To our geologists at Eldorado Gold Corporation, the release of the gold assays on a new ore zone causes a flurry of excitement. But to our metallurgists, that news is often greeted with the question ‘What’s the sulfur grade’? In our company, we operate and manage projects whose end-product will either be auriferous sulfide flotation concentrate or gold doré. Almost all of the steps in the ore processing are related to sulfur (in this paper specifically sulfide sulfur). So why do we geologists wait until late in a project or into production before collecting sulfur data for mine planning and ore control purposes?
Gold deposits associated with sulfides commonly use a metallurgical process that begins with a flotation step to recover gold into a smaller mass known as flotation concentrate. Often, this step solely targets the sulfide minerals with gold only coming along for the ‘ride’. As a result, the gold grade in the concentrate is primarily influenced by the ratio of gold to sulfur in the feed. Should this concentrate require a refractory process downstream (eg pressure oxidation), knowing sulfur grade is critical as sulfur controls heat balance in the process. Regardless, we need sulfur models to be as robust as gold models, and created much earlier in the project evaluation process.
Sulfur models require quality data collected at the same density as gold samples. Analytical methods must match expected grade ranges and quality assurance quality control (QA/QC) protocols and must be of the same integrity as in use for gold. Sulfur models will then be created by their own data analyses, interpolation protocols and validation. Furthermore, ore control systems should be designed for regular sulfur monitoring to ensure and enhance downstream value. Given time it should become habitual for geologists to likewise ask, ‘And what’s the sulfur grade’, or more specifically, ‘What’s the gold to sulfur ratio’?
Juras, S, 2017. Sulfur – the new geometallurgical grade in gold-sulfide deposits, in Proceedings Tenth International Mining Geology Conference 2017, pp 199–202 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).