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Goethite classification, distribution and properties with reference to Australian iron deposits


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Author J R Manuel and J M F Clout


The importance of goethite to Australian iron ore production is steadily increasing as the proportion of goethite-rich, martite-goethite bedded and channel iron deposits increases at the expense of declining production from high-grade microplaty hematite deposits. For this reason, an improved understanding of goethite in iron deposits, its genesis, goethite types and their physical and metallurgical properties is vital to maintaining optimum sintering and blast furnace performance in Asian steel mills.

The terminology used to describe goethite in Australian iron deposits is currently highly variable. The discredited mineral name ‘limonite’ is still in widespread use as a field term for goethite and there are many misconceptions concerning goethite chemical grade and downstream physical and metallurgical properties. The goethite classification proposed here is based on geological and physical properties from which three types are recognised including brown goethite, dark brown-black vitreous goethite and highly microporous, friable yellow ochreous goethite.

In practice, typical vitreous goethite with highly reflective surfaces and conchoidal fracturing, characteristic of the hard cap zone appears from X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and electron microprobe analysis to be significantly higher in Si (up to 18.7 wt per cent), Al (up to 3.5 wt per cent) and S (up to 0.14 wt per cent) compared to the generally very low (<1 wt per cent for Si and Al) levels of these elements in ochreous goethite and brown goethite. The data dispels the common misconception that friable earthy or yellow ochreous goethite is high in Al and Si and other chemical impurities. However, P was found to be consistently higher (mean of 0.112 wt per cent and up to 0.296 wt per cent) in ochreous goethite than brown goethite (mean of 0.011 wt per cent) or vitreous goethite (mean of 0.031 wt per cent). The highly porous microstructure of ochreous goethite is thought to have a much higher surface area, which may aid in preferential adsorption of P onto the ochreous goethite mineral surface. CITATION: Manuel, J R and Clout, J M F, 2017. Goethite classification, distribution and properties with reference to Australian iron deposits, in Proceedings Iron Ore 2017, pp 567–574 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).