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Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979

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Characterizing and recovering the platinum group

minerals––a review
Z. Xiao *, A.R. Laplante
Mining, Metals and Materials Engineering Department, McGill University, Wong Building, 3610 University Street,
Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2B2
Received 16 February 2004; accepted 1 April 2004

Methods of characterizing and recovering the platinum group minerals are reviewed in this paper. First, a classification of
platinum group minerals (PGMs) ore types is briefly introduced, followed by the introduction of some representative platinum
group minerals. Second, the sample preparation techniques for mineralogy studies are presented, followed by a brief introduction of
instruments used for characterizing PGMs. Third, the mineralogy of specific ores amenable to gravity, flotation and the flowsheet
for recovering platinum group minerals in several mills of interest are discussed in details. Finally, new research trends of recovering
PGMs and conclusions are briefly presented.
Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Abbreviations: BMS, base metal sulphides; BSE, backscattered electrons; CMC, carboxymethyl cellulose; EDX, energy dispersive X-ray analyser;
ESEM, environmental scanning electron microscopy; GRG, gravity recoverable gold; GRPGMs, gravity recoverable platinum group minerals;
LIMS, laser ionization mass spectrometer microscopy; MLA, mineral liberation analyser; PGEs, platinum group elements; PGMs, platinum group
minerals; QEMScan, quantitative evaluation of materials by scanning electron; ROM, run of mine; SE, secondary electrons; SEM, scanning electron
microscopy; SIMS, secondary ion mass spectrometer; VP-SEM, variable pressure scanning electron microscopy
Keywords: Precious metal ores; Ore mineralogy; Gravity concentration; Flotation

1. Introduction two groups compared to the specific gravity of gold.

These elements in the group lighter than gold are
The six platinum group elements (PGEs); ruthenium ruthenium, rhodium, and palladium, with specific
(Ru), rhodium (Rh), palladium (Pd), osmium (Os), gravities around 12.0–12.4. Those elements in the group
iridium (Ir) and platinum (Pt), together with gold and heavier than gold are osmium, iridium, and platinum
silver have been considered to be ‘‘precious’’ metals. with the specific gravity in the range of 21–22.5. The
Platinum was first discovered in the 16th century in the elements of the later group also have a higher atomic
Choco district of Columbia (McDonald, 1960). Palla- number of 76, 77, and 78 respectively.
dium, rhodium, osmium and iridium were all discovered Valuable for their resistance to corrosion and oxida-
in 1803, some 300 years after platinum. The last plati- tion, high melting points, electrical conductivity, and
num group element discovered was ruthenium. catalytic activity, these elements have wide industrial
All six of the platinum group metals are silvery white applications. The major uses are found in the chemical,
lustrous metals, although osmium has a bluish tinge. electrical, electronic, glass, and automotive industries.
They are all sufficiently ductile and malleable to be However, the application of platinum group elements in
drawn into wire, rolled into sheet or formed by spinning the automotive industry is fairly recent, resulting from
and stamping. These six elements can be classified into emission-control legislation in the USA. The exhaust
gases are passed over a catalyst that contains Pt, Pd
and Rh in the ratio 67:26:7, which converts the hydro-
carbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide to harm-
Corresponding author. less emissions. The approximate quantity of platinum
E-mail address: (Z. Xiao). group metals per automobile is 2.4 g. With the emission
0892-6875/$ - see front matter Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
962 Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979

control legislation widely passed and Kyoto protocol 2. Classification of PGEs ores
accepted in more countries, the demand for PGEs will
significantly increase. In the glass industry, the high Various methods (such as the mineralogical data,
melting points of the PGEs and their resistance to the chromite content, grade of PGEs, and sulphur content,
abrasive nature of molten glass are utilized for produc- etc.) are used to classify PGEs ores. A combination of
ing high-quality optical glasses. Due to their rarity, PGEs content and mode of geological occurrence to
platinum and palladium are widely used as jewellery in classify ore types has been adopted from the classifica-
the world. In the chemical industry, PGEs are used tion presented in CIM Special Volume 23: Platinum
extensively as catalysts, as well as in chemical and in Group Elements––Mineralogy, Geology, Recovery
laboratory equipment such as crucibles, forceps, com- (Edited by Louis Cabri) (Cole and Ferran, 2002). The
bustion vessels and filters. Palladium is predominant in information presented in this section was largely
the electro-mechanical industry, relying on its resistance assembled from Chapters 10 and 11 of that volume.
to corrosion for its application in connectors, sensors, Generally, PGEs ores are grouped into three primary
and relays. On the medical side, platinum has found classes according to this method (Fig. 1):
application in the prophylactic and therapeutic aspects
of both human and veterinary science. The PGEs can 1. PGEs dominant ores––those ores are exploited pri-
also be used as coating materials on computer disks and marily for their PGEs content, other associated met-
the polished samples for scanning electron microscopy als, such as Cu, Ni and Co, produced as by-products.
(SEM). The economic values of the PGEs are, in general,
Major PGEs’ reserves and production are in South major in comparison to the by-product values.
African, with Russia taking the second place and Can- 2. Ni–Cu dominant ores––those ores mined primarily
ada the third. South Africa production centers on the for the value of Ni and Cu. The PGEs are produced
Bushveld Complex, the platinum group minerals bear- as by-products. Usually, the economic importance of
ing ores being primarily mined for the recovery of these PGEs in these ores is minor. However, they can, in
metals. Canada’s PGEs are by-products of nickel–cop- some cases, become the very important ‘‘deciding fac-
per mining, primarily from Falconbridge’s and Inco’s tors’’ for project economics.
deposits in the Sudbury area. 3. Miscellaneous ores––these ores contain very low
Historically, little information relating to the mining PGEs concentration compared to the previous two
and processing of the PGM ore can be obtained due to types of ores. The value of PGEs is little or no eco-
the combined geographic and academic isolation of the nomic advantage compared to the primary product.
world’s primary PGE producers. Further, the PGEs Typically, little is known about the distribution and
industry’s strict corporate-secrecy policies blocked the recovery of the PGEs in these ores (Fig. 1).
research cooperation with academic research group.
This veil of secrecy is now slowly lifting. Recently, the
stronger demand for PGEs (Johnson Matthey, 2002),
the economic and strategic importance of PGEs is
fuelling the exploration and development efforts in the
precious metals mining sector. More geologists began
looking for PGEs for the first time in their careers
(Freeman, 2003), more PGMs companies are now will-
ing to put more effort and cooperate with academic
groups on the research of improving the recovery of
Much work has been done on the flotation recovery
of PGMs from primary ores (Cole and Ferron, 2002).
Recently, more concerted efforts are made to study the
mineralogy of PGEs and use gravity or flash flotation to
improve PGE recoveries in the process of nickel–copper
dominant ores. This is strongly desirable for Canada’s
ore types because virtually all PGEs are produced as
by-products of nickel–copper dominant ores. Due to
mineralogical studies playing an important role in
optimizing and improving the PGEs recovery in the
nickel–copper ores. This paper will review the methods
for characterizing and recovering PGEs in various ore
types in the world. Fig. 1. PGEs ore type classification (Cole and Ferron, 2002).
Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979 963

2.1. PGEs dominant ores 2. Class II: Intrusive equivalents of flood basalts associ-
ated with intracontinental rifting. The most impor-
2.1.1. Merensky type tant example of this ore type is the Norilsk deposit
Dr. Hans Merensky discovered the platinum-bearing in Russia. The Duluth complex in Minnesota is an-
horizon in South Africa that was to bear his name. In other example of this class of ore.
general the Merensky type deposits are layered with 3. Class III: Magmatic activity accompanying the early
disseminated sulphides. The total sulphides content is stages of formation of Precambrian greenstone belts.
fairly low. In some cases, the PGEs are associated with Class III can be subdivided into two further classes.
chromites as well as sulphides. Some examples of this Examples of this Class deposits include the Kola Pen-
type of deposits are the Merensky ‘‘reef’’ and the Great insula, Lyn Lake, and Thompson and the Northern
Dyke in Zimbabwe (Cole and Ferron, 2002). The Still- tip of the Ungava Peninsula in Canada.
water complex is thought to be similar in nature to the 4. Class IV: Tholeiitic intrusions, generally synchronous
Merensky type deposit (Zientek et al., 2002). with orogenesis in Phanerozoic orogenic belts.

2.1.2. Chromite type The PGEs in the ore types mentioned above occur
There is a correlation between chromite and PGEs as discrete PGMs and in solid solution with metal
mineralization. Two types of chromite deposits are sulphides and to a lesser extent with gangue minerals.
economically or potentially economically significant. PGEs recovery is not the prime driving force behind the
Stratiform chromite deposits occur in the Bushveld flowsheet development and optimization. However, in
complex (UG2) reef, the Great Dyke, the Stillwater recent years a concerted effort has been made to study
complex (Lower Chromitites), and the Muskox intru- the mode of loss for the PGEs and to attempt to recover
sion (Northwest Territories). All are known to contain more PGEs into the Cu and Ni concentrates.
PGE concentrations.
2.3. Miscellaneous ores
2.1.3. Placer type
These are ores in which the PGEs are difficult to re-
These deposits include alluvial, eluvial and Alaskan
cover due to low concentration and PGEs present
derived type deposits. The alluvial and eluvial deposits
mostly in solid solution with other minerals. The PGEs
are typically derived from weathered ultramafic rocks.
are considered ‘‘accessory’’ metals and the deposits are
Typically, the PGEs occur as Pt rich alloys in the form
not mined for the sake of the PGEs and in some cases
of loose grains or nuggets.
the PGEs are not recovered as a by-product.

