You are on page 1of 8

Montreal Energy & Mines, Montreal, April 29- May 2, 2007

SLon magnetic separator: A new approach for recovering and concentrating iron ore fines
Stephen B. Hearn Outokumpu Technology Inc. Physical Separation Misty N. Dobbins Outokumpu Technology Inc. Physical Separation

Abstract
The SLon Vertical Ring and Pulsating High Gradient Magnetic Separator was developed to overcome multiple disadvantages associated with traditional horizontal type Wet High Intensity Magnetic Separators (WHIMS) which have been in service for many decades for recovering iron ore and other minerals. Proven successful, with hundreds of units now upgrading low-grade iron ores and maximizing recovery of fines throughout China, the technology is now being tested in the Western world. This paper will discuss the drawbacks of traditional WHIMS, explain the operation of the SLon, and illustrate its practical use in processing hematite ores.

Introduction Historically, iron ore producers neglected to process their fines, which were seen as low value while directly smeltable, lumpy iron ore was readily available. Such deposits, with grades sometimes above 65% Fe and particles over 30mm, are now few and far between. Todays operations are instead increasingly processing particles averaging less than 1mm in size and with much lower grades; hence the levels of silica and other refractory minerals is greatly increased. Fortunately, fine particles lend themselves easily to pellet production, once their iron content is increased and undesirables are rejected. Another driver making processing fines attractive is the introduction of Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) technology. DRI is more effective with fine iron particles, although >67% Fe content is usually mandated as DRI does not remove impurities the way a blast furnace will with slag formation. Upgrading these iron ore fines, still stockpiled in many operations, can often be achieved by exploiting the minerals physical properties. Due to the paramagnetic properties of hematite ore, in that its magnetic susceptibility naturally increases in an increasingly powerful magnetic field, one technique utilized in fine iron ore recovery is wet high intensity magnetic separation or the WHIMS. WHIMS technology has long been available for the separation of paramagnetic materials, but traditionally has encountered inefficiencies with finer feeds (<100m). Advances in High Gradient Magnetic Separation (HGMS) in the early 1980s aided in the arena of fine paramagnetic particle removal. Unfortunately, HGMS technology was often too expensive for processing low-value commodities, such as iron ores, and as capacities increased the units became inefficient and troublesome to maintain, largely due to their propensity to

Montreal Energy & Mines, Montreal, April 29- May 2, 2007

blockage. To overcome these drawbacks, the SLon Vertically Pulsating High Gradient Magnetic Separator (SLon) was developed by the Ganzhou Nonferrous Metallurgy Research Institute in China and first introduced in 1988. Application of these units soon proved it was possible to produce cleaner concentrate products on feeds finer than 100m while still being economical at high capacities. Development of the technology was driven in large part by the need to recover this low-grade material in China, where ores as low as 30% Fe are routinely encountered. WHIMS Technology WHIMS typically use a combination of an electromagnet, to generate a base field, and a matrix, such as grooved plates or filamentary materials, to generate disturbances in that field. This combination leads to localized areas of rapidly changing high-intensity magnetic field, commonly referred to as high gradient. The magnetized matrix works much like a filter, with many highly magnetized points of collection for magnetic particles, and numerous gaps or voids for free flow of non-magnetic materials to tailings. Though the high gradient magnetic field created within the WHIMS offers a tremendous force for the collection of even the weakest magnetic particles, both the field strength of the electromagnet and the design of the matrix must be considered for a WHIMS to operate successfully. The matrix must maximize the magnetic force of the electromagnet, generate many areas of localized high gradient, and offer many points for paramagnetic material collection without hindering the flow of non-magnetic particles. (DOBBINS, 2006) If the matrix fails in any of these three areas, the WHIMS will not function properly, regardless of how strong the magnetic force. This is all the more important as feeds decrease in particle size and is the key factor to inefficiencies in traditional WHIMS. Drawback 1: Reduced capacity When processing fines, the balance between hydrodynamic drag forces and magnetic attraction forces tilts in favor of the drag forces, so maintaining sufficient capacity requires a higher magnetic field gradient to attract weakly magnetic particles. As the magnetic force increases, its effective range decreases, so more points of collection are required to effectively collect fine particles. With the commonly used grooved plates, even at 12 grooves per inch, the size common for particles near 100m, there simply are not enough collection points to overcome the opposing physical forces within the magnetic zone. The more one increases capacity the more ineffective the unit becomes. Drawback 2: Matrix plugging Often, to overcome capacity issues, other matrix materials are used, like steel wool, that are constructed with more points of collection. Unfortunately, with more collection points come smaller gaps between the matrix materials. Once these types of matrices exit the magnetic field, the traditionally relied upon forces of gravity and water flushing to free magnetic particles are often not enough to overcome plugging or matrix blocking. (Matrix plugging is caused by too many fine, strongly magnetic particles collecting at a single point and lodging as a lump into the empty spaces of the matrix.) Additionally, magnetic flux leakage in conventional electromagnet

Montreal Energy & Mines, Montreal, April 29- May 2, 2007

designs generate more than adequate background magnetic field to trap highly magnetic particles (which are always present even in trace amounts) until the magnetizing current is turned off, by which time the particles may be packed or cemented together. A blocked matrix leads to a reduction in efficiency, and, over time, if the blockage builds, production must stop for rigorous cleaning of the matrix. In industrial processes, oversized particles often enter the system despite various precautions. Such particles may get jammed into the matrix near the feed point and cannot be released except through stopping production and either mechanically disassembling the matrix, or applying high pressure water. (UNKELBACH, 1990) Drawback 3: Particle entrapment Matrix materials with more collection points also have a stronger magnetic force. While these types of matrices are magnetized and collecting multiple particles at each high-gradient location, non-magnetic particles can become trapped. This occurrence, known as particle entrapment or entrainment, occurs when fine non-magnetic particles are held to the matrix by more coarse magnetic particles and thus prevented from flowing through the matrix to the nonmagnetic product launder. Particle entrapment leads to a reduction in grade and recovery, potentially causing an increase in re-circulating loads or cleaning and scavenging stages. (DOBBINS, 2006) Development of the SLon The SLon was designed specifically to overcome the various drawbacks of traditional WHIMS by incorporating a pulsating mechanism, vertical ring configuration and unique matrix design. Specifically introduced to process iron ore, the units are suited for feeds <1.3mm (to ~10m). How it works An electromagnetic field is generated within the separating zone. A carousel, rotating on its horizontal axis, houses a matrix of paralleled rods. From the feed box, slurry is introduced into the matrix as it passes through the separating zone. The magnetic particles in the slurry are attracted to the surface of the rods in the matrix then carried out of the separation zone to the top of the carousel. Once outside of the separation zone, where the magnetic field is negligible, the magnetic materials are flushed into the concentrate box. Conversely, while the matrix is still in the separation zone, gravity and the force of hydrodynamic pulsing of the slurry drag the nonmagnetic particles through the matrix pile into the tailings box. (XIONG, WENQING, 2003) A schematic of the SLon is shown in Figure 1.

Montreal Energy & Mines, Montreal, April 29- May 2, 2007

Figure 1: Working principle of the SLon separator (XIONG, WENQING, 2003)

Pulsating mechanism and vertical ring configuration A diaphragm actuated by a crankshaft provides the pulsating mechanism. The pulsation drives the slurry in the separating zone up and down keeping particles in a constantly loose state; so fewer non-magnetic particles become trapped. Since the pulsing causes the slurry direction to reverse, particle accumulation occurs on both sides of the matrix. This creates a greater surface area of collection points thus the matrix can process more slurry before becoming saturated, and so capture more magnetic particles in less processing time. (XIONG, 1998). The working ring of the SLon rotates vertically, rather than horizontally like traditional WHIMS. This configuration allows for flushing in the opposite direction of the feed so that strongly magnetic particles and coarse particles can be washed away without having to pass through the entire depth of the matrix. Additionally, the flush zone is designed to have less stray magnetic field and so reduce any residual grip on the magnetic particles. The pulsation of the slurry while the matrix is magnetized, and the opposite flushing allowed by the vertical configuration combine to purify magnetic product while preventing matrix plugging. These unique features help the units achieve a higher ratio of beneficiation, higher efficiency, and considerable flexibility, all at high capacities. Filamentary matrix elements The SLon matrix is constructed of filamentary elements formed in rods of extraordinary quality magnetic steel, providing extremely high magnetization. The rods in the matrix can range in diameter from 1-3mm to accommodate various size ranges of feeds and thus various mineral applications. The rods are mounted in a fixed, equidistant pattern; greatly reducing the risk for entrapment of particles, especially when compared to randomly positioned filaments or expanded metal sheets. By inserting the filamentary elements perpendicular to the applied magnetic field,

Montreal Energy & Mines, Montreal, April 29- May 2, 2007

an optimum magnetic force is achieved. The unique matrix maximizes the physical combination of high background magnetic field and the generated high magnetic flux gradient. Application With a combined benefit of superior metallurgical performance and low operation costs, the SLon has revived WHIMS in the processing of industrial minerals and iron ores. There are over 500 SLon units currently in operation. The following case studies will illustrate just some of the ways the SLon gives new life to underperforming operations. Case Study 1: Qi Dashan Mineral Processing Plant, China The Anshan Iron and Steel Companys Qi Dashan operation in Liao ning Province of Northeast China yearly processes 8 million tons of oxidized iron ore; producing iron concentrates of 2.7 million tpa. (XIONG, 2003) The Qi Dashan deposit consists of a low grade ore with hematite, magnetite and quartz ranging in size from 5m - 1.0mm (averaging 50m) graded at about 30% Fe, but with few harmful elements like sulfur and phosphorous. The plant utilized a costly, and environmentally unfriendly, roasting process and was still unable to produce concentrates beyond 63% Fe. Years of upgrade evaluation tests were performed culminating in an improved flowsheet that increased both grade and recovery to historical highs. During testing, the SLon was pitted against a WHIMS-2000 (horizontal ring) on the 75m feed. Tests were conducted over a three-month period, and the results were conclusive: The SLon out performed its competitor through higher grade and recovery, at higher capacities, all the while remaining clean the matrix never plugged. Additional testing proved a reverse flotation addition would produce an even better quality final product and enable eliminating the roasting step. Qi Dashan was upgraded in 2002 with a gravity, SLon and reverse flotation flowsheet, shown in Figure 2, that produced a grade of 67% Fe, and a recovery of 78% Fe.

Figure 2: Revised flowsheet at Qi Dashan.

Montreal Energy & Mines, Montreal, April 29- May 2, 2007

Case study 2: Hai Nan Iron and Steel Company, China Hai Nan Iron and Steel Company has a vast deposit of oxidized iron ore. The bulk of the deposit is finely crystallized hematite. Approximately 10% of the Fe is present as magnetite. (XIONG, 2006) Over a two-year period, beginning in 2003, a magnetic separation flowsheet, shown in Figure 3, was developed to recover the ore. Six SLon-2000 model magnetic separators, the largest units made at that time, were applied to recover the fine hematite. Two of the units are applied as roughers, two are cleaners, and two function as scavengers. The operation, fed with a feed grade of 51% Fe, yields a concentrate grade of 65% Fe at a recovery of 88% Fe.

Figure 3: Hai Nan Iron and Steel revised flowsheet.

The success of the SLon units at the Hai Nan deposit were so well received by other near-by operations that 25 more units were applied to treat oxidized iron ore within the region. Case study 3: Mikhailovsky Mine, Russia Production at the Mikhailovsky iron ore deposit in Russia began in 1957 and, up to the year 2005, almost 1 billion tons of ore had been extracted. As of today, the established reserves of the deposit amount to over 5 billion tons of ore according to the Jorc Code international classification. In general, the ore mined can be classified into three types: High-grade ore: mainly hematite ore, currently shipped direct at ~ 52% Fe. Low-grade ore, non-oxidized iron quartzite with Fe ranging from 20% to 40%

Montreal Energy & Mines, Montreal, April 29- May 2, 2007

Oxidized iron quartzite which is an ore containing hematite and magnetite that is not currently exploited. Separation of iron minerals, mainly magnetite, is carried out with wet low intensity magnetic drum separators. (The magnetic field intensity is <1200 gauss.) The present plant produces 17 million tons of concentrate annually. The final concentrate produced by the existing flowsheet is of 65% Fe and 8.6% SiO2. The overall iron recovery is currently reported to be 57% Fe, with tailings ~ 27% Fe. Most of the iron in these tailings is locked hematite. In 2006, a process of additional flotation concentration of magnetite concentrate was commissioned. This process makes it possible to produce magnetite concentrate with not less than 3% of SiO2. In 2005, Mikhailovsky outsourced metallurgical testwork to determine the best method for processing oxidized iron quartzite. Based on optical microscopy researches, tentative liberation measurements demonstrated liberation of quite fine grains (< 200m) of iron minerals (magnetite, hematite). In all, the material contained a high percentage of locked particles in fractions coarser than 106m. The test facility milled the material to P80 of 120m. A sample consisting of the three ore types described above was sent to the SLon company in China for testing. This sample contained 40.36% Fe. The target was to upgrade the iron at a high recovery rate. Material was treated on a SLon after LIMS to remove and recover magnetite. The results are shown in Table 1.
Table 1: SLon results on Mikhailovsky samples. Test no. 1 Products LIMS Mags SLon Mags LIMS+SLon Mags Nonmags Feed LIMS Mags SLon Mags LIMS+SLon Mags Nonmags Feed LIMS Mags SLon Mags LIMS+SLon Mags Nonmags Feed Mass % 21.52 41.82 63.34 36.66 100.00 20.72 32.70 53.42 46.58 100.00 22.03 29.34 51.37 48.63 100.00 Assays Fe % 57.78 50.01 52.65 19.96 40.67 57.78 51.84 54.14 24.55 40.36 57.78 52.69 54.88 25.13 40.40 Fe recovery (%) 30.58 51.43 82.01 17.99 100.00 29.66 42.00 71.66 28.34 100.00 31.51 38.27 69.78 30.22 100.00 Main conditions 0.5T Pulsation: 220

0.3T Pulsation: 220

0.3T Pulsation: 250

Clearly, final concentrate of 66% Fe cannot be made from this material but recovery of > 80% can be achieved and the subsequent 53% Fe can be cleaned by flotation as is shown in the examples from China. The advised new flowsheet is shown in Figure 4.

Montreal Energy & Mines, Montreal, April 29- May 2, 2007

Figure 4: Conceptual flowsheet incorporating SLon for improved iron recovery at Mikhailovsky.

Conclusion The SLon magnet has received wide acceptance inside China, particularly for iron ore recovery, driven largely by the need in that economy to maximize recovery of iron units. Flotation alone would not prove to be cost effective for what are still relatively low value minerals, even at today's higher prices, which have been driven by an almost insatiable demand for iron. Augmenting flotation with SLon has greatly improved recoveries on many plants, whilst keeping reagent costs to a minimum.
References: DOBBINS, M., 2006. Pulsation Separation. Industrial Minerals, 465, p. 72-75. UNKELBACH, K., 1990. Magnetic Separators Mode of Operation and Applicability for the Separation of Materials. Germany, KHD Humboldt Wedag AG. XIONG, D., 1998. New technology of SLon Vertical ring and pulsating high gradient magnetic separators. International Journal of Mineral Processing, 54, p. 111127. XIONG, D., 2003. SLon Magnetic Separator Applied to Upgrading Iron Concentrate. Physical Separation in Science and Engineering, 2, p 63-69. XIONG, D., 2006. SLon magnetic separator promoting Chinese weakly magnetic ores processing industry. First presented at Magnetic and Electrical Separation 06, Perth, Australia. XIONG, D., and WENQING, Z., 2003. The Latest Application of SLon Vertical Ring and Pulsating High Gradient Magnetic Separator. Minerals Engineering, 16, p. 563-565.