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:: Sub-micron View Improves Ore Extraction Efficiencies
Australian mining companies may soon be able to extract uranium ore from low-grade and other unviable deposits through new developments in ore characterisation and processing.
The developments have the capacity to increase Australian uranium ore reserves by linking this improved geological characterisation to new metallurgical processes. Making such low-grade deposits useable would increase the uranium ore reserve inventory, in turn increasing the capacity of the minerals sector to grow, or at least maintain, uranium production in the decades ahead. Uranium is already a major export earner. It brought in more than $1 billion to the national economy in 2008–09. It is exported under controls that limit its use to electricity generation. However, from a technical perspective, any future expansion of the industry is confronted by low-grade ores, complex deposit types, a lack of detailed mineralogy and other geological constraints.
Research by CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under Flagship has set out to address this by undertaking advanced characterisation studies of low-grade and refractory uranium deposits. These studies are now guiding the development of new and improved processing options for problematic deposits.
The work has already led to the development of an EPMA-based procedure (electron probe microanalyser) for characterising uranium ores. EPMA allows precise, quantitative analyses on a sub-micron scale. This, combined with the ability to create detailed images of the sample, makes it possible to locate and identify even the most minute traces of uranium ore.
Dr Mark Pownceby, a senior research scientist with CSIRO, says the techniques and equipment they are using can identify grains down to 100 to 200 nanometres in size. “This is allowing us to see textures in ores from around Australia we haven’t been able to see before. We can visualise and quantitatively measure the chemistry of extremely fine-grained minerals, which can help processors tailor their extraction techniques - determining how finely ores need to be crushed in order to effectively extract the minerals, for instance, or to determine whether extraction is viable at all," he says.
Article source: Process October 2010 (CSIRO)
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