2.1.4. Dunite pipes

Dunite pipes occur in the eastern and western sections 3. Platinum-group minerals
of the Bushveld complex. These pipes have had reported
grades of up to 2000 g/t in some sections. The mineral- Unlike gold and major base metals, which form a
ogy of the pipes differs greatly from the Merensky and fairly small number of minerals, there are 109 PGM
UG2 reefs in that the sulphides of the PGEs are rare. species recognized by the International Mineralogical
Fifty percent of the PGEs are presented as Pt–Fe alloys; Association (IMA), ranging from sulphides (i.e. bragg-
a further 30% of the PGEs are presented as sperrylite ite, (Pt,Pd)S) to tellurides (i.e. maslovite, PtBiTe), anti-
and greversite. The PGEs were mined out and recovered monides (i.e. sudburyite, PdSb) to arsenides (i.e.
using gravity recovery methods. sperrylite, PtAs2 ), and alloys (i.e. ferroplatinum alloy)
to native species (i.e. native Pt nuggets). Table 1 lists
2.2. Ni–Cu dominant ore some of the PGMs extracted from Cabri’s two books:
‘‘Platinum-Group Elements: Mineralogy, Geology,
Usually, PGEs are recovered as by-products and play Recovery’’ (1981) and ‘‘The Geology, Geochemistry,
a ‘‘lesser’’ role in this ore type. Naldrett and Macdonald Mineralogy and Mineral Beneficiation of Platinum-
(1980) classified the Ni–Cu dominant sulphides ore in Group Elements’’ (2002) which gives more details about
terms of their petro-tectonic setting. The following four the PGMs. Apart from the multitude of PGMs, their
settings or classes account for more than 95% of known associations are also diverse. The three main minerals
Ni–Cu ores: associated with PGMs are pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite, and
pentlandite, such as in the South African Merensky reef
1. Class I: Nortitic rocks associated with an astrobleme deposit. The UG-2 reef contains low concentrations of
(scar resulting form meteorite impact). The only copper- and nickel-bearing sulphides and a large
known example of this type is the Sudbury mining amount of chromite (FeCr2 O4 ). In the Stillwater J-M
camp in Canada. reef ore body (USA), the principal sulphide minerals are
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Table 1
Some PGMs minerals properties (Cabri, 2002)
Name Ideal formula General appearance Density (g/cm3 ) Hardness (mohs)
Borovskite Pd3 SbTe Isolated grains up to 0.2 mm included in pyrrhotite 8.25 N/A
and chalcopyrite
Braggite (Pt,Pd)S Fractured grains up to 8 mm long 9.36 5
Cherepanovite RhAs Grains and their aggregates up to 0.1 mm 9.72 Brittle
Cooperite PtS Euhedral to anhedral micrometer to 1.5 mm grains 10.10 4–4.5
Foodite PdBi2 Grains up to about 1 mm 11.62 Brittle
Genkinite (Pt,Pd)4 Sb3 Irregular grains from <0.005 up to about 0.165 9.26 5.5
mm  0.165 mm in size
Geversite PtSb2 As small drop like inclusion 10.91 4.5–5
Insizwaite PtBi2 As small rounded grains up to 120 lm 12.86–13.59 5
Isoferroplatinum Pt3 Fe In placer deposits occurs as various size nuggets, 18.23 N/A
usually containing chromite and many other mineral
inclusion, varying from flakes to nugget size
Kotulskite PdTe Occurs as small rounded to anhedral inclusions in 9.18–10.54 N/A
sulphides or intergrown with other PGM
Laurite RuS2 Grains and crystals from 0.0001 to few mm 6.39-6.43 7
Maslovite PtBiTe Grain up to 0.120 mm in size 11.23 4–5
Merenskyite PdTe2 As minute grains, intimately intergrown with other 8.30 3.5–4
PGM, or as single-phase inclusions
Michenerite PdBiTe Grains from 0.0001 to 2 mm 9.81 4–4.5
Moncheite PtTe2 Crystals up to 1 mm and minute grains 10.24 3.5
Palladoarsenide Pd2 As Long and irregular grains 10.59 4.5
Sperrylite PtAs2 Micrometer to centimeter size crystals and rounded 10.8 6–7 Brittle
Stillwaterite Pd8 As3 Grains up to 0.12 mm  0.265 mm 10.95 4.5–5
Sudburyite PdSb Elongated inclusions up to 55 lm  120 lm 9.41 4–4.5
Tetraferroplatinum PtFe Irregular grains, rims on other Pt–Fe grains 15.81 N/A
Vysotskite PdS As intergrowths and lensoid inclusions in other 6.74 N/A
Ruthenium Ru The type material occurred as tabular grains 12.2 6.5
(35 lm  7 lm)
Rhodium Rh A grain from 0.175 to 0.195 mm in cross-section 16.5 3.5
Palladium Pd Commonly as loose grains, sometimes with a radial 12.0 4.5–5
fibrous texture
Osmium Os Occurs as inclusions in Pt–Fe alloys 22.1 7
Iridium Ir Occurs as exsolutions in Pt–Fe alloys 22.2 6–6.5
Platinum Pt In placer deposits, it occurs as various size nuggets 19.1 4–4.5

chalcopyrite, CuFeS2 , and pentlandite, (Ni,Fe)9 S8 . Most The extremely low concentration of PGMs, their fine
platinum minerals are associated with the copper sul- size distribution, the difficulty in their detection and
fides and palladium with the nickel sulfides. The ore also identification, and sample representativity are typical
contains less than 1% quartz but significant amounts of problems when carrying out the mineralogical study
talc and serpentine (MgO). Platinum was long known to on PGMs. In a word, the range of minerals present,
exist in the arsenide form (sperrylite, PtAs2 ) in nickel– their relative densities, shape, particle size, and associ-
copper sulfides in the Sudbury area. ations present a challenge to the metallurgist in design-
Pentlandite and chalcopyrite are generally well ing and optimizing the extraction process. The various
recovered (depending on their particle size and degree of ore types (end members) of typical ore bodies each with
liberation), as are any PGEs in their lattice (i.e. in solid its own metallurgical response will heighten this chal-
solution) or present in PGM blebs they may contain. lenge.
PGEs present as blebs or in solid solution in pyrrhotite All of the PGM species in Table 1 are listed with their
may or may not be recovered. For example, in the ideal formula, although composition may vary locally.
Sudbury basin, pyrrhotite is now largely rejected to The general occurrence is depicted based on where the
minimize smelting costs and environmental pollution. individual PGM has been first reported (Cabri, 2002).
The pyrrhotite contains significant amounts of nickel The calculated density and hardness listed here are
(anywhere from 0.4% to 0.8%) and accounts for most of critical factors regarding gravity recovery, grinding and
the nickel losses in the Sudbury area. classification behavior.
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4. Applied/process mineralogy and sampling preparation as gravity methods, magnetic or flotation or these
techniques using pre-concentration of the PGMs methods combined.
Upgrading of PGMs is effected mainly by gravity
Petruk (2000) defined applied mineralogy as the methods due to their high specific gravity, such as jig-
application of mineralogical information to understand ging, panning, and heavy liquid separation (Cabri,
and solve problems encountered during processing of 1981).
ores and concentrates. It involves characterizing min- Zhou and Zhang (1975) gave a detailed account of
erals and interpreting the data with respect to mineral their comminution and separation techniques for a
processing. When processing problems are due to the PGMs-bearing chromite ore. Their method involved a
mineralogical characteristics of the ore and/or process large sample size of 1060 kg. The original sample was
products, mineralogical data should be generated to processed as follows: coarse, medium, and fine crushing;
solve this problem. splitting out a 1000-kg sample for grinding and sieving
Henley (1983) reviewed process mineralogy as an (grinding was used to liberate enough minerals for
integration of mineral processing and mineralogy. In his subsequent concentration), with the balance split further
review, a flowsheet starting from orebody exploration for chemical analyses and storage. The final product,
through to optimization of plant operation was pro- reported to contain only 5% unliberated PGMs, was
posed. An actual plant flowsheet was developed based distributed as follows: 37% +150 lm, 17% )150 + 106
on mineralogical information, laboratory, and pilot lm, 4.2% )106 + 100 lm, 2.8% )100 + 74 lm, and 39%
plant testing. After commissioning of the plant, an )74 lm. Then the ground and sized samples were pro-
optimization program was continued for second and cessed with a high frequency superpanner (320–800
subsequent iterations of this study. These interactions vibration/min). The first concentrates were considered to
extended beyond new samples of drill core and into be the PGMs concentrates. The second concentrates and
samples taken from the operating plant. middlings were ground further and the superpanner was
There is relationship between ore mineralogy and used to recover more. The PGMs concentrates were
metallurgical performance in a plant (Petruk and combined with the first concentrates. Chromite con-
Hughson, 1977; Cabri, 1981; Henley, 1983). Not only centrates, middling, and tailings were also obtained
does the ore mineralogy play a critical role on the from this operation. They reported a 50% recovery of
recovery method chosen but also dictate the process PGMs with the superpanner, increasing to more than
flowsheet for different PGEs ore types and for plant 70% for high-grade samples. The PGMs and chromite
flowsheet optimization. concentrates were then subjected to magnetic separa-
How can the mineralogical information obtained be tion, first with a weak current to remove any strongly
as precise as possible? Many techniques for determining magnetic minerals (including some PGEs-alloys) and
mineral characteristics have been developed in the last subsequently with increasing current. Finally, a selective
three decades. They were used to acquire the necessary dissolution and heavy liquid separations were used for
mineralogical information and these include scanning further separation to obtain the final PGMs and chro-
electron microscope equipped with an energy dispersive mite concentrates.
X-ray analyzer (SEM/EDX) or wavelength dispersive Although this method used a large sample to achieve
X-ray analyzer (SEM/WDX), variable-pressure (or a higher degree of representation, the reported recovery
low-vacuum) scanning electron microscope (VP-SEM), was only 50% (up to 70% for some higher grade ore).
electron probe micro-analyzer (EPMA), X-ray diffrac- The size distribution of PGMs, and some information
tion (XRD), quantitative evaluating material by scan- about source of PGMs, such as PGE-alloys, was lost
ning electron microscope (QEM*SEM), and mineral due to the selective dissolution process. This procedure
liberation analyzer (MLA). These techniques will be is also extremely time consuming.
discussed briefly in the following chapter. Cabri and Laflamme (1976) and Cabri (1981) devel-
Maximum recovery with acceptable grade is a con- oped a different mineral separation technique––heavy
stant goal for operators and producers. Knowledge of media elutriation to separate small samples (less than
ore characteristics that affect metal recoveries can help 500 g) of unconsolidated rock or mill samples. They
in achieving this goal. Although ore characteristics can tested this new recovery method on a sized synthetic
be determined by mineralogical technologies as men- samples of sperrylite mixed with purified and sized
tioned above, there is a distinct problem when charac- pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite and pentlandite. They reported
terizing the PGMs in an ore, which is from their that excellent recoveries were obtained down to about
extremely low grade (often less than 1–2 g/t). The 53 lm, but recoveries fell off steeply in fractions finer
magnitude of finding PGMs in a polished section may than 53 lm.
be compared to find a needle in a haystack (Cabri, The inability to recover sperrylite below 53 lm, as
1981). Fortunately, this problem can be solved or re- well as the relatively small masses processed, must be
duced by using some pre-concentration techniques such considered significant handicaps for this approach.
966 Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979

