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Flotation process (sometimes called flotation separation) is a method of separation widely used in the wastewater treatment and mineral processing industries.

William Haynes in 1869 patented a process for separating sulfide and gangue minerals using oil and called it bulk-oil flotation. The first successful commercial flotation process for mineral sulphides was invented by Frank Elmore who worked on the development with his brother, Stanley. The Glasdir copper mine at Llanellyd, near Dolgellau, in North Wales was bought in 1896 by the Elmore brothers in conjunction with their father, William Elmore. In 1897, the Elmore brothers installed the world's first industrial size commercial flotation process for mineral beneficiation at the Glasdir copper mine. The process was not froth flotation but used oil to agglomerate pulverised sulphides and buoy them to the surface, and was patented in 1898 with a description of the process published in 1903 in the Engineering and Mining Journal. By this time they had recognized the importance of air bubbles in assisting the oil to carry away the mineral particles. The Elmores had formed a company known as the Ore Concentration Syndicate Ltd to promote the commercial use of the process worldwide. However developments elsewhere, particularly in Australia by Minerals Separation Ltd, led to decades of hard fought legal battles and litigations which, ultimately, were lost as the process was superseded by more advanced techniques.

The modern froth flotation process was independently invented the early 1900s in Australia by C.V Potter and around the same time by G.D Delprat. Initially, naturally occurring chemicals such as fatty acids and oils were used as flotation reagents in a large quantity to increase the hydrophobicity of the valuable minerals. Since then, the process has been adapted and applied to a wide variety of materials to be separated, and additional collector agents, including surfactants and synthetic compounds have been adopted for various applications.

In the 1960s the froth flotation technique was adapted for deinking recycled paper.

Mechanism of froth flotation are: Attachment of a specific mineral particle to air bubbles Caught b/w particles in the froth Being carried by the water in the froth

Froth flotation is a process for selectively separating hydrophobic materials from hydrophilic. This is used in several processing industries. Historically this was first used in the mining industry. Eg oxides-hematite,cassiterite;oxidisedmalachite,cerussite;non metallicfluorite,phosphate,fine coal;sulphidescopper,zinc,lead

Froth flotation commences by comminution (that is, crushing and grinding), which is used to increase the surface area of the ore for subsequent processing and break the rocks into the desired mineral and gangue in a process known as liberation, which then has to be separated from the desired mineral. The ore is ground into a fine powder and mixed with water to form a slurry. The desired mineral is rendered hydrophobic by the addition of a surfactant or collector chemical. The particular chemical depends on which mineral is being refined. As an example, pine oil is used to extract copper. This slurry (more properly called the pulp) of hydrophobic mineralbearing ore and hydrophilic gangue is then introduced to a water bath which is aerated, creating bubbles. The hydrophobic grains of mineral-bearing ore escape the water by attaching to the air bubbles, which rise to the surface, forming a foam or a scum (more properly called a froth). The froth is removed and the concentrated mineral is further refined.

To be effective on a given ore slurry, the surfactants are chosen based upon their selective wetting of the types of particles to be separated. A good surfactant candidate will completely wet one of the types of particles, while partially wetting the other type, which allows bubbles to attach to them and lift them into a froth. The wetting activity of a surfactant on a particle can be quantified by measuring the contact angles that the liquid/bubble interface makes with it. For complete wetting the contact angle is zero. Another consideration, especially important for heavy particles, is to balance the weight of the particle with the surfactant adhesion and buoyant forces of the bubbles that would lift it.

Diagram of froth flotation cell. Numbered triangles show direction of stream flow. A mixture of ore and water called pulp [1] enters the cell from a conditioner, and flows to the bottom of the cell. Air [2] or nitrogen is passed down a vertical impeller where shearing forces break the air stream into small bubbles. The mineral concentrate froth is collected from the top of the cell [3], while the pulp [4] flows to another cell. Flotation can be performed in rectangular or cylindrical mechanically agitated cells or tanks, flotation columns, Jameson cells or deinking flotation machines.

Mechanical cells use a large mixer and diffuser mechanism at the bottom of the mixing tank to introduce air and provide mixing action. Flotation columns use air spargers to introduce air at the bottom of a tall column while introducing slurry above. The countercurrent motion of the slurry flowing down and the air flowing up provides mixing action. Mechanical cells generally have a higher throughput rate, but produce material that is of lower quality, while flotation columns generally have a low throughput rate but produce higher quality material. The Jameson cell uses neither impellers nor spargers, instead combining the slurry with air in a downcomer where high shear creates the turbulent conditions required for bubble particle contacting.

The performance of a flotation system depends upon having sufficient air bubbles present to float substantially all of the suspended solids .

An insufficient quantity of air will result in only partial flotation of the solids, and excesive air will yield no improvement.

A Flotation Machine Must:

Maintain all particles in suspension Ensure all particles entering the machine have an opportunity to be floated Disperse fine air bubbles throughout the pulp Promote particle-bubble collision Minimize pulp entrainment in the froth Allow for drainage of entrained particles from froth

The performance of a flotation unit terms of effluent quality and solids concentration in the float can be related to an air/solids ratio:


When pressurized recycle is used:


Numbered triangles show direction of stream flow, Various flotation reagents are added to a mixture of ore and water (called pulp) in a conditioning tank. The flow rate and tank size are designed to give the minerals enough time to be activated. The conditioner pulp [1] is fed to a bank of rougher cells which remove most of the desired minerals as a concentrate. The rougher pulp [2] passes to a bank of scavenger cells where additional reagents may be added. The scavenger cell froth [3] is usually returned to the rougher cells for additional treatment, but in some cases may be sent to special cleaner cells. The scavenger pulp is usually barren enough to be discarded as tails. More complex flotation circuits have several sets of cleaner and re-cleaner cells, and intermediate re-grinding of pulp or concentrate.

Flotation circuit design philosophy

Keep it simple: Avoid, when possible, unit operation with long time delays, such as thickeners. The best circulating load is no circulating load - circulating loads are inherently unstable. The more complex the ore, the greater the need for a simple circuit arrangement. Deficiencies in liberation or pulp chemistry cannot be corrected by recirculation. In fact the opposite will probably occur. In a plant environment, a simple responsive circuit will almost invariably outperform a complicated circuit. If a human can't understand, balance, or control a circuit, a computer certainly can't either.


Flotation Types
Standard flotation: Most common type of circuit separates a single valuable mineral from gangue. Float the valuable mineral Example: Cu

Flotation Types
Reverse flotation: gangue is floated practical if small amount of gangue removed from a large stream. example is flotation of pyrite from zinc/lead concentrate

Flotation Types
Bulk flotation: Two or more values floated together one set of conditions example is bulk copper / lead flotation

Flotation Types
Differential flotation: bulk concentrate is separated into two products Change chemical conditions example is copper / lead concentrate flotation

A composition and process are provided for the recovery of the values of zinc, molybdenum, copper, lead, iron (pyrite), and iron-containing small amounts of gold or uranium, or both, from ores comprising these mineral sulfides. The aqueous composition is the impure form of an alkali metal alkyl trithiocarbonate compound. The process comprises employing said aqueous composition as a collection agent for the above minerals in an ore recovery process. A process for the separation of zinc values from lead values from an ore comprising both is provided by employing an alkali metal alkyl trithiocarbonate compound as a collection agent for zinc. In addition, both a composition and process are provided for the recovery of the values of iron, copper, and lead from ores comprising these values. The composition consists essentially of a dispersant and an impure form of an alkali metal alkyl trithiocarbonate compound. The process comprises employing this composition as a collection agent for the above minerals in an ore recovery process.

