(rock fragments transported & deposited (CHEMICAL/BIOLOGICAL)
by mechanical agents) (chemical/organic ppt.)

cataclastic pyroclastic soils hybrid precipitation organic

sediments sediments sediments sediments residues

Epiclastic evaporites non-evaporites


coarse fine

Question 3. Give examples of rocks under each class.

Classification of Sedimentary Rocks by Grain Size

Name of Particle Size Range Loose Consolidated Rock

Boulder >256 mm
Cobble 64 - 256 mm Conglomerate or Breccia
Pebble 4 - 64 mm (depends on rounding)
Granule 2 - 4 mm
Very Coarse Sand 1 - 2 mm
Coarse Sand 0.5 - 1 mm
Medium Sand 0.25 - 0.5 mm Sand Sandstone
Fine Sand 0.125 - 0.25 mm
Very Fine Sand 0.0625 - 0.125 mm
Coarse Silt 0.031 - 0.625 mm
Medium Silt 0.016 - 0.031 mm
Silt Siltstone
Fine Silt 0.008 - 0.016 mm
Very Fine Silt 0.004 - 0.008 mm
Clay <0.004 mm Clay Claystone, Mudstone,

Summary of the Formation of Sedimentary Rocks


Decomposition and leaching

REGOLITH (Al, Fe, Si - soil) Atmospheric Contributors

(layer of loose heterogeneous material covering
abrasion solid rock) Ground Water

TRANSPORTATION precipitation Oceanic Water

Rock flour


Cosmic (articles of extra-terrestrial origin)


(chemical , physical & biological changes undergone by a sediment

after its initial deposition and after its lithification)

Lithification process in which sediments compact under

pressure & expel fluid & gradually become rock

These are the alteration products of igneous and sedimentary rocks which occur by the
interaction of pressure and /or temperature.

The effects of metamorphism are the formation of:

(i) New minerals

(ii) Change in shape and size of mineral grains
(iii) Development of new structure in the rock

The characteristics of metamorphic rocks vary widely. They are often foliated and show
banding and cleavage is common due to the formation of mica (group of sheet silicate
minerals) and other platey minerals perpendicular to the applied pressure.

There are three major types of metamorphism

1. Contact (thermal) metamorphism

Alteration of rock by heat generated from the intrusion of magma

At shallow depths, intruding magma raises the temperature of the surrounding rock, causing
thermal alteration.

The release of hot fluids (i.e. gases and liquids) into the rock by the cooling magma also
causes formation of new minerals.

The area of metamorphism surrounding an intrusion is an aureole.

The degree of metamorphism within an aureole decreases with distance from the intrusion.

Besides intrusions contact metamorphism can also result from lava flows.

2. Dynamic metamorphism

Associated with faults (fault zones) i.e. fractures along which movement has occurred and
where rocks are subjected to high levels of differential pressure.

Metamorphic rocks that result from different pressure are restricted to narrow zones
adjacent to faults.

Most of the resulting rocks are hard, dense and fine grained.
3. Regional metamorphism

This occurs over a large area and accounts for the larger portion of metamorphic rocks.

The alteration occurs under extreme temperatures and pressures and deformation all
occurring together within the deeper portions of the crust.

Rocks altered this way are mainly found along plate boundaries where rocks are intensely

This type of metamorphism is normally associated with major mountain-building episodes.

Question 4. Describe the formation of ores associated with each type of rock.


Geologists use both hand specimen techniques (based on physical properties) and
instrumental methods for the identification of minerals.
Physical properties that are considered include
(i) Colour
(ii) Luster
(iii) Crystal form
(iv) Cleavage/fracture
(v) Density
(vi) Hardness
(vii) Magnetism
(viii) Reaction to HCl
(ix) Streak
(x) Taste
Instrumental or chemical methods for identification include:
(i) Chemical analysis
(ii) X-ray techniques (XRF, XRD)
(iii) Polarizing microscopes
Every mineral operation should have a geologist present for identification, direction
of blasting and drilling and for assaying of run of mine material.
If you do not know what you are mining, you cannot determine how to process the
material and will suffer losses at all processing stages.

Videos on mineral identification