Another sample preparation method was developed scanned on the SEM in their entirety. The number of
by Williamson and Savage (1965). The Witwatersrand particles inspected range from approximately 20,000 for
Au-U fossil placers contain small quantities of by- the coarsest (+100 lm) size fraction, to 1.5 million for
product PGEs, and the PGMs are considerably finer the finest (<10 lm) size fraction in each polished section.
than those of usual placers, partly due to the grinding of This method was used to examine the tailings from
the ore to 80% less than 74 lm (Reimer, 1979). There- the Copper Cliff Mill. The encouraging results achieved
fore, Williamson and Savage used flotation on 25-lbs with these samples prompted the examination of mate-
(11.33 kg) lots of gravity concentrates. Final cleaning rials from other streams in order to determine the origin
operations were carried out in an 800-gm Fagergren cell. of the PGMs losses found in the tailings. Although this
They reported that the Ir–Os–Ru alloys float indiffer- method can determine the PGMs identity, size distri-
ently at a neutral or alkaline pH, floating readily at a pH bution, and mineral associations, it is time consuming
of 1.5–3.5. Their recovery in PGEs was reported to be and expensive, the results are only semi-quantitative.
close to 100%, as determined by adding known quanti- With the development of gravity technology, such as
ties of irradiated ‘‘osmiridium’’. The final pyrite-rich Knelson concentrator, the PGMs in finer size fractions
flotation concentrate was still too large (2–4% of origi- can be effectively recovered into concentrate.
nal weight) for their purposes, so they used pyrometal- Knauf and Kozyrev (2002) used the Knelson con-
lurgical techniques to remove the pyrite. Although their centrator to study the mineralogy of Cu–Ni ore (both
method reported 100% flotation recovery, the response the ore fed to KC and the tailings of KC operation).
of the fine PGEs to gravity was not reported or char- They reported that when a primary ore about 40 kg with
acterized. a grain size class of 0.5 mm was fed to the KC, 80 g of
Sizgoric (1985) developed a method of locating and concentrate with the reduction coefficient (RC) equal to
identifying PGMs in fine-grained crushed samples. This 530 was obtained.
method consists of systematic searching of the samples The quarters of the primary ore and the KC tailings
using the back-scattered electron detector of a scanning were investigated using the ‘‘ppm-mineralogy’’ technol-
electron microscope. Usually, the ores containing PGEs ogy: primary ore and tailings were separated by size
are pre-concentrated by using gravity separation. fraction (SF) of 250–90 lm, 90–37 lm and )37 lm.
However, most of Inco’s mill samples are much too fine- Using a hydroseparator NATI with the reduction
grained to respond to regular gravity separation facility coefficient of 18,000–72,000 for primary ore and 8000–
as cited in his paper; in many cases, over 80% of the 13,000 for tailings, 6 heavy concentrates (HC) were
platinum in the samples occurs in particles smaller that extracted. The weights of SF and HC of the primary ore
38 lm (400 mesh). Because the milling has not com- and tailings are reproduced in Table 2:
pletely separated the PGMs form the other minerals, Then, microprobe samples SF were prepared from
Sizgoric (1985) thought the pre-concentration of the the heavy concentrates. The PGMs were identified and
combination of gravity and heavy liquid was not feasible their volumetric relations were measured.
in this case. They concluded that the large grains of PGMs are
In his method, the whole sample was examined with effectively extracted: the grains larger than 70 lm are
SEM without pre-concentration. The procedures are extracted completely, the grains with in a size of 30–70
briefly described as following: the sample is thoroughly lm are extracted partially and the grains smaller than 30
mixed and a representative portion is sent for Pt, Pd and lm are totally lost. They also concluded that the dis-
Au analyses. The rest of the sample is wet screened, and tribution of the PGMs by grain size yields all necessary
a representative portion of each size fraction is sent for information for the choice of processing flowsheet for
Pt, Pd and Au assays. A number of epoxy polished PGMs extraction. They argued that pre-concentration is
section mounts are made of each size fraction for the very helpful for mineralogical investigation, while min-
SEM work. This number varies from two to eighteen eralogical data is one of the most important factors to
depending on the size of the particles and the PGEs determine the processing route. Their approach yields
content of the size fraction. All polished sections are significant upgrading ratios, which would contribute to

Table 2
The weight of SF and HC of the primary ore and tailings (Knauf and Kozyrev, 2002)
Sample )250 + 90 lm )90 + 37 lm )37 lm
Primary ore SF ¼ 244 g, SF ¼ 146 g, SF ¼ 72 g,
HC ¼ 13 mg HC ¼ 8 mg HC ¼ 1 mg
Tailings SF ¼ 56 g, SF ¼ 37 g, SF ¼ 13 g,
HC ¼ 7 mg HC ¼ 6 mg HC ¼ 0.4 mg
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more reliable mineralogical examinations. However, the has been recovered. All results are presented in a sized
partial PGM recovery below 75 lm and total lack of basis (from )20 up to 850 lm). Examination of GRG
recovery below 30 lm remains a serious problem. concentrates using an automated SEM technique, the
Kojonen et al. (2003) studied the mineralogy of ore at mineral liberation analyzer (MLA), has shown that be-
the Proterozoric Hitura Ni–Cu–PGEs deposit in Wes- low 75 lm, gold particles recovered in stage 1 of the test
tern Finland. The Hitura Ni–Cu–PGEs ore is hosted by were very well liberated (Guerney et al., 2003). Particles
serpentinized ultramafic intrusions. The ore types (end above 150 lm for stage 1 can have various degree of
members) include (1) fine grained sulphides dissemi- liberation, concentrates from stages 2 and 3 were also
nated in the serpentinite core, (2) medium-grained dis- found to have a high degree of liberation. This test has
semination in the serpentinite and amphibole rock and successfully characterized over 140 different ores the
(3) high grade interstitial disseminated sulphides and GRG contents, which is one of the most important
massive accumulations in the amphibole rock of the parameters to justify the installation of a gravity circuit.
contact zones. The GRG test can be used not only a measurement of a
Before doing mineralogical analysis, the PGMs were potential response for gravity recovery but also a pre-
enriched in laboratory conditions by a gravitational concentration method to study the gold mineralogy as it
hydro-separation method with a concentration factor undergoes liberation.
RC of 50,000:1. To avoid losses of PGMs grains, two The three-stage GRG procedure may apply to the
fractions of sulphides concentrate were separated by the platinum group minerals owing to the specific gravity of
NATI method: grain size 71–32 lm weighting 85 g and some platinum group minerals. However, the test needs
grain size )32 lm weighting 50 g, yielding PGMs con- to be modified to account for the fact that most of the
centrate 3 and 1 mg, respectively. PGMs tend to report to fines size classes (Cabri, 1981;
The gravitational enrichment of phases with density Thurman and Allen, 1994) and have a lower specific
more than 5–6 g/cm3 with a grain size 10–70 lm and RC gravity than native gold. the modified procedure in-
factor between 103 and 106 for many reasons excludes cludes the standard GRG procedure, but a fourth
the application of traditional enrichment techniques. stage is added at higher rotating velocity (a fifth cycle
Therefore, a gravitational hydro-separator of original might be added to examine what’s lost in stage four).
engineering was used in ppm-mineralogy technique The gravity recoverable platinum group minerals
(patented by ‘‘NATI’’ Research JSC., 1996, Russia). (GRPGMs) test can be used not only for the justifica-
These hydro-separators are reported to allow the tion of installation of gravity circuit but also for the
enrichment of ‘‘heavy’’ phases in a continuous mode preconcentration technique of mineralogical study
with RC factor up to 1000–5000, as well as in mode of (Xiao and Laplante, 2003).
single batch separation of a sample up to 500 g with RC
factor up to 100,000.
The samples were then prepared for the heavy con- 5. Instruments for characterizing PGMs in applied/
centrates for SEM and EPMA study. The SEM is process mineralogy studies
mainly for the identity of PGMs minerals and the
EPMA for the quantitative analysis. Finally, they report There are a wide variety of instruments used for ap-
that PGMs discovered in the PGMs concentrate samples plied/process mineralogy: The optical microscope is used
are sperrylite, PtAs2 (81.1%), michenerite, PdBiTe to identify many minerals, to observe mineral textures,
(6.6%), irarasite, IrAsS (1.9%), froodite, PdBi2 (6.9%), and to determine mineral quantities by point counting.
hollingworthite, RhAsS (1.9%), and an undefined Rh, X-ray diffractometer (XRD) is used to identify many
Co, Ni sulpharsenide and an undefined Rh, Re mineral minerals with a high degree of certainty, and to quali-
(1.6%). Trace amounts of Pd averaging 37, 116 and 102 tatively determine mineral contents in powdered mate-
ppm were analyzed from pentlandite, niccolite and rials. The development of the microprobe (MP) was a
gersdorffite, respectively. However, the information giant progress in applied mineralogy. Not only can it
about the PGMs liberation, the grain size of different determine the major, minor, and trace contents of
PGMs and the potential response to gravity recovery is minerals in polished sections, but also it can keep the
not available in their paper. originality of the mineral grain. The developments of
A test has been developed at McGill University to SEM together with the energy dispersive X-ray analyzer
characterize the gravity recoverable gold (GRG) of an (EDX) enable the mineralogist to nearly instantly
ore in terms of its total amount, size distribution, at identify mineral grains based on backscattered electron
grind size at which it becomes liberated (Woodcock and images. The development of VP-SEM makes it easy to
Laplante, 1993; Laplante, 2001). The procedure involves do the analysis without the need to polish or coat the
a 3-stage sequential liberation and recovery of gold with polished sections. QEM*SEM developed by CSIRO and
a 3-inch Knelson concentrator. At the final grind of 80% MLA developed by JKMRC in Australia can per-
)75 lm, as little as 3% and as much as 97% of the gold form fully automatic mineralogical analyses. Other
968 Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979

instruments can be used in applied mineralogy include

proton induced X-ray analyzer (PIXE), secondary ion
mass spectrometer (SIMS), and laser ionization mass
spectrometer (LIMS). In this literature review, only
SEM, VP-SEM, QEM*SEM and MLA are briefly pre-
sented as an introduction to the types of analyses used
worldwide recently.