Collectors Collectors either chemically bond (chemisorption) on a hydrophobic mineral surface, or adsorb onto the surface in the case of, for example, coal flotation through physisorption. Collectors increase the natural hydrophobicity of the surface, increasing the separability of the hydrophobic and hydrophilic particles.

Collector Bonding

Collector Bonding

Xanthates Potassium Amyl Xanthate(PAX) Potassium Isobutyl Xanthate (PIBX) Potassium Ethyl Xanthate (KEX) Sodium Isobutyl Xanthate (SIBX) Sodium Isopropyl Xanthate (SIPX) Sodium Ethyl Xanthate(SEX) Dithiophosphates Thiocarbamates Xanthogen Formates Thionocarbamates Thiocarbanilide

Frothers Frothers produces stable bubbles for hydrophobic particles to attach in liquid phase only and not to mineral surface. It should have low collecting power. Reduce surface tension. Pine oil Alcohols (MIBC) Polyglycols Polyoxyparafins| Cresylic Acid (Xylenol)

Modifiers as activators, depressants or pH modifiers. Alters selectivity of the collectors. It intensifies or reduces their water repellant effect on the mineral surface. Activator-soluble salts which ionizes in solution Eg activation of sphalerite by cu in solution Depressant-are used to increase the selectivity of floatation by rendering certain minerals hydrophilic thus preventing their floatation. Eg slime coating Cationic modifiers: Ba2+, Ca2+, Cu+, Pb2+, Zn2+, Ag+ Anionic modifiers: SiO32-, PO43-, CN-, CO32-, S2 Organic modifers: Dextrin, starch, glue, CMC

pH modifier floatation is carried out at alkali pH because most collector are stable at higher pH & corrosion of cells, pipework is minimized. pH modifiers such as: Lime CaO Soda ash Na2CO3 Caustic soda NaOH Acid H2SO4, HCl

Specific ore applications Sulfide ores Copper Copper-Molybdenum Lead-Zinc Lead-Zinc-Iron Copper-Lead-Zinc-Iron Gold-Silver Oxide Copper and Lead Nickel Nickel-Copper Nonsulfide ores Fluorite Tungsten Lithium Tantalum Tin Coal

Ore Concentration by Froth Flotation Remember that only 0.67% of the ore is copper. The copper minerals and waste rock are separated at the mill using froth flotation. The copper ore slurry from the grinding mills is mixed with milk of lime (simply water and ground-up limestone) to give a basic pH, pine oil (yes, it comes from trees -- a by-product of paper mills) to make bubbles, an alcohol to strengthen the bubbles, and a collector chemical called potassium amyl xanthate (or the potassium salt of an alkyl dithiocarbonate). The xanthates are added to the slurry in relatively small quantities. Xanthate is a long hydrocarbon (5 carbons) chain molecule. One end of the chain (the ionic dithiocarbonate) is polar and sticks to sulfide minerals while the other end is nonpolar, containing the hydrocarbon chain is hydrophobic -- it hates being in the water and is attracted to the nonpolar hydrocarbon pine oil molecules.

Raising the pH causes the polar end to ionize more and to preferentially stick to chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) and leave the pyrite (FeS2) alone. Air is blown into the tanks and agitated like a giant blender, producing a foamy froth. The chalcopyrite grains become coated with xanthate molecules with their hydrophobic ends waving around trying desperately to get out of the water. They attach themselves to the oily air bubbles which become coated with chalcopyrite grains as they rise to the surface and flow over the edge of the tank. In this manner through a series of steps the copper ore is concentrated to an eventual value of over 28% copper. Waste rock particles do not adhere to the bubbles and drop to the bottom of the tank. The waste material that comes out of the bottom of the tanks at the tail end of this process is called "tailings." It is nothing more than ground-up rock with the copper minerals removed.

The graphic down shows an air bubble surrounded by grains of chalcopyrite that has been coated with xanthate. The pine oil acts as a frother only, providing the air bubbles that the xanthate sticks to.

Bubble Bonding

Bubble Bonding