Flotation of nickel sulfide ores are generally constrained by nickel grade and impurity concentrations (notably magnesium and arsenic) in the product delivered to smelters. Being a physical separation process, flotation recoveries and grades are limited by the grade recovery curve of a particular operation, where increasing product grades are invariably associated with lower recoveries. Impurities put further pressure on this relationship, as removal of impurities from the final concentrate is almost always associated with nickel losses.
Western Areas Ltd are developing a proposed expansion to its Cosmic Boy concentrator to treat an impurity stream, that is high in nickel and would otherwise report to tails. Through the use of BioHeap® technology Western Areas aims to recover the nickel and discard the arsenic to tailings. This expansion will consist of a biohydrometallurgical plant that leaches the nickel arsenic minerals, removing the arsenic as a stable iron/arsenic hydroxide, while recovering the nickel as a high-grade nickel sulfide product (at approximately 50 per cent nickel). This can then be blended with final concentrate to improve nickel grades and recoveries, while simultaneously reducing impurity levels or used to produce high value products like nickel sulfate.
The introduction of a small microbial leach plant may be beneficial to base metal concentrators constrained by impurities or grade.
Fewings, J, Seet, S, McCredden, T and Fitzmaurice, C, 2016. BioHeap® – Breaking the Grade/Recovery Curve for Nickel Concentrators, in Proceedings 13th AusIMM Mill Operators' Conference 2016, pp 361–368 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).