Traditional iron ore wet beneficiation plants are large multilevel structures, often integrated into centralised processing plants. They are characterised by sizeable footprints, substantial water and power consumption, inflexible design and low scalability. Significant design changes that address these issues need to be made before relocatable modular plants become feasible. Firstly, large amounts of processing water are required in standard wet plants, so it is vital that water consumption is reduced to an absolute minimum. Secondly, the process of depositing tailings into tailings storage facilities (TSFs) is environmentally destructive, consumes significant power and requires lengthy approvals to be completed. Thirdly, modules need to be easily and quickly relocatable.
The solution to reducing water usage and eliminating TSF requirements is accomplished by providing a tailings dewatering and dry-stacking capability into a separate module. This equipment needs to dewater tailings to a point (typically below 20 per cent moisture) where dry stacking becomes possible – design is mainly driven by material rheology and particle size distribution (PSD). In this respect, a flexible and scalable strategy is employed to dewatering modules, allowing a variety of components such as dewatering cyclone clusters, paste thickeners, fine mesh vibrating screens and filter presses to be used to achieve the necessary moisture level, enabling the final dry stacking to be accomplished by a simple telescopic stacking system. Plant relocatability also requires modules to comply with mass and dimensional constraints, as well as ‘plug and play’ ease-of-use features.
For coarse particle upgrade, jigs provide a low-cost and effective solution, whereas fine and ultra-fine Fe units can be recovered using Wet High Intensity Magnetic Separation (WHIMS). Recently, sensor sorting – a dry process using X-ray fluorescence, X-ray transmission, laser or other sensors – has begun to make an impact in coarse particle separation, although capacities are still low. The overall objective of a plant is to provide an Fe upgrade of four to five per cent with a feed of up to 4 Mt/a and a recovery of approximately 50 per cent.
Graham, T, 2017. Relocatable modular beneficiation creates value from waste, in Proceedings Iron Ore 2017, pp 167–172 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).