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Pyrrhotite flotation and its selectivity against pentlandite in the beneficiation of nickeliferous ores: An electrochemistry perspective

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2014, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 115-125

Manouchehri, H.R.


Pyrrhotite (Po) is one of the most abundant sulfide minerals in processing industry and must be rejected in most cases. Particularly, Po rejection and its selectivity against pentlandite (Pn) have long been a challenge due to similarities in the mineral composition of the two minerals and the collectorless flotation characteristics of Po. Xanthates have been widely used to promote sulfide mineral flotation; however, in the presence of xanthates, the redox potential established at the mineral/solution interface is most important, determining the flotation performance. In this paper, the importance of electrochemistry in Po and Pn flotation has been demonstrated and a comprehensive study was conducted on two different feed streams (i.e., magnetic concentrate and scavenger cleaner streams, containing magnetic and nonmagnetic forms of Po, respectively), from Vale's Clarabelle Mill in Sudbury, Ontario, with an objective to determine if improvements in Po rejection and Pn recovery could be achieved by controlling pulp electrochemistry. By conducting a series of flotation tests under different Eh conditions and reagent usage schemes, it was revealed that higher Po content in the magnetic stream may protect Pn from being oxidized, improving Pn recovery. The results indicated that at low oxidizing pulp chemistry, the rest potential for the Pn is still high enough to allow the formation of dixanthogen to promote its flotation. Using a Pt electrode, it was found that by controlling pulp potential at -50<Eh< +50 mV, the Pn recovery and Po depression would be satisfactory. The results, using mineral electrodes (Outotec Chena analyzer), indicated that selective separation can be achieved if low-to-moderate oxidation potentials (0 to 100 mV) or reduction (0 to -100 mV) potentials are monitored using Pn and Po electrodes. Mixing two streams at 50:50 wt % would be possibly beneficial in selective separation.