5.1. Scanning electron microscope with energy dispersive

X-ray analyzer

The scanning electron microscope (SEM) is one of

the most versatile and widely used tools of modern sci-
ence as it allows the study of both the morphology and Fig. 2. Backscattered electron images of Cu–Ni–PGEs ore. It shows
composition of materials. Equipped with an energy maslovite (Pt–Bi–Te) (white). This BSE image was produced with
15 keV accelerating voltage, and composition mode, the bar length is
dispersive X-ray analyzer (EDX), it is used in applied/ 20 lm.
process mineralogy to analyse the polished and/or thin
sections of samples, as well as unmounted pieces of
material (Petruk, 2000). By scanning an electron probe minerals around it. However, the difference in the shades
across a specimen, high-resolution images of the mor- of grey between the minerals can be either enhanced or
phology or topography of a specimen, with great depth reduced by changing the contrast, brightness, voltage
of field, at very low or very high magnifications, can be and probe current on the SEM.
obtained. Therefore, the identities of most minerals, the Secondary electrons are ionized electrons which leave
size and the relationships of mineral grains, and the the atom with a very small energy (5 eV) when a incident
X-ray spectra that show the distributions of elements in electron strikes an atom. Due to their low energy, only
minerals can be obtained. secondary electrons that are very near the surface can
The SEM functions exactly as its optical counterparts exit the sample and be examined. The SE images can
except that it uses a focused beam of electrons instead of show a very good topographic effect of particle and
light to ‘‘image’’ the specimen and gain the necessary display details of surface irregularities much better.
information. The gun on the top of SEM column pro- However, the SE image is not as useful as the BSE image
duces an electron beam under high vacuum. The elec- for showing mineral distributions. The SE image can be
tron beam, which is confined and focused by apertures produced at a much lower current and voltage than is
and magnetic lenses, is either scanned over the entire required for the BSE image.
sample, or is focused on a grain in the sample. The X-rays are caused by the de-energization of the
sample, which is coated to prevent surface charging, specimen atoms after secondary electrons are produced.
interact with the electron beam and further to produce Since a lower energy electron was emitted from the atom
backscattered electrons (BSE), secondary electrons (SE), during the secondary electron process, a lower energy
X-rays and other signals. The SEM is generally equip- shell now has a vacancy. A higher energy electron can
ped with BSE, SE and EDX detectors to detect these ‘‘fall’’ into the lower energy shell, filling the vacancy. As
signals. the electron ‘‘fall’’, it emits X-ray. Therefore, X-rays
Backscattered electrons are incident electrons which have a characteristic energy that is unique to the element
are scattered ‘‘backward’’ 180° when colliding with an from which it originated. These signals are detected with
atom in the specimen. The production of BSE varies the EDX detector. The minerals are identified by col-
directly with the mineral’s average atomic number. This lecting the X-ray signal. In other words, the EDX
differential production rate causes higher average atomic detector sends the X-ray signal to the EDX analyser that
number minerals to appear brighter than lower average sorts the signal into the different elements present in
atomic number ones. For example, most silicate miner- the particle, and into X-ray counts for each element. The
als have lower average atomic number and appear dark X-ray counts are recorded, and displayed as peaks.
grey in BSE image. In contrast, some PGMs, i.e. sper- Usually, the working distance is optimized to 15 mm
rylite (PtAs2 ), michenerite (PdBiTe), maslovite (PtBiTe) when doing X-ray analysis.
have a higher average atomic number and appear in
shades of light to white in BSE image. These features 5.2. Variable pressure (low-vacuum) SEM
can be used as a technique to search for PGMs minerals
in the BSE images of conventional SEM. Fig. 2 shows Variable pressure (low-vacuum) scanning electron
the maslovite mineral BSE composition image; it is clear microscopy, generally more frequently called environ-
that this PGMs particle appears brighter than other mental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM), is one of
Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979 969

the latest developmental stages of electron beam

microscopy. It retains most of the performance advan-
tages of a conventional SEM, but removes the high
vacuum constraint on the sample environment. Wet,
oily, dirty, insulated samples may be examined in their
natural state without modification or preparation. This
high-pressure (low-vacuum) technique can stabilize the
insulator sample surface potential close to ground po-
tential during imaging even when high beam voltages up
to 20 kV or more are employed (Farley and Shah, 1988).
The basic difference between the conventional SEM and
ESEM is the pressure in the specimen chamber. For
conventional SEM (the column and specimen chamber
share the same vacuum) it amounts to 103 Pa and for
ESEM it can be as low as 103 Pa and as high as 103 Pa Fig. 3. Backscattered electron image of sperrylite (white) particle with
(Danilatos, 1991). low-vacuum SEM at working distance of 15 mm and 20 keV acceler-
ating voltage.
When the primary electron beam passes through the
gaseous medium of the specimen chamber, collisions of
the electrons with atoms and molecules of the gas occur.
As a result of these collisions, the electrons can loose
some portion of their energy and can change the direc-
tion of their propagation. A portion of the scattered
electrons, the so-called ‘‘skirt’’, does not contribute to
the image signal. It produces only the background
(noise) in the image. However, there exists some portion
of the electrons of the primary beam, which does not
scattered and is incident on the specimen in the spot.
This portion of electrons creates a useful image signal
with a sufficiently high resolution. The air in the sample
chamber is ionized by the primary electron beam, con-
ducting electricity sufficiently to allow the electrons ab-
sorbed by the sample to leak through the air to a ground
contract, so that no coating is needed, even at high
Fig. 4. Sperrylite (white) crystal obtained by gravity concentration,
accelerating voltages (Moncrieff et al., 1978).
BSE image with low-vacuum SEM at working distance of 15 mm and
The same signals as those in the conventional SEM 30 keV accelerating voltage.
can be detected. As mentioned above, wet sample can be
analysed so that a sample from slurry in a process
stream can be analysed within a very short time after it is Fig. 3 is the BSE image of a sperrylite particle found in
collected. The low-vacuum SEM system can easily the operation condition of 15 mm working distance and
change the pressure and accelerating voltage settings to 20 keV. Fig. 4 is a well-developed single sperrylite crystal
obtain good BSE images. (not a particle) obtained with 15 mm working distance
Robinson (1998) pointed out that the low-vacuum and 30 keV.
SEM is as fast and as easy to use as an optical micro-
scope for an experienced mineralogist. However, the 5.3. Quantitative evaluation of minerals by scanning
conventional SEM requires a coating, such as carbon, electron microscope (QEM*SEM)
gold and platinum, on the surface of polished section,
which is not always possible or desirable (Farley and The names QEMScan or QEM*SEM are usually
Shah, 1991). If a PGMs mineral is under study, then it exchangeable. The QEMScan was developed by CSIRO
can be only coated with carbon. Otherwise, it will give in Australia to provide an automatic, off-line, size-
some misunderstanding information about the PGMs. by-size and particle-by-particle mineralogical analysis of
A coating is not required when using the low-vacuum metallurgical products and exploration samples. It is
SEM. used widely in mineral processing to analyze ores and
In practice, to ensure that the losses in the number of mill products to obtain quantitative information about
primary beam electrons due to their collisions with the the distribution of minerals in plant and test prod-
molecules of gases are as low as possible, the working ucts. Currently, the QEMScan is used for ore charac-
distance must be optimized; usually it is set to 15 mm. terization, comminution, liberation analysis, process
970 Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979

