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Joe Zhou

Joe Zhou Mineralogy Ltd., Canada


The ultimate goal of a mineral processing project is to recover as much of the target
mineral(s) as possible from the ore being treated to achieve the best economics.
Selection of the mineral processing techniques and development of the flowsheet are
the most important steps in achieving this goal. However, the recoveries of valuable
minerals may be not satisfactory due to the complexity of the ore although the mineral
processing plant is well designed and built. In fact, extraction of most metals and
minerals is largely driven by mineralogical factors that often cause low recoveries,
low grade, high reagent consumption and other processing issues. Mineralogical
factors affecting ore processing and metal extraction may include mineral type,
metal/element deportment, grain size, liberation and association, surface chemistry,
and concentration and liberation characteristics of minerals detrimental to processing
(e.g., cyanide- and oxygen-consuming minerals, organic carbon, clays, etc.). Process
mineralogy helps address such issues related to ore processing and metal extraction. It
is widely used as a predictive and trouble-shooting tool in mineral processing and
extractive metallurgy, and provides useful information on process selection, flowsheet
development, recovery improvement and reagent consumption optimization.

This paper presents an overview of process mineralogy and focuses on practical
processing problems encountered in ore processing. It also provides a comparison of
commonly used mineralogical techniques and methods for selecting the right tool for
the problem. Case studies covering gold, silver and base metals ores are provided
from a variety of processing options such as gravity separation, flotation, cyanidation
and pre-oxidation.

Keywords: process mineralogy, mineral processing, extractive metallurgy, prediction,


The minerals industry employs various processes to extract valuable metals and
minerals from different ores. Commonly used processes include crushing, grinding,
gravity concentration, flotation, leaching, magnetic and electrostatic separation, and
refining. Fine grinding and oxidative pretreatment are also commonly used in
processing of refractory ores. These processes can be used separately for different
ores, but more often they are employed collectively in many processing projects.

Presented at the First International Metallurgical Meeting Peru 2012, October 26
2012, Lima, Peru


Process selection is the most important step in a mineral processing project. Generally
speaking, the factors affecting process selection of a project include geological,
mineralogical, metallurgical, environmental, geographical, economical and political
situations (Marsden and House, 2006). Among these factors, mineralogical and
metallurgical factors have a direct impact on process selection as they determine the
response of the ore to mineral processing techniques. In many metallic ores, the
recoveries of metals and minerals of interest are often driven by mineralogical factors
such as grain size, liberation, surface chemistry, association with other minerals,
coating and rimming, presence of cyanicides, oxygen consumers, preg-robbers and
clay minerals, and locking in other minerals as trace substitution. Among these
mineralogical factors, liberation, grain size and association (locking in other minerals
as fine-grained inclusions and/or trace substitution) are the most common factors
affecting gold ore processing and metal extraction. Processing of PGE ores faces the
same challenges as gold. Fine grain size and locking of PGM in sulphide and non-
sulphide minerals often cause PGM losses. Presence of talc in some PGE ores (such
as the Merensky reef and Stillwater Complex) can cause significant processing
difficulties (Cole, 2002). In the UG-2 ore located in the Bushveld Complex, the PGM
are finely disseminated with the average grain size being about 10 microns, so that
grain size, liberation and association tend to dictate mineral floatability (Nel et al,
2004). The presence of PGE in pentlandite and other sulphide minerals as solid
solution is another issue that causes processing difficulties. Compared to gold and
PGE, silver mineralogy is more complex. In Pb-Zn-Ag ore, silver often occurs as
inclusions in and attachment to primary lead and zinc minerals (commonly galena and
sphalerite) and can be lost with these minerals during flotation. In silver ore
containing significant amounts of pyrargyrite, proustite and stephanite, silver recovery
by cyanidation can be very low because these minerals dissolve slowly in cyanide
solution. Silver can also occur in other minerals as submicroscopic silver as well,
making silver extraction more difficult (Zhou, 2010). Base metal ores are mainly
processed by flotation. In processing of base metal ores, high content of pyrite, fine
grain size of galena, intergrowth of chalcopyrite with sphalerite and presence of clay
minerals can cause serious processing problems. Surface chemistry may affect
extraction of base metals as well. In some base metal ores containing precious metals,
precious metal-bearing minerals (such as electrum and kstelite) may misreport to
zinc concentrate rather than copper concentrate because of the surface coating (Zhou
et al., 2005). As high-grade nickel sulphide ores are being depleted and processing
laterite ores continue to pose challenges, the future of nickel extraction lies in low-
grade ultramafic ores. The main challenge in processing low-grade ultramafic ores is
the presence of MgO-containing silicate minerals. The impact of MgO content on Ni
recovery is very pronounced and high MgO requires the effective rejection of MgO
containing minerals. A study conducted on fibrous minerals in ultramafic nickel
sulphide ores indicated the significant depressing effect of MgO on pentlandite
flotation. As the impact of fibrous minerals on slurry viscosity, grinding, and flotation
becomes understood, nickel recovery will increase, making the mining and low-grade
ultramafic deposits viable (Xu et al, 2012). In iron ore processing, elevated sulphur
content of the concentrate is a common issue in some operations. To be able to reduce
the sulphur content, the sulphide mineralogy including mineral speciation, grain size,
liberation and association with iron minerals must be well understood and determined.
This paper introduces the scope of process mineralogy and mineralogical factors that
may affect mineral processing and extractive metallurgy of various ores, and
discusses the application of process mineralogy through case studies.


Process mineralogy is an inter-discipline in the fields of mineralogy and metallurgy. It
uses the theories, principles, methods and tools of mineralogy to study all
mineralogical characteristics of an ore and potential problems related to mineral
processing and extractive metallurgy with prediction and trouble-shooting being two
major objectives and roles. Process mineralogy provides useful information on
process selection, flowsheet development, recovery improvement and reagent
consumption optimization. The information acquired from a process mineralogical
study can be used as a guide for a metallurgical testwork program for process design
or optimization. The scope of a process mineralogy program may include but not
limited to the following:

1. Response of a new ore to various processes and most likely processing options
2. Estimated recovery of valuable minerals and grade of concentrate
3. Potential mineralogical factors affecting ore processing and metal extraction

1. Deportment of valuable minerals in tailings and deleterious elements in
2. Cause for valuable losses and opportunity for recovery improvement
3. Cause for high reagent consumption and opportunity for reagent optimization

Figure 1 is a good example of using mineralogy as a predictive tool. It illustrates some
common forms and carriers of gold in different gold ores and indicates the impact of
gold deportment on extractive metallurgy. The large gold grain in Figure 1(1) is
coarse (approximately 600 x 1000 m) and completely liberated, and can be
recovered by gravity, flotation or cyanidation. High gold recovery (>90%) is expected,
and can generally be achieved when gold occurs as coarse grains like this one.
However, gold leaching by cyanidation is a slow, diffusion-controlled reaction, and
large gold particles can take many days to fully dissolve. Therefore, gold can be lost
to tailings owing to insufficient residence time during cyanide leaching. To avoid gold
losses, it is better recover the coarse gold by gravity prior to cyanide leaching. The
gold grains in Figure 1(2) are medium-grained and entirely locked in pyrite, and are
not recoverable by direct cyanidation. These gold grains can only be recovered by fine
grinding followed by cyanidation, with or without flotation, or by pre-oxidation of the
pyrite followed by cyanidation. Gold grains in Figure 1(3) are extremely fine, and
locked in arsenopyrite. This type of gold may be recovered by ultra-fine grinding
followed by cyanidation of the sulphide concentrate, although this is in fact seldom
beneficial, as the gold grains are usually finer than the finest practical grind size that
can be achieved in commercial mills. Therefore, the only alternative is to oxidize the
arsenopyrite to liberate the gold, and then leach with cyanide. Gold in Figure 1(4)
occurs as sub-microscopic gold in disseminated pyrite, making the gold extremely
refractory. Pre-concentration of the gold in these types of ores by gravity or flotation
is usually inefficient, and therefore, to recover gold in this type of ore, pre-oxidation
processing (autoclaving, roasting and biological oxidation) of the whole ore may be
required to liberate the gold and achieve high recovery efficiency. Based on the gold
deportment shown in Figure 1 and other results, the mineralogist is able to balance the
various types of gold in an ore and to comment on most likely processing options.

Figure 1: Gold deportment and impact on gold extractive metallurgy
(1) Liberated coarse gold grain (Au, 6001000m); (2) gold grains (inside red circles) locked
in pyrite (Py); (3) fine-grained gold particles (inside red circles) locked in arsenopyrite (Apy);
(4) submicroscopic gold locked in fine-grained gold-bearing pyrite (yellowish white grains)
that is disseminated in quartz (Q) (Zhou and Fleming, 2007)

Gravity concentration and flotation processes are very effective at recovering large
and fully liberated gold grains, and are used in many gold plants. Gravity
concentration is also an environmentally friendly process because it doesnt use
chemicals, and should be considered when an ore contains certain amount of liberated
gold. However, liberated gold can be lost from a gravity circuit if the grain size is
small or if the gold grain is attached to a low density mineral. The majority of gravity
equipment can only recover gold grains greater than 50m, and some equipment is
effective at sizes down to about 10m (Marsden and House, 2006). A GRG (gravity-
recoverable gold) study led by the late professor Andre Laplante proved that most
gold particles recovered in commercial gravity recovery plants are coarser than 37 m.
This is because gravity circuits are always installed in mills, and the flow to the
gravity circuit is regulated by installing cyclones, with only the cyclone underflow
reporting to the gravity equipment. GRG finer than 37m tends to report to the
cyclone overflow much more readily than its coarser counterpart, and therefore by-
passes the gravity equipment (Laplante and Stauton, 2005). In a typical gold
deportment study, the mineralogist will determine the size distribution of all observed
gold grains and the size distribution of liberated gold grains can be used in assisting
the equipment selection and for predicting the gold recovery by various processes.

Figure 2 shows the size distribution of liberated gold in a copper-gold ore. Gold
balance indicated that liberated gold in this ore accounts for approx. 65% of the head
assay with a size range from <0.5m to >100m. This part of gold can be recovered
by cyanidation, and also by flotation at slightly lower recovery. The recovery by
gravity will be much lower than cyanidation and flotation (approx. 33%). Flotation is
a common process that is used in many base metals and precious metals ore
processing plants. It is very effective at recovering both liberated valuable and
sulphide minerals over 10m. In flotation of gold ores, liberated gold grains less than
2 4
More free-milling More refractory
Fine grinding
Flotation &
Fine grinding
Preoxidation &

& Cyanidation

Q Apy

10m can also be recovered by flotation, but the efficiency is much lower. In addition
to unliberated gold, gold losses to gravity and flotation tailings include very fine
liberated gold grains as well as coarse liberated gold grains whose surface is coated or
rimmed by non-floatable material (e.g., iron oxides or hydroxides, silicates) and
hydrophobic gold grains whose surface is coated with fine hydrocarbon or sulphurous
material (Zhou, Jago and Martin, 2004; Marsden and House, 2006).

Figure 2: Prediction of gold recovery by common processes

In addition to being a predictive tool in process flowsheet development, process
mineralogy also plays an important role in process optimization and plant operation,
and is often used as a trouble-shooting tool by operating mines. Due to the complexity
of the ore, the recoveries of valuable minerals may be not satisfactory although the
processing flowsheet is well developed and implemented. In other words, minerals of
interest can be lost to the tailings for mineralogical reasons. When recovery and
concentrate grade drop or fluctuate, or acceptable recovery is achieved only with the
use of significantly more reagents or more complex pretreatment processes, it usually
indicates the change of feed mineralogy. Once this happens, a detailed mineralogical
study program should be considered to find out what has caused the processing
issue(s) and how to improve the plant performance. The information acquired from
such a mineralogy program can be used as a guide for process optimization.

Figure 3 shows the distribution of gold in a cyanidation tail. The sample, assaying
8.3g/t Au and 92g/t Ag, originates from a bulk flotation concentrate subjected to
regrinding to approximately 33 microns, followed by gravity concentration and 24
hour cyanide leaching of the gravity tailing. The leach residue was filtered and
washed and then dried at low temperature for a complete gold and silver deportment
study. The results showed that liberated gold in the sample was effectively recovered
by gravity and subsequent cyanide leaching. The gold left in leach residue is all
locked in other minerals as micron-size inclusions (0.5-13m) and submicroscopic
gold with a total of 74% in pyrite, 7.5% in arsenopyrite and 18.5% in non-sulfide
0-10 10-20 20-40 40-60 60-80 80-100 100-120

Grain Size (m)
Size Distribution of Liberated Gold
Flotation recoverable gold
Cyanide recoverable gold
Gravity recoverable gold

minerals. Visible gold inclusions (approx. 40%) locked in other minerals are not
recoverable at current grinding fineness unless the sample is ground much finer. To
extract submicroscopic gold (approx. 60%) locked in sulphide minerals, oxidative
pretreatment is required to create a porous structure through which the cyanide leach
solution can penetrate to reach the minute gold particles. The study also showed that
the silver lost in the leach residue occurs mainly as liberated freibergite, acanthite and
stephanite (up to 85m) with minor amounts of native silver and other silver minerals.
It is understandable that those coarse and liberated silver minerals were not recovered
by gravity due to their lower specific gravity, but why they did not dissolve during
cyanide leaching? Mineralogical studies suggested that the concentration of cyanide
in leach solution was too low for silver leaching although all liberated gold was
dissolved to completion. The slow-leaching kinetics of silver minerals is considered to
be another main cause for silver loss. Based on the mineralogical findings, the process
was optimized by incorporating an oxidative pretreatment for gold extraction. High
cyanide concentration and extended leach process has substantially improved the
silver recovery.

Figure 3: Distribution of gold in a cyanidation tail


There are a number of mineralogical factors that may affect mineral processing and
extractive metallurgy of various ores. Some common factors are listed in Table 1.
Among these factors, liberation, grain size and association are the most important
ones. The impact of these mineralogical factors on mineral processing and extractive
metallurgy is discussed below. More information can be found in the reference (Zhou,
Jago and Martin, 2004; Zhou and Fleming, 2007; Zhou, 2010; Zhou, 2011).

1. Liberation
Most valuable minerals, if not liberated, will not be recovered by conventional
processes, or it can be recovered only at low recovery and low concentrate grade. This
makes liberation extremely important in many (if not all) mineral processing projects.
Prior to the recovery process, valuable minerals need to be liberated from non-
valuable minerals with those they are associated. Poor liberation will result in low
recovery and grade for most valuable minerals. In the case of precious and base metal

ores (such as Au, Ag, PGM, Cu, Pb, Zn and Ni), encapsulation in sulphide and
silicate minerals is a common and major cause for valuable mineral losses. In the UG-
2 ore, 25% of PGM were locked in silicates and finer grinding was required in a
secondary milling step to increase the PGM recoveries (Nel et al., 2004). In gold
mining industry, as the free-milling gold ores are being depleted and more refractory
ores are discovered and processed, liberation becomes even more important in such a
project. In addition to physical liberation (such as fine grinding and ultrafine grinding),
several chemical liberation processes (such as pressure oxidation) have been
developed and implemented. In processing of refractory gold ores, particularly the
Carlin-type gold ores in Nevada, the sulphide host minerals must first be oxidized, to
create a porous structure through which the cyanide leach solution can penetrate to
reach the minute gold particles. This oxidation is traditionally achieved by roasting,
autoclaving or bacterial oxidation.

Table 1: Common mineralogical factors
# Mineralogical Factors Associated Ores & Processes
1 Liberation/locking Various ores & processes
2 Grain size Various ores & processes
3 Association Various ores & processes
4 Coating & rimming Mainly flotation, also gravity and leaching
5 Surface chemistry Mainly flotation, also gravity and leaching
6 Cyanicides & oxygen consumers Mainly cyanide leaching
7 Preg-robbing Cyanide leaching of gold and silver ores
8 Refractoriness
Mainly cyanide leaching, also gravity and
flotation of precious metals ores
9 Slow-dissolving kinetics Cyanide leaching of gold and silver ores
Deleterious minerals/toxic
elements (As, Hg, asbestos)
Mainly leaching and flotation of base and
precious metals ores, but can also affect other
ore processing
Gangue mineralogy (clays,
sulfide gangue and more)
Flotation and leaching of base and precious
metals ores, flotation and magnetic separation
of iron ores, tailings disposal and more

2. Grain Size
Grain size is one of the most important mineralogical factors that affect processing of
many ores. For example, gold is mainly recovered from ores using gravity, flotation,
cyanidation or a combination of these processes. Gold grain size can be a significant
factor driving the efficiency of gold recovery processes. As discussed above, liberated
gold can be recovered by gravity concentration but it can be lost from a gravity circuit
if the grain size is fine. The majority of gravity equipment can only effectively
recover gold grains greater than 50m. Fine gold, which is too small to be recovered
by the installed equipment (Marsden and House, 2006):
<500m: sluices
<200m: jigs
<50 to 100m: spirals
<50m: shaking tables
<20m: centrifugal concentrators (and down to about 10m in some cases)

As mentioned above, flotation is a common process that is used in many gold ore
processing plants. It is very effective at recovering both liberated gold (which tends to
be naturally floatable), and gold-bearing sulphide minerals. Mineralogical
examinations conducted on metallurgical products have shown that gold grains over
10m can be effectively recovered by flotation. Gold grains less than 10m can also
be recovered by flotation, but the efficiency is much lower. Gold losses to flotation
tailings include very fine gold grains as well as coarse gold grains whose surface is
coated or rimmed by non-floatable material (e.g., iron oxides or hydroxides, silicates)
(Zhou, Jago and Martin, 2004; Marsden and House, 2006).

Cyanidation is the most efficient and widely applied process for extracting gold from
various ores, and high recoveries (>80%) are usually expected and commonly
achieved. The gold left in the leaching tailings is often encapsulated in sulphide, oxide
and/or silicate minerals that are impervious to the cyanide leach solution. However,
liberated gold can also be lost to cyanidation tailings. This generally occurs when
some of the gold in the ore is too big or too slow-leaching to dissolve to completion in
the time allocated to the leaching process. Studies have indicated that a spherical gold
particle with a diameter of 44 m will take approximately 13 hours to dissolve under
normal cyanide leach conditions, while particles with a diameter of 150 m will take
48 hours or more (Fleming, 1992). Generally, when an ore contains large liberated
gold particles, the flowsheet will incorporate a gravity circuit to recover these
particles, so it is not necessary to design for excessively long leach times. An average
gold plant would have a 24 hours leach residence time (Fleming, 1998). Deschenes
and his team at CANMET have made a breakthrough in extracting gold and silver in
high-grade Au-Ag ores (Deschnes et al, 2009; Rajala and Deschnes, 2009;
Deschnes and Fulton, 2011).

In the processing of base metal ores, grain size also has a significant impact. Galena,
sphalerite and chalcopyrite are often associated with each other. Galena is often fine-
grained and sphalerite is relatively coarse. Chalcopyrite often occurs as inclusions in
sphalerite (so-called chalcopyrite disease) in addition to being discrete particles. To
recover these minerals of interest, the Cu-Pb-Zn ore often needs to be ground to such
a degree that these minerals are liberated from other minerals and also separated from
each other. Both over-grinding and under-grinding may cause processing issues. To
maximize the recovery of valuable minerals, grain size distribution of each mineral
needs to be determined through a mineralogy program.

3. Association
Association is also an important mineralogical factor that may impact ore processing.
In processing of copper-gold ores (such as porphyry Cu-Au ores), precious metals
(Au and Ag) are often recovered into copper concentrate by flotation with or without
gravity concentration. When gold is intimately associated with copper minerals, it will
report to copper concentrate. However, if gold is associated with pyrite, iron oxide
and silicate minerals, the recovery of gold might be lower. In some plants, a separate
sulfide flotation circuit may be required to produce an Au-bearing sulfide concentrate.
Gold with silicate is a common association in many ores. When gold is finely
disseminated in silicates, the extraction can be challenging because the ore has to be
ground finer to make the gold accessible to the cyanide solution. It has been found
that a substantial amount of gold (up to 50%) in some ores can occur as tiny

Category Technique Technique Application MDL
Qualitative/Semi-Quant OM Optical Microscopy
Mineral ID & qualitative/semi-quant
mineral analysis of bulk samples
High (%)
ADIS Automated Digital Image System High (%)
XRD X-ray Diffracton High (%)
SEM Scanning Electron Microscopy
Mineral ID & qualitative/semi-quant
elemental analysis of individual particles
High (%)
MLA Mineral Liberation Analyser Low (%)
Quantitative Evaluation of Materials
by Scanning Electron Microscopy
Low (%)
EPMA Electron Probe Microanalysis Low (ppm)
PIXE Proton-induced X-ray Emission Low (ppm)
Dynamic Secondary Ion Mass
Low (ppm-ppb)
Laser Ablation Microprobe
Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass
Low (ppm-ppb)
Synchrotron Synchrotron Radiation Light Source Low (ppm-ppb)
Time of Flight Laser Ion Mass
Low (ppm)
Time of Flight Secondary Ion Mass
Low (ppm)
XPS X-ray Photon Spectrometry Surface analysis of bulk material Low
Surface Analysis
Surface analysis of bulk material &
individual particle
Mineral ID & qualitative/semi-quant
mineral analysis of bulk samples
Quantitative mineral analysis of bulk
samples and individual particles
Quantitaive elemental analysis of
individual particles
inclusions (a few microns) in quartz or other minerals, which makes gold extraction
extremely difficult and uneconomic.

Same as the porphyry copper-gold ores, flotation is the principal process for
recovering gold minerals and copper sulphides in iron copper gold (IOCG) ores. Gold
in IOCG ores is mainly associated with copper sulphides and, to a lesser extent, iron
oxide minerals (mainly as inclusions or submicroscopic gold in hematite). Liberated
gold and gold associated with copper sulphides can be recovered by flotation into a
copper concentrate and high gold recovery (over 80%) can be achieved. However,
gold can be lost to flotation tails if it is fine-grained or if it is associated with hematite.
To recover the fine-grained gold particles (often below 20 m) and gold that is
associated (exposed) with hematite or other gangue, cyanide leaching may be
considered. Gold locked in hematite or other gangue as tiny inclusions will not be
recovered unless the ore is ground finer. Submicroscopic gold in hematite is not
recoverable by conventional techniques. Precious metals associated with zinc
minerals (mainly sphalerite) in Au-Ag ore and Cu-Pb-Zn-Au-Ag ore is another
example of unfavourable association (Zhou, 2005).

Table 2 lists a number of techniques commonly used in process mineralogy. These
techniques can be used separately, but a typical mineralogy program often uses a
comprehensive mineralogical and analytical approach including several techniques.
The advantage of using such a comprehensive approach is that a large sample can be
studied to get better statistics and each mineralogical issue will be addressed properly
using specific techniques.

It should be noted that each technique is designed for certain purposes and has its
advantages & limitations. They should be selected wisely and used properly.

Table 2: Techniques commonly used in process mineralogy



Case 1: Process mineralogy of a refractory sulphide gold ore
Gold in refractory sulphide gold ores is predominantly associated with sulphide
minerals and occurs as both fine-grained gold particles and/or submicroscopic gold.
Microscopic gold (visible gold) usually accounts only for an insignificant portion,
with the majority of gold being contained in sulphides. To extract gold from
refractory ores, the ore needs to be finely ground and pre-oxidation is required.
Sulphide host minerals must first be oxidized to create a porous structure through
which the cyanide leach solution can penetrate to reach the minute gold particles.

Figure 4 shows the gold-bearing arsenopyrite (4A) and pyrite (4B) in a sulphide gold
ore. The ore is a highly refractory ore with only about 2% of gold being fine-grained
"free gold" (not locked in sulphide grains), making gold extraction difficult because
the gold is mainly locked inside the two main sulphide minerals arsenopyrite (75%
Au) and arsenic-rich pyrite (23% Au). The ore is treated through grinding, flotation,
pressure oxidation and carbon-in-leach circuits. Gold recovery is ~83%.

Figure 4: Gold in a refractory sulphide ore
A: Micron-size gold inclusions in arsenopyrite (Apy); B: Submicroscopic gold-bearing pyrite (Py)

Case 2: Process mineralogy of a Pb-Zn-Ag ore
In Pb-Zn-Ag ores, silver is often associated with sulfides and is recovered by flotation
and concentrate smelting with or without leaching to recover the base metals as well
as the silver values. As discussed above, a number of mineralogical factors, such as
liberation, association, grain size, and rimming and coating, can impact flotation and
leaching of silver minerals. In a Pb-Zn-Ag operation processing high-grade silver ore
(~400g/t Ag), the silver recovery by flotation was approx. 85% for a number of years.
The mill endeavors to recover additional silver to the lead concentrate and minimize
the placement of silver to the zinc concentrate. To explore the opportunity for further
silver recovery improvement, a silver deportment study was initiated to identify the
cause for silver loss and to determine the possible recovery increase. The conclusions
are listed below (Zhou, 2010).
1. Silver occurred mainly as freibergite ((Ag, Cu, Fe)
(Sb, As)
), dyscrasite
Sb), pyrargyrite (Ag
) with a moderate to minor amounts of acanthite
S), native silver and other minerals.
51.9ppm Au

2. Silver also occurs in galena as inclusions and submicroscopic silver.
3. Lead Tail (Zinc Feed) contained 60 g/t Ag (accounting for ~14% of the head
assay). Approximately 15% of the lost silver was liberated and associated with
galena, and can be recovered in lead circuit without further grinding, which means
the current silver recovery in lead circuit can be increased by 2%.
4. Zinc Tail (i.e. Final Tail) contained 48 g/t Ag (accounting for 12% of the head
assay). Approximately 15% of the lost silver (with a maximum of 20%) was
locked in galena, sphalerite and other sulphide minerals and was recoverable by
flotation. This indicates that 2% of the silver lost in the Final Tail can be
recovered in zinc circuit.
5. Theoretically, a total improvement of 4% recovery can be expected.
6. The main causes for silver loss are unfloated liberated galena and silver minerals
and association of silver with sulphide gangue and non-sulphide gangue.

Figure 5 presents some lost silver minerals in the flotation tail. Liberated galena with
dyscrasite inclusions (Figure 5-1) and minor amounts of liberated silver minerals (5-2)
can be recovered in the lead circuit without finer grinding. The collector chemistry
needs to be reviewed to maximize the recovery of these liberated silver minerals. To
recover silver minerals and galena associated with non-sulphide gangue (5-3) and
sulphide gangue (5-4), the ore needs to be ground finer to liberate the silver minerals.
Composite particles shown in Figure 5-3 and 5-4 can be recovered into lead or zinc
concentrate without finer grinding, but they will lower the concentrate grade.

Figure 5: Silver minerals lost in flotation tail
1: Liberated galena with dyscrasite inclusions (inside red circles); 2: Liberated dyscrasite
grain (Dy); 3: Freibergite (Fr) associated with galena (Gn) and silicate (Si); 4: Dyscrasite
(inside red circle) locked in arsenopyrite (Apy)



The minerals industry is continuing its growth as the world economy keeps growing.
A number of large projects are being developed and will be commissioned in the next
few years. At the same time, the minerals industry is facing challenges in processing
difficult ores with low grade and complex mineralogy. To help determine the mining
method, extraction process requirements, and in particular, the performance and
optimization of all processes involved, process mineralogy is becoming increasingly
important in a mineral processing project. It includes ore characterization during pre-
feasibility and feasibility study stages and subsequent periodic mineralogical analyses
of feed, intermediate process streams and final products during plant operation. As a
predictive and trouble-shooting tool, process mineralogy helps address all issues and
problems related to mineral processing and extractive metallurgy and provides useful
information on process selection, flowsheet development, recovery improvement and
cost reduction.


The author wishes to acknowledge the conference organizers for opportunity to
present this paper at the First International Metallurgical Meeting Peru 2012. Mining
companies that have contributed indirectly to this paper by providing projects and
financial support are also acknowledged.


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