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MEI Online: Computer Applications: Latest News: February 9th 2011


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:: Toxic Element Model Unlocks Complex Ores

Successfully removing or controlling the low levels of toxic elements often present in mineral ores is critical to unlocking lucrative deposits that would otherwise be unviable because of those toxic elements.

Through its sustainable mineral processing research, CSIRO has developed a thermodynamic model that predicts how these complex minor elements react as the ore is processed to extract its major minerals.

The multiphase equilibrium model (MPE) simulates the behaviour of different elements in high temperature furnace processes, predicting how they will separate, allowing for more effective mineral recovery. A key member of the model’s development team, Dr Chunlin Chen says the simulation results have closely corresponded to actual findings.

“Application of the model to copper smelting has indicated how the arsenic and lead would be distributed among the various product and byproduct streams," Dr Chen says. “It has given guidance on the removal and control of these toxic impurities."

The model could potentially allow deposits that have not been commercially accessible to be exploited by developing new practices to remove impurities.

“Use of MPE could be wide in Australia because we have quite large deposits of nickel, copper, lead and zinc, and these ores all contain those unwanted impurities or minor elements."

Most base metal ores in either the virgin or processed forms contain low levels of elements such as antimony, cadmium or arsenic with trace levels of uranium, thorium and lead as naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs).

The work forecasting the extraction of minor elements has also enhanced understanding of how to minimise the dispersal of NORMs into the biosphere. CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under Flagship is developing techniques for the control of NORMs emissions, and for the pretreatment of ore to remove and safely dispose of such impurities at mine sites.

“MPE is currently the most advanced modelling tