Extensive research has shown that electrochemistry is one of the factors that govern the flotation of sulfide minerals. Flotation is often adversely affected by uncontrolled oxidation, which is also an electrochemical process. The interest in pyrrhotite recovery arose after observing that there is a substantial loss of PGM due to the depression of pyrrhotite and the subsequent loss of any PGMs associated with it. The first part of this study focuses on the influence of chemical composition and crystal structure on the electrochemical behaviour of pyrrhotite in a 0.05 M Na2B4O7 solution. Rest potential and polarisation resistance measurements, as well as anodic polarisation diagrams, showed that the magnetic 4C type pyrrhotite is anodically more reactive than the non-magnetic 6C type pyrrhotite. It was also shown in cathodic polarisation diagrams that the non-magnetic 6C type pyrrhotite is a better substrate for oxygen reduction and is less susceptible to oxidation. ToF-SIMS showed the formation of an oxide layer on the pyrrhotite surface after oxidation. In the second part of this work, the influence of galvanic interactions on the electrochemical behaviour of pyrrhotite in contact with pentlandite was investigated. It was observed that, under oxygen-saturated conditions, as the amount of pentlandite increases, the reactivity towards oxidation of the mixed mineral system is reduced. Impedance measurements showed a decrease in capacitance values, indicating the formation of a continuous oxide layer on the surface and an increase in oxide layer thickness with decreasing pentlandite content. Anodic polarisation diagrams showed that under oxygen-deficient conditions and in the low potential region, pentlandite behaves as an inert material and does not have an influence on the oxidation behaviour of pyrrhotite. Hence, the anodic activities of the different magnetic 4C type pyrrhotites from Sudbury Gertrude, Phoenix and Russia were compared. It was shown that the oxidation reactivity decreased in the following order: Sudbury Gertrude magnetic 4C pyrrhotite > Phoenix magnetic 4C pyrrhotite > Russian magnetic 4C pyrrhotite; it also varied according to location. In the transpassive region, higher anodic currents were observed on the mixed samples because both pentlandite and pyrrhotite reacts. The reactivity increased in the order: pure pyrrhotite (Russia) < medium-pentlandite (Sudbury Gertrude) < high-pentlandite (Phoenix). In the presence of potassium ethyl xanthate, there was no change in the initial anodic reactivities of the different pyrrhotites. The anodic polarisation diagrams of the pure and mixed samples showed a reduction in the maximum anodic peak current, suggesting the presence of xanthate on the surface, which hinders oxidation of the mineral surface. In addition, the influence of cleaning of oxidised pyrrhotite with gaseous carbon dioxide was studied, using electrochemical and microflotation measurements. Electrochemical measurements indicated that CO2 treatment resulted in depassivation of the oxidised surfaces; this was supported by ToF-SIMS measurements that demonstrated a reduction in the oxide layer thickness after CO2 treatment. Anodic polarisation diagrams showed a higher anodic peak current, indicating that the surface is more reactive. Gaseous carbon dioxide conditioning of oxidised pyrrhotite resulted in improved flotation response of pyrrhotite with the aid of copper activation and higher air flow rate. Copyright
Dissertation (MEng)--University of Pretoria, 2010.