Trithiocarbonates (TTCs) with less than six carbon atoms per molecule historically have proved to be better bulk sulphide mineral collectors than conventional dithiocarbonates (DTCs). However, high vapor pressures of the short-chain mercaptan decomposition products prevented them from general industrial use. Impala’s commitment in TTC development changed in 2002 when the nC12-trithiocarbonate indicated strong synergism when added to their existing flotation suite. A concerted research effort at the University of Utah followed, and in particular on their surface chemistry. To compliment current research and development at Impala, fundamental work regarding the surface hydrophobicity of pyrrhotite under electrochemically controlled conditions was undertaken at Utah University. Controlled contact angle measurements showed that the surface hydrophobicity of pyrrhotite can be increased by small additions of nC12-trithiocarbonate to SIBX. It was also found that this improvement in the surface hydrophobicity with the SIBX-TTC mixture was more significant at lower oxidation potentials. Work at Utah University further showed that a C12 decomposition product may or may not be present with an adsorbed TTC molecule. External reflectance infrared spectroscopy in the mid infrared region suggested a “crowding” of the collectors at the surface when SIBX and TTC are combined. This was based on an increase in the absorbance of the -CH2- peaks in the mixed collector system. In bench scale flotation tests on PGM bearing samples from the Merensky reef, it was found that a 5 molar percent replacement of SIBX with nC12-trithiocarbonate improved the flotation activity relative to the standard SIBX-DTP mixture. Improvements were in the recoveries of PGMs, copper and nickel. The addition of TTC also increased the flotation rates of both slow and fast floating valuables as is predicted by the Kelsall equation. The optimum mixture for the pilot plant trials was thus a 5 molar percent replacement of the current collector suite with nC12-TTC. Based on the bench flotation results, research was extended to a pilot plant trial. At a depressant dosage of 100g/ton, the PGM concentrate grades from the first rougher cell improved from 120g/ton to 175g/ton when the TTC was introduced. This was achieved without any effect on the recovery from the first cell. This increase in concentrate grade is believed to arise from the nature of both: <ul> <li>The mineral-collector surface state, and</li> <li>The bubble surface interaction.</li> </ul> Overall, the standard SIBX-DTP collector combination and the new SIBX-DTP-TTC collector combination (both at 100g/ton depressant) was also compared to pilot plant tests with SIBX-DTP at high (350g/ton) depressant dosages. The latter suite forms the currents reagent suite at Impala Platinum. When comparing the first two trials, at 100g/ton depressant, the addition of TTC as a ternary collector resulted in a recovery improvement of approximately 2.2% with a simultaneous increase in final concentrate grade from 57g/ton to 73g/ton. The result was a reduction in solids recovery from 5.3% to 4.1%. When comparing the TTC trial to the standard collector suite at high depressant dosages, only a small reduction (3.6% vs. 4.1%) in solids recovery was achieved with a final concentrate grade of 85g/ton. The PGM recoveries were very similar. Based on current Merensky milling rates, depressant and TTC costs, and calculated replacements based on the pilot plant tests, a projected cost saving on chemicals is R9.6 million per annum. Financial impacts on processing, grade and kinetics have not been made. It was also concluded that the detrimental effect of mild steel milling on the flotation activity of SIBX-DTP was diminished with the addition of the long-chain TTC with SIBX and DTP. As part to this research, a preliminary plant trial on UG-2 underground material showed a reduced primary rougher chromite grade as well as a significant increase in PGM concentrate grade for the first two primary rougher cells. This is an important finding, especially for the melting process. In this final study a partial (5 molar percent) replacement of the standard collector used was also made. What was further realised was a significant increase in the final concentrate grade when compared to the standard conditions.
Dissertation (MEng (Metallurgical Engineering))--University of Pretoria, 2007.