optimization (efficient fine grained ore processing, par- tion BSE imaging, EDX analysis and image analysis
ticularly improved feed preparation and grinding opti- result in accurate mineral identification for particle
mization), process modeling and plant problem solving. ranging from 2 to 600 lm. In briefest terms, the system
This system actually uses a combination of back- takes advantage of the capability of SEM to provide
scattered electron (BSE) images and EDX analysis to consistent grey-levels for each mineral in BSE image of a
create an image of a sample based on chemical com- sample, different minerals with various average atomic
position, and then X-ray is acquired based on the ima- numbers will have different grey levels. The software
ges, finally, the mineral composition is obtained by ‘‘segments’’ the image into minerals, taking into account
comparison with the database in the computer system. cracks, other surface imperfections and ‘‘edge effect’’
The electron gun is steered within the image frame to around particles. The X-rays are used to confirm the
scan each particle and to obtain X-ray counts for 16 identity of each mineral.
elements at designated pixel points within the particle. The measurement system is automatic and capable of
The system uses four EDX detectors. The X-ray counts measuring up to 14 samples overnight. Image analysis
for each element at each pixel position are sent to occurs partly off-line and produced a database of min-
computers. The computers compare the X-ray counts to eralogical results and a set of colored mineral maps.
a reference mineral file to identify the mineral at each When doing liberation analysis, a database of quanti-
pixel point. Each identified point is recorded in a file and tative mineralogical information and software to pro-
displayed on the CRT screen by a colour which repre- duce tables and graphs such as mineral abundance as
sents the mineral. Calculations of the data with respect volume and weight percent, calculated elemental assay,
to mineral processing are performed automatically, and and particle and mineral size distribution. When doing
no further image analysis is performed (Pignolet-Bran- rare phase searching, such as gold or a platinum group
dom and Reid, 1988; Reid and Pignolet-Brandom, mineral, each occurrence, to less than 1 mm in size, is
1988). It is reported that the QEMScan has three basic imaged at high-resolution and the associated minerals
modes of operation: are identified.
Most minerals can be uniquely identified from their
(1) Point scan, this is the most basic mode of QEMScan BSE signal strength. However, for minerals with simi-
operation, and is similar to a mineralogical point lar BSE levels, the EDX is employed and the X-ray
count. EDX analyses are performed on a grid pat- spectra of just these minerals are stored with the BSE
tern with equidistant points. Only modal abundance data for off-line image segmentation. In all cases, once
information can be determined from this image. subsequent image processing is complete, the SEM
(2) Line scan, the scan grid is set up so that points are can be driven back to view any desired particles by
closely spaced in the X -direction and widely spaced mouse click in order to check mineral identification or to
in the Y -direction. obtain a photographic record of the original particle of
(3) Area scan, points are closely spaced in both X and Y interest.
directions, this mode is used to determine grind size Because the output of mineral liberation statistics
for liberation in feed samples, diluents in concen- obtained from the measurement can assist ore source
trates and losses in tailing samples. evaluation, circuit design and optimization, MLA is
accepted gradually by the mining community. Anglo
QEMScan is highly automated to ensure reliable and platinum officially announced the acquisition of their
repeatable results. It is gradually accepted and operating third MLA in 2003.
in many countries worldwide. It can perform quantita-
tive analysis more easily and automatically. However,
this system is much more expensive than SEM and 6. Relationship between mineralogy and the recovery of
ESEM. platinum-group elements from ores

5.4. Mineral liberation analyzer Different platinum-group element deposits or ores

should be treated with different recovery methods
The mineral liberation analyzer was developed to according to their mineralogical features and other
provide an automatic, off-line, size-by-size good quan- factors. The following briefly discusses several different
titative mineralogy and liberation data for mineralogists ores: those amenable to gravity separation, those ame-
and processors to fully assess the orebody, improve the nable to flotation, and those where platinum-group
plant recovery, and maintain the quality of product. elements are by-products of base metal sulphides. Most
MLA is equipped with backscatter electron imaging of these following information are from the special
and EDX system, and combined with the MLA software volume of ‘‘Platinum-Group Elements: Mineralogy,
package, which enables liberation measurement, data Geology, Recovery’’ edited by Cabri (1981) and other
analysis and presentation. High speed and high-resolu- sources.
Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979 971

6.1. Ores amenable to gravity recovery been studied in Research Center of Norilsk Company.
The studies revealed that the bulk of platinum (90% or
The mineralogical features of most importance in more) is in the mineral form of cooperite (PtS), Pt–Fe
those ores amenable to gravity separation are that the alloys, sperrylite (PtAs2 ), Pd–rustenbergite (Pt,Pd)3 Sn,
platinum-group elements occur as minerals of high etc., while minor quantities are dissolved in pyrrhotite,
density, that they are free or free milling, and that the with a maximum concentration of 0.8 ppm. As to pal-
grain size distribution falls in the region where gravity ladium, 27.3% of the metal is in mineral form. Few of
techniques can be applied successfully (Cabri, 1981b). the PGEs metals are represented by solid-state solutions
Ores in this category include magmatic Dunite or in pyrrhotite and pentlandite. They are largely hosted by
Alaskan-type deposits, and alluvial, eluvial and fossil pyrrhotite, which reaches 2.4–4.0% concentration in the
placer deposits. With new gravity equipment developed, ores. The 250 lm size fraction contains only occasional
more and more deposits can be classified into this cat- grains of platinum minerals, whereas size fractions of
egory. 50–250 lm, and especially 50–250 lm, appear to be most
Mineralogy: Primary PGEs deposits in Alaska-type enriched in these minerals. In the )50 lm size fraction
ultramafic rocks were found first in the Nizhnii–Tagil their share amounts to 32–34%. However, palladium
district of the Ural Mountains in 1890 (Mertie, 1969). minerals occur as very fine grains.
The platinum-group minerals in this ore type are similar. Recovery method: The nature of PGEs concentration
The principal PGMs is Pt–Fe alloys, mostly isoferro- and their form of occurrence in platinum ores dictate the
platinum (Pt3 Fe) and the next most common PGM is use of modern high-performance techniques of gravity
platiniridium (Ir,Pt) according to Razin (1976). This separation to produce high-grade PGEs concentrates.
type of deposit also includes rare and very rare PGMs: This decreases the loss of PGEs in final tailings and
osmiridium (Ir,Os), iridosmine (Os,Ir), cooperite (PtS), makes it possible to process PGEs gravity concentrates
other Pt alloys, tulameenite (Pt2 FeCu), laurite (RuS2 ) without involving the pyro- and hydrometallurgical
tetraferroplatinum (PtFe) and irarasite (IrAsS). Most of copper and nickel production cycle (Blagodatin et al.,
the Pt-Fe alloy grains in the Gusevogorskiy deposit are 2000).
smaller than 0.1 mm; however, grains as large as 3 mm The Knelson concentrator’s installation points were
occur sporadically (Begizov et al., 1975). selected on the basis of the mineralogical investigation
Recovery method: The mineralized rock at this de- of concentration products obtained by the conventional
posit is ground to )0.2 mm and then subjected to flotation technology. Based on the study of the size
magnetic separation followed by tabling (SK-1 con- distribution in flotation concentrate and tailings, it was
centration tables). The table concentrate is processed found that the bulk of the platinum and palladium
again to produce a gravity concentrate in a hydro- mineral grains in the concentrates was below 70 lm, the
separator. highest distribution was in 30–40 lm size fraction and
Prior to the 20th century, all PGEs were obtained no grain found above 300 lm. For the final flota-
from alluvial deposits. The PGEs occur in these deposits tion tailing, there were no grains coarser than 100 lm in
as alloys, usually Pt-rich, in the form of loose grains and non-magnetic fraction of tailings, the highest distribu-
nuggets. There are virtually no published data on the tion was in 20–30 lm size fraction. In magnetic fraction,
recovery of PGEs from placer mining due to lack of there were quiet amount of Pt and Pd bulk grains dis-
mineralogical data. tributed in 100–200 lm size fraction. Such a size distri-
Norilsk Mining Company is one of the biggest PGEs bution indicates that the flotation is not good method
producers in the world. According to a typical economic to completely recover the PGMs and the over-grinding
classification, ores of the Norilsk deposits belong to a may appear. Therefore, the company decided that
group of sulphide copper–nickel ores with associated the gravity separator should be installed at the first
PGEs mineralization (Blagodatin et al., 2000). This de- grinding stage, thus removing the bulk of PGEs miner-
posit is subdivided into three groups, namely, massive als from the flotation concentration cycle. Since June
(rich) ore, disseminated ore occurring in host rocks, and 1998, in both grinding and tailings cycle, Knelson con-
stringer-disseminated ore occurring in intrusive host centrator KS-SD 48 was used to processed the dissem-
rocks (Kozyrev et al., 2002). Another classification inated ore. The recovery of 50–60% Pt, 10–13% Pd,
method is adopted by Blagodatin et al. (2000): the ore is and 17–20% Au was achieved with 400–500 g/t total
divided into two groups, one sulphides copper–nickel content in concentrates. These results were obtained
ores, and another platinum ores with associated non- with ore assaying 1.1–1.3 g/t Pt, 3.4–4.6 g/t Pd, and
ferrous and rare metals, including all kinds of dissemi- 0.16–0.2 g/t Au. The positive results made the company
nated ores. install two additional 48-inch concentrators with modi-
Mineralogy: PGEs content in major sulphides (pyr- fication of bowl cone profile, the total PGE content rose
rhotite, pentlandite, and chalcopyrite) and the PGEs to 1000 g/t and the recovery grew by 25% (Blagodatin
occurrence in many varieties of disseminated ore have et al., 2000).
972 Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979

6.2. Ores amenable to flotation recovery milling. The mill product is classified in hydrocyclones
for both ores. There is also a big difference in the mill
Flotation might be the most used method in recovery circuit of processing these two types of ores. For
PGEs. As it is now well known, the PGMs usually occur example, preconcentration methods, such as the cordu-
within base metal sulphides, and often prefer the grain roy strakes, James table and flash flotation, have been
boundary between sulphides and silicate (Cabri, 1981). used for Merensky ore due to the PGMs enrichment in
Most PGEs occur either as discrete minerals or as solid the cyclone underflow. However, the UG-2 ore is not as
solutions in major sulphides. amenable as Merensky ore to preconcentration in the
In those magmatic deposits where platinum-group milling circuit because a much finer grind is needed to
elements are intimately associated with the base metal liberate the PGMs and because the chromite present can
sulphides, flotation is used as the first recovery process. lead to poor separation.
Although high recovery, usually between 80% and 95%, For Merensky and UG-2 ores, the flotation process is
can be obtained, the grade of concentrates so obtained is a bulk sulphides float that recovers the base-metal sulp-
still quite low, which need further upgrade. hides containing any liberated PGMs sulphides minerals.
Flotation takes place at natural pH (7.5–9) with a xan-
6.2.1. Merensky reef thate collector such as isobutyl xanthate or normal
Mineralogy: Extensive mineralogical studies show propyl xanthate. Some mines also add another collector,
that seven PGMs are important in the Merensky reef usually Cyanamid 3477 (a dithiophosphate), which is
although varieties occur in different areas and ore types mixed with the xanthate at a ratio of up to 7:3. Copper
(Vermaak and Hendriks, 1976; Brynard et al., 1976; sulphate is added as an activator. The flotation circuit for
Schwellus et al., 1976). Three of the PGMs are sul- Merensky ore usually consists of a rougher stage and two
phides: braggite (Pt,Pd)S, cooperite, PtS, laurite RuS2 , cleaner stages, in which closed-circuit cleaners are used.
one is a Pt–Fe alloy, one an arsenide (sperrylite, PtAs2 ) To depress the talc, a depressent, such as Detrin or
and two tellurides (moncheite, PtTe2 , kotulskite PdTe). Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), is added to the rougher
The presence and relatively large percentage of platinum and cleaner stages. The flotation of UG-2 ore is similar in
minerals and sulphides is unique to this type deposits (it general to that of Merensky ore, but differs in a number
is divided into two groups, one is a silicate ore, the other of aspects which is of no interest to this paper.
chromite ore). The Northam flowsheet (Fig. 5) is of interest here
The principal opaque minerals are base metal sul- because of flash flotation used in grinding circuit. The
phides (BMS), pyrrhotite, pentlandite and chalcopyrite, Northam Merensky concentrator was designed to treat
in order of decreasing abundance (Vermaak and Hend- 270 t/h of run-of-mine (ROM) ore. The SAG mill dis-
riks, 1976; Brynard et al., 1976). Minor sulphides charge is fed to a ball mill operated in a closed circuit.
include cubanite, mackinawite and pyrite––the latter Flash flotation is utilized on the cyclone underflow. The
being more abundant in chromite-rich bands (Brynard flash flotation cell recovers over 60% of the PGEs. The
et al., 1976). cyclone overflow goes to flotation after it is conditioned.
The majority of the principal PGMs tends to occur as Primary flotation is undertaken in a single rougher/
idiomorphic inclusions (braggite, cooperite, sperrylite scavenger flotation bank. The concentrate of the first
and laurite) but a Pt–Fe alloy, especially in those areas cell in the rougher bank is collected as a part of the final
where it is an important constituent, commonly occurs
finely intergrown with base metal sulphides or, more
rarely, with cooperite (Vermaak and Hendriks, 1976).
These authors also pointed out that most PGMs occur
at the BMS-gangue contact in the silicate ore, whereas in
the chromite ore the PGMs occur mostly in the BMS or
in the gangue. The exception to this is braggite, which
shows a strong preference for pentlandite.
The sperrylite, braggite and cooperite occur as ‘‘fairly
coarse’’ in size and moncheite as being ‘‘much smaller’’
(Brynard et al., 1976).
Recovery method: Although the basic process route
used for the Merensky and UG-2 ore is the same, the
different mineralogical features dictate the many subtle
differences in each flowsheet. The conventional commi-
nution circuit, including crushing, rod milling, and ball
milling or by autogenous milling is used for Merensky
ore, however, UG-2 is not amenable to autogenous Fig. 5. The Northam flowsheet.
Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979 973

concentrate. The other rougher concentrate is further

processed with the cleaning circuit (no regrinding) that
consists of three column cells operating in series. The
cleaner concentrates are the main final concentrates. The
cleaner tail is recycled back to the head of the cleaner
circuit. The scavenger concentrate can be routed to the
head of the rough bank or to the cleaner circuit. No
grinding is performed on the scavenger concentrate
(Cole and Ferran, 2002).

6.2.2. The Stillwater complex, Montana

The ore body at stillwater is referred to as the J-M
reef and is nearly 30 miles in length. The PGEs miner-
alization in the J-M reef is associated with disseminated
base-metal sulphides (BMS) minerals that from fine- to
coarse-grained aggregates that are moulded around and Fig. 6. The Stillwater flowsheet.
are interstitial to the cumulus or earlier formed silicates.
Mineralogy: Zientek et al. (2002) reports that the milling stage between the rougher and middling flotation
PGMs include palladium, platinum and ruthenium circuit. The middling flotation concentrate is recycled
sulphides; Pt and Pd tellurides and arsenides; and Pt–Fe, back to the head of the rougher circuit while the scav-
Pt–Pd–Sn, Pd–Pb, Pd–Hg, Au–Pt–Pd and Rh–Pt alloys. enger flotation concentrate is recycled to feed the mid-
The dominant PGMs are braggite, cooperite, monche- dling flotation circuit. Cleaning is achieved in three
ite, vysotskite and isoferroplatinum. Platinum occurs stages operating in a counter-current configuration. The
largely as discrete PGMs: 67% as sulphides minerals concentrate from the first stage of the first cleaner by-
(braggite, cooperite); 25% as metal alloy (isoferroplati- passes the second stages of cleaning and feeds the third
num); and 8% as telluride (moncheite). Palladium lar- cleaner. The tailings from the first part of the first cleaner
gely occurs in solid solution in pentlandite; 15% of the are reground prior to further cleaning. The cleaner cir-
palladium occurs in other sulphides minerals (vysotsk- cuit tails recycle to feed the rougher flotation circuit.
ite, braggite, cooperite) and 5% is associated with tel- Fig. 6 shows a schematic of the Stillwater flowsheet.
luride minerals (moncheite). There are some rare PGMs, Thurman and Allen (1994) reported that the reagent
which include rustenbergite (Pd3 Sn), hollingworthite scheme is 0.09 lb/ton of potassium amyl xanthate and
(RhAsS), etc. The grain size of the PGMs is variable, 0.08 lb/ton of dithiophosphate and 0.9 lb/ton of Carb-
ranging from micron-size to grains with one side about oxymethyl cellulose (CMC) used fro talc depression.
200 lm. Of the main PGMs, braggite and vysotskite are MIBC is added as froth conditions warrant. Sodium
the coarsest grained; the Pt–Fe alloy is finer. hydrosulfide (NaHS) is added as a sulfidizer and pH is
The principal sulphides minerals are chalcopyrite controlled with sulfuric acid.
(CuFeS2 ), and pentlandite ((Ni,Fe)9 S8 ). Most of the A bulk sulfide concentrates is produced averaging 60–
platinum minerals are associated with the copper sul- 70 oz/ton of Pt + Pd from ore averaging 0.8 oz/ton.
phide and the palladium with the nickel sulphides Initially the concentrator operated at 500 tpd. It has
(Thurman and Allen, 1994). The ore contains approxi- been steadily increased since 1987 start-up; concentrator
mately 3.5 times more palladium than platinum. Small throughput for 1994 was around 1050 tpd increasing to
amount of gold and rhodium along with the copper and 3000 tpd in 2001.
nickel are also found. The ore contains less than 1% free The overall platinum recovery after the flash cell
silica, but significant amounts of MgO bearing minerals installation improved by 1.5% (Thurman and Allen,
such as talc and serpentine. The ore is basic with a natural 1994). This pushes overall Pt recovery to 95%. This
pH of approximately 9.0 (Thurman and Allen, 1994). improvement in recovery is due to the reduction in over
Recovery method: Thurman and Allen (1994) and grinding of the Pt minerals. However, because of the
Turk (2001) provide a detailed summary of operations extremely short retention time in the flash cell (2–5 min),
and reagent scheme at the Stillwater Nye concentrator. Pd recoveries were not affected.
A SAG mill/ball mill grinding circuit with hydro-
cyclones for classification is used to process ROM ore in 6.2.3. Lac des Iles Ore
stillwater. A flash flotation cell has been used in the North American Palladium’s Lac des Iles mine began
cyclone underflow to produce a final grade concentrate. commercial production in December 1993. It has since
The cyclone overflow is fed to primary flotation which is commissioned a new 15,000 tonnes per day milling and
undertaken in three stages: rougher flotation, middling flotation circuit. The open-pit mine and milling opera-
flotation and scavenger flotation. There is a tertiary tion is one of only two primary platinum group element
974 Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979

