The Mount Isa Mines (MIM) Copper Concentrator has an extensive history of reagent trials, with different reagents coming in and out of favour over the years. The research and use of carbon depressants is particularly prevalent, as carbonaceous pyrite is a major source of concentrate dilution. Years of research led to the use of naphthalene sulphonate due to its excellent carbon depression properties. However, due to rising reagent costs carbon depression ceased in the late 1990s. This led to the loss of knowledge about the use and value of naphthalene sulphonate.
Cyanide is used at the Copper Concentrator for the sole purpose of pyrite depression and over the years multiple projects have been devoted to finding alternatives to it. In 2012 the neighbouring MIM Lead-Zinc Concentrator replaced cyanide with naphthalene sulphonate which resulted in cost savings and the elimination of a hazardous reagent. In 2013, plant trials were conducted at the Copper Concentrator in hopes to replicate the outcomes obtained at the Lead-Zinc Concentrator. The results of the trials conducted at the Copper Concentrator showed that naphthalene sulphonate could not replace cyanide and this work was set aside to pursue more promising projects.
Further research conducted in 2014 found that mineralogy and a better understanding of the depressing mechanism of naphthalene sulphonate held the key to improved pyrite depression at the Copper Concentrator. The findings showed that Mount Isa copper ore contains two forms of pyrite; euhedral pyrite (cubic pyrite) and framboidal pyrite (carbon rimmed spheres of pyrite), both of which require different reagents to sufficiently depress them. Naphthalene sulphonate was found to be an excellent carbon depressant, suitable for depressing graphite and framboidal pyrite, whilst cyanide specifically targets euhedral pyrite.
In 2015 laboratory test work was conducted to examine the use of naphthalene sulphonate in conjunction with cyanide to selectively target both forms of pyrite. This work led to a full plant trial, the results of which showed a significant increase in plant performance, with higher copper concentrate grades and recoveries being achieved. This paper aims to focus on the benefits and importance of understanding past work and linking a detailed knowledge of feed mineralogy to reagent selection for improved plant outcomes.
O'Donnell, A R and Muller, M L, 2018. Selectively targeting hydrophobic gangue minerals at the Mount Isa Mines Copper Concentrator, in Proceedings 14th AusIMM Mill Operators' Conference 2018, pp 413–421 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).