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Design and development of novel flotation reagents for the beneficiation of Mountain Pass rare-earth ore

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2013, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 1-9

Pradip,; Fuerstenau, D.W.


Bastnaesite, a rare-earth fluocarbonate, was separated from associated calcite and barite gangue minerals in the Mountain Pass, CA rare-earth ore beneficiation plant by froth flotation using fatty acids (tall oil) collector, lignin sulfonate depressant and soda ash modifier after high-temperature (steam) conditioning with reagents. Starting with a feed grade of 7.6% REO, concentrates having a grade of 65% REO can be produced at a recovery of around 80%. A detailed investigation consisting of Hallimond tube microflotation experiments, bench-scale tests with a laboratory Denver flotation cell, and predesigned plant campaigns was made to delineate the underlying surface chemistry involved in this separation and to develop an alternate reagent scheme to enhance the selectivity of separation for this ore. Our results clearly demonstrate the superiority of alkyl hydroxamates to the conventional fatty acid collectors that were being used in the plant. Our study also indicates the possibility of achieving the desired selectivity with alkyl hydroxamates even at room temperature, thus obviating the need for steam conditioning. A critical review of the literature on rare-earth mineral flotation suggests the possibility of designing a more selective reagent combination for the beneficiation of Mountain Pass rare-earth ore, using a methodology based on ab initio molecular modeling computations.