producers in North America. The mill treats an ore mills at a rate of 15,000 tonnes per day. A portion of the
containing 2g/t palladium (and 0.3 g/t total platinum, SAG mill feed is crushed to )25 mm to increase
gold and rhodium) producing a concentrate assaying throughput. The product from the SAG mill circuit is
250g/t palladium, at a recovery of roughly 75% (Martin further ground in ball mills, before being delivered to the
and McKay, 2003). flotation circuit. Two banks of roughers and scavengers
Mineralogy: The major opaque minerals of the ore perform the primary flotation. The rougher concentrate
are pentlandite, pyrite, chalcopyrite and pyrrhotite. is reground and cleaned in a single stage column. The
Galena, magnetite and sphalerite are common but rougher cleaner tail joins the scavenger concentrate and
minor minerals. Cabri and Laflamme (1979), on the is reground in three verti mills. Cleaner flotation uses
basis of the sample they studied, reported that the two stages of cleaning with mechanical cells, and a third
principal PGMs are braggite-series minerals (braggite, stage using flotation columns, the column tails being
(Pt,Pd)S + vysotskite, PdS), kotulskite, PdTe, isomerti- scavenged using a bank of mechanical cells. The flota-
ete, Pd11 (As,Sb)4 , merenskyite, PdTe2 , sperrylite PtAs2 , tion reagent system consists of amyl xanthate collector,
moncheite, PtTe2 ; minor PGMs include stillwaterite, dithiophosphate promoter, MIBC frother and a poly-
Pd8 As3 , and palladoarsenide, Pd2 As. Dunning (1979) meric talc depressant, usually a form of carboxy methyl
reported that vysotskite is the most abundant PGMs in cellulose.
the ‘‘Roby zone’’, where it frequently occurs with nickel The flotation circuit includes a fine grinding mill to
minerals, especially pentlandite. regrind the ore for further liberation due to the fine
Mineralogical studies were also performed by Martin distribution of PGMs in the ore. The expected feed
on five mill feed samples taken at different times during grade to the plant is 2 g/t Pd with targeted recovery in
the year of 2002. Sample assays ranged from 1.56 to 3.0 excess of 80%. However, it is reported that the recovery
g/t Pd + Pt. By using LEO440 QEMScan system, a total is around 75% due to the problem of grinding circuit
of 444 individual PGMs grains comprising 12 distinct and other factors.
PGMs species were identified. These are dominated by
tellurides, with lesser amounts of arsenides/antimonides, 6.3. Cu–Ni sulphide deposits with by-product PGEs
sulphides and alloys. Martin and McKay (2003) also
reported that the kotulskite–telluropalladinite (Pd(Te, The by-product PGEs of the Sudbury Cu–Ni deposits
Bi)–Pd9 Te4 ) comprised roughly two-thirds of the PGMs was the principal source of PGEs prior to the discovery
grain population. Palladoarsenide (Pd2 As) was the next and subsequent exploration of the PGEs-dominant
most abundant PGMs species, comprising 20% of the Merensky reef deposits. The production of Merensky
PGMS. Ten other PGMS species were observed. PGMs reef and, later, the Cu–Ni deposits of the Noril’sk area
particle size ranged from less than 1–15.7 lm (recalcu- reduced Sudbury’s share of world PGEs production.
lated circular diameter). Some 45% of the PGMs oc- However, the by-product of PGEs mainly from Cu–Ni
curred as liberated grains, or inclusions within and sulphide deposits is still a very important source in the
attachments to sulphides. The remainder occurred as world. Here, the Sudbury area and Noril’sk–Talnakh
fine inclusions within, and attachments to silicate min- area will now be discussed.
erals (Fig. 7).
Recovery method: Flotation is the main method for 6.3.1. The sudbury area, Ontario
recovering the PGMs in Lac des Iles due to the fine size Mineralogy: Although several researchers have stud-
distribution of PGMs. One SAG mill feeds two ball ied the mineralogy of the Sudbury ores, published data
are very sparse on the PGEs contents. The principal
sulphides are pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite, and pentlandite;
several other minerals, such as cobaltite, pyrite, miller-
ite, cubanite, galena, sphalerite, magnetite, etc., occur in
minor and variable quantities in the ore.
Michenerite, PdBiTe, is the principal palladium min-
eral and sperrylite, PtAs2 , is by far the most common
platinum mineral for many deposits (South Range and
offset) in Sudbury area (Cabri, 1981b). Moncheite, PtTe2 ,
is the principal platinum mineral in deposits with essen-
tially no sperrylite (Levack West). Froodite, PdBi2 , insi-
zwaite, PtBi2 , and sudburyite, PdSb, are less common.
There are also some rare PGMs. According to Cabri
(1981), the PGMs occur as micron-sized inclusions, usu-
ally less than about 150 m in size, but millimeter-size
Fig. 7. The Lac des Iles flowsheet. grains (sperrylite) are also present. Recently studies by
Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979 975

Xiao and Laplante (2003) confirmed that the sperrylite up only 7–8 vol.%, and chalcopyrite ore also 7–8 vol.%
presents below 150 lm and is well liberated in the Clar- of the Kharaelakh orebody.
abelle ore. Although sperrylite characteristically occurs as Mineralogy: Variability in the chemical composition of
monocrystalline inclusions or coarse grains, the other massive ore manifests itself in a gradual increase of
PGMs are present more frequently as complex multimi- PGEs content from 2.3–11.9 ppm up to 20.2–111.7 ppm
neralic intergrowth, often with Bi and Ag tellurides. (Kozyrev et al., 2002). The pyrrhotite ore has few PGMs
Cabri and Laflamme (1976) made a detailed investi- in the )45 lm (75 wt.%) and 45–90 lm (25 wt.%) size
gation of 150–300 lm sink fractions. They found that fractions. These include isoferroplatinum (IFP), sper-
although significant percentages of the PGMs are liber- rylite, cooperite, rustenbergite, Kotulskite, merenskyite
ated in this size class, especially for sperrylite, the and native gold. The dominant PGMs is IFP, which
majority of PGMs are locked at that size in sink products. constitutes 99 wet% of the total PGMs assemblage
About 5–15% of the michenerite, moncheite, sperrylite ((Kozyrev et al., 2002).
and sudburyite grains found in the 150–300 lm sink Kozyrev et al. (2002) also characterized mineralogy
fraction occurred as inclusions in pyrrhotite or magnetite. of PGMs in the feed and concentrates of chalcopyrite–
They concluded that the PGEs values might be ac- pyrrhotite and cubanite–chalcopyrite ores at laboratory-
counted for by discrete PGMs and by PGEs in solid scale. It was found that chalcopyrite–pyrrhotite ore and
solution in arsenides and sulpharsenides. They felt that process products contain 26 PGMs species. Palladium
dilute PGEs solution in arsenides and sulpharsenides, if minerals are dominant (16 species), Pt constitutes nine
present, would naturally be very important in view of minerals while Rh occurs in only one species. Most of
the large tonnages involved, but that conclusive evidence the PGMs occur in the )45 lm size fraction (67–91
was still required. Detailed mineralogical studies of a wt.%) of the primary ore as well as of the process
second-stage mill sample and metal balance calculations products. The 45–90 lm size fraction of the nickel
showed that, for the particular sample studied, from 1% concentrate contains 66 wt.% of the PGMs. PGMs have
to 4.5% Pt, 22.3% to 23.3% Pd and 31.2% to 41.2% Rh not been detected in the tailings.
are present as solid solutions in cobaltite and gersdorffite The major PGMs are amenable to flotation: sperrylite
(Cabri, 1981a). and cooperite are concentrated in copper concentrate
The PGEs in Sudbury area is a by-product of (69% and 90% of the total PGMs, respectively) and in
smelting and refining Ni–Cu concentrates. Recovery the nickel concentrate (29% and 8%); stibiopalladinite
values for PGEs are not available. (74%) favours the nickel concentrate and the pyrrhotite
Cabri (1981a) reported that 66% of the sperrylite concentrate hosts 70% of isoferroplatinum.
found in a mill tailing was either liberated or attached to Kozyrev et al. (2002) also reported that the cubanite–
sulpharsenides. Because the sperrylite is the principal Pt chalcopyrite–pyrrhotite ore and concentrates contain
mineral in South Range mines and its close textural the most PGMs in the 20–45 lm size fraction (42–84
association with sulpharsenides requires that both be wt.%). Twenty-nine PGMs have been identified and
recovered, he suggested that it was worth investigating these include 18 Pd species and 11 Pt species.
the flotation characteristics of sperrylite. The major PGMs in the flotation feed are cooperite
(28 wt.%), atokite–rustenburgite (24 wt.%) and sperry-
6.3.2. The Noril’sk–Talnakh area, USSR lite (20 wt.%); copper concentrate has sperrylite (42%),
Kozyrev et al. (2002) reported that the Noril’sk– cooperite (24 wt.%) and isoferroplatinum (14 wt.%);
Talnakh PGEs–Cu–Ni sulphide ore was divided into nickel concentrate contains cooperite (36 wt.%), sper-
three economic types, namely, massive (rich) ore, dis- rylite (15 wt.%), atokite–rustenburgite (23 wt.%) and
seminated ore occurring in host rock, and stringer-dis- sobolevskite (11 wt.%); the pyrrhotite concentrate has
seminated ore occurring in intrusive host rocks. The isoferroplatinum (41 wt.%) and cooperite (20 wt.%)
mineralogy of these three ore types is different from each while the tailings have atokite–rustenburgite (54 wt.%)
other. Therefore, the corresponding concentrate meth- and sperrylite (17 wt.%). Most of the major PGMs
ods are also different. grains in the concentrate are liberated while some occur
as complex intergrowths with each other, with sulphides Massive ore mineralogy and recovery method. and with silicates.
The massive ores deposit refers to the Kharaelakh ore- Recovery method: In the actual plant, massive ores,
body, which occur at the base of layered intrusion and ground at 85% passing 45 lm, are being processed
contain more than 70 vol.% sulphides. The orebody is according to a direct selective flotation flowsheet (Fig. 8)
subdivided into three groups, namely, pyrrhotite ore, resulting in an output of copper, nickel and pyrrhotite
cubanite ore, and chalcopyrite ore. Pyrrhotite ore in- concentrates and tailings. In copper flotation, pine oil is
clude pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite–pyrrhotite and cubanite– used as a frothing agent and butyl dithiophosphate as a
chalcopyrite–pyrrhotite varieties, which make up 85 collector; in nickel flotation, T-80 serves as the frother,
vol.% of the Kharaelakh orebody. Cubanite ore makes potassium butyl xanthate as the collector with sodium
976 Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979

Ore (2) Feed of the 48 in. Knelson concentrator;

(3) Gravity concentrate of the 48 in. Knelson concen-
Grinding (80% - 45 µ m)
trator; and
(4) Gravity concentrate of the 20 in. Knelson concen-
Copper flotation trator (processed concentrate of the 48 in. Knelson
Nickel flotation
Copper Conc. Mineralogy: Kozyrev et al. (2002) reported that 26
PGMs species plus alloys of gold and silver have been
Pyrrhotite flotation
Nickel Conc.
found in the gravity concentrates of Knelson 12 in. con-
centrator and include 19 Pd minerals, 6 Pt minerals and a
Rh minerals. Most of PGMs recovered is in minus 45 lm
and 45–75 lm size fractions. In the latter size fraction, the
Pyrrhotite Conc. Tailings
most abundant (80 wt.%) of platinum minerals are iso-
Fig. 8. Selective flotation flowsheet for massive ore. ferroplatinum, rustenbergite, and sperrylite; in the for-
mer, Pd species of the atokite–rustenburgite series
dimethyl dithiocarbamate as a depressant, NaHSO3 as a dominate, with a twofold decrease of Pt–Fe alloy. Most
modifier and CaO is used to regulate alkalinity. PGMs grains and intergrowths (90%) in concentrates are
liberated while the rest (10%) are attached to sulphides. Disseminated ore mineralogy and recovery The PGMs distribution is shown in Table 2.
method. Three varieties of disseminated ores have been Table 3 shows that PGMs in the feed of 48-in. KC are
distinguished: (1) pyrrhotite ore, the most abundant, (2) mainly distributed in the 45–90 and 20–45 lm size
cubanite, and (3) chalcopyrite ores, which are less fraction, 41 and 51 vol.% respectively. Thirty-nine
abundant. The major sulphide minerals in pyrrhotite ore PGMs species including 26 Pd minerals, 12 Pt minerals
are the pyrrhotite-group minerals, chalcopyrite, pent- and 1 Rh mineral, have been found. The major PGMs
landite, with some minor and accessory minerals. Major include atokite (28%), sperrylite (16%) and isoferro-
sulphide minerals in the cubanite ore are cubanite, platinum (11%) plus other minor PGMs. The main
chalcopyrite, pyrrhotite and pentlandite; minor sulp- platinum carriers are isoferroplatinum, atokite, sperry-
hides includes mackinawite, sphalerite, galena etc. The lite and tetraferroplatinum, and palladium minerals
chalcopyrite ore includes the following major sulphides: comprises mostly atokite and to a lesser degree, paolo-
chalcopyrite-group minerals, pentlandite, pyrrhotite- vite and taimyrite. Most of the major PGMs grains are
group minerals and cubanite. Some minor sulphide free while the rest occur as intergrowths with other
minerals also appear in this type of ore. PGMs, Au–Ag alloys, sulphides and silicates.
With new technology developed in the past decade, The PGMs in the concentrates of 48-in. Knelson
gravity–flotation techniques have been developed to in- concentrator are mainly distributed in the 90–250 lm
crease the PGMs recovery, such as recovering PGMs (25%), 45–90 lm (29%), and 20–45 lm (45%) fractions.
from concentrates, as well as scavenging of the Noril’sk A total 28 PGMs species, plus Au and Ag minerals, has
mill tailing using gravity concentration methods (Ko- been found. The major PGMs include isoferroplatinum
zyrev et al., 2002). (41%), tetraferroplatinum (18%) and atokite (15%) plus
The Knelson concentrator has been used by Kozyrev (3–9%) sperrylite rustenbergite and taimyrite. More than
et al. (2002) to study the PGMs distribution in the half of the Pt is contained in isoferroplatinum, as well as
Noril’sk mill gravity products. These include: tetraferroplatinum, sperrylite and rustenburgite.
It is not clear why the authors used the 20-in. Knelson
(1) Gravity concentrate of the 12 in. Knelson concen- concentrator to process the concentrates from the 48-in.
trator (laboratory-scale test); Knelson concentrator.

Table 3
PGMs distribution (vol.%) by size fraction in disseminated ore, Noril’sk I orebody (Kozyrev et al., 2002)
Size fraction (lm) Conc. of the 12 in. KC Feed of the 48 in. KC Conc. of the 48 in. KC Conc. of the 20 in. KC
+250 6.7
)250 + 90 7.8 18.6 34.8
)90 + 45 40.8 29.5 25.4
+74 0.2
)74 + 45 32.1
)45 + 20 67.7 50.9 45.0 38.6
)20 0.5 0.2 1.2
Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979 977

Ore Gravity conc. PGM grain sizes can help predict whether or not over-
grinding of the PGMs is likely or occur during grind-
KC Ball mill ing. Determination of the host minerals is also very
Rougher Tail critical, for example, during froth flotation, talc can
cause sliming or coating of PGM grains, making them
1st cleaner difficult or impossible to float. Some PGEs are in the
solid solution of pyrrhotite grains in copper–nickel
ores, when the operation try to depress or actively re-
ject pyrrhotite from the froth concentrate to recover Cu
2nd cleaner and Ni, the operation may reject high unit-value
Final Conc. After the commission of plants, more efforts also are
putting to the mineralogy studies, which try to optimize
Fig. 9. Noril’sk flowsheet for processing the disseminated ore. the performances. In South Africa, the platinum
industry is well known to use QEMScan or MLA
The major PGMs consist of isoferroplatinum (35%), imaging analysis technology intensively to improve both
tetraferroplatinum (20%) and atokite (20%) plus minor final recovery and final concentrate grade. In Australia,
sperrylite, rustenburgite and taimyrite (3–9%). Based on QEMScan or MLA are used intensively in liberation
the information provided, it is clear that the main Pt and analysis. In Canada, QEMScan at SGS Lakefield re-
Pd carriers in this product are much the same as those in search have been used to gain an understanding of the
the 48 in. Knelson product. mineralogical factors affecting plant performance, and
Recovery method: In actual practice, disseminated this has helped in the post-commissioning optimization
ores are preconcentrated by gravity methods and are of the mill (Martin and McKay, 2003). It was used to
then processed a selective bulk flotation (Fig. 9). The study the role of process mineralogy in optimizing
fineness of grinding is about 55% )74 lm. Gravity mineral processing at North American palladium’s Lac
concentration uses Knelson concentrators of various Des Iles mill. The process mineralogy developed at
capacities to separate the noble-metal minerals. Bulk Falconbridge Limited has been applied to the Raglan
flotation produces a concentrate that undergoes further mill to increase both the recovery and grade (Lotter
grinding to further liberate the minerals. Cleaning stages et al., 2002). However, a sound and cost-effective pre-
are used to produce higher-grade concentrates, which concentration method of sample preparation for the
are processed further to produce copper and nickel mineralogy study is not universal and still underdevel-
concentrates. For flotation, potassium butyl xanthate opment to obtain the precise mineralogical information.
and sodium butyl dithiophosphate serve as collectors,
T-80 as a frother and CaO as a depressant. 7.2. Characterization of the gravity recoverable platinum
Stringer-disseminated ore mineralogy and recovery group minerals in ores
method is not discussed in this article due to the minor
amount of PGMs in the ore. Not only can the characterization of the gravity
recoverable platinum group minerals in an ore measure
the potential response to gravity, but also can be a very
7. New trends in research and development of PGMs effective preconcentration method for sample prepara-
recovery tion for some PGMs mineralogical study.
Recently, a renewed interested in the use of gravity
7.1. Intensive mineralogy research and development concentration in recovering PGMs is being studied due
to the economic importance and new available gravity
The strong correlation between the mineralogy and concentration devices (Cole and Ferron, 2002; Kozyrev
plant performance discussed above drives the mining et al., 2002). Further, the flash flotation is more attrac-
industry put more efforts to the applied/process min- tive application due to the capability of quickly lowing
eralogy studies. Freeman (2003) advocated that min- circulating load of gold and relatively low cost of install-
eralogical identification should be conducted early and ing a flash unit (Laplante and Xiao, 2002). In conjunc-
often, during exploration. Such effort would lead to a tion with this application of gravity concentration is
maximum benefit of a project. For example, early the desire to predict or determine how much gravity
determination of whether the PGMs were sulphides or recoverable platinum group minerals (GRPGMs) is
alloys and whether there is a presence or absence of present in an ore. GRPGMs refer to the portion of
bismuth, tin, tellurium or arsenic-bearing PGMs can platinum group minerals in an ore or stream that can be
benefits the overall recoveries during flotation, smelting recovered by gravity at a very low yield (<1%). It in-
and refining operation. Identification of the range of cludes PGMs that are totally liberated, as well as PGMs
978 Z. Xiao, A.R. Laplante / Minerals Engineering 17 (2004) 961–979

Table 4
Summary of the method used in PGMs recovery plant
Name of mills Option used in grinding circuit Location Recovery
Northam Flash flotation Cyclone underflow 60% Pt
Noril’sk Knelson concentrator First crushing stage 50–60% Pt
10–13% Pd
17–20% Au
Stillwater Flash flotation Cyclone underflow 50–60% Pt
30–40% Pd
Lac des Iles N/a N/a

in particles that are not totally liberated but with such size distribution in Noril’sk mine, the gravity recovery
density that they report to the gravity concentrates. by using KC SD-48 has been used to recover PGMs in
Conversely, it excludes any fine, completely liberated crushing stage. However, the behavior of PGMs in
PGMs that are not recovered into concentrates. crushing, grinding and classification units needs to be
The GRPGMs test can be adopted from the Gravity further investigation.
recoverable gold (GRG) test, which is a concept used to
characterize ores for their gravity recoverable gold
content. The amenability of an ore to gravity recovery is
8. Conclusions
the single most important parameter to justify the
installation of a gravity circuit (Laplante et al., 1993).
In this review, documented information about the
Therefore, the ore must be characterized for its gravity
classification of PGEs ores, the techniques of sample
recovery potential, as it is ground and progressively
preparation for mineralogy study was examined. It was
liberated. This is the most common definition of GRG
found that for different ore types the preconcentration
and the GRG standard test is designed to address this
methods differ. As do the mineralogical features. Although
question (Xiao, 2001).
the preconcentration method is complicated in some cases,
The transfer from GRG to GRPGMs is based on the
it is very effective for the mineralogical analysis.
specific gravity range for some platinum group minerals
Mineralogical analysis is very important to choose
(between 10 and 22) is similar to that of gold (between
the flowsheet for recovering the PGMs. It is also critical
16 and 19). However, the PGMs tend to report to finer
to optimize the actual plant for improving the perfor-
size classes (Xiao and Laplante, 2003), the test needs to
be modified. The modified procedure includes the stan-
Flash flotation and gravity recovery using the cen-
dard GRG protocol, but a fourth stage is added at a
trifugal equipment was used in some major PGMs
higher rotating velocity. Gravity research group in
producer plant.
McGill University is developing this technique.

7.3. Use of flash flotation or centrifugal gravity concen-

Begizov, V.D., Borisenko, L.F., Uskov, Y.D., 1975. Sulphides and
As shown in Table 4, the flash flotation has been used natural solid solutions of platinum metals from the ultrabasites of
in Northam mill in South Africa, Stillwater mill in the Gusevogorskiy Pluton. Urals. Doklady Akad. Nauk SSSR 225,
North America, and gravity recovery using Knelson 1408–1411.
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concentrator in Noril’sk, Russia. For gold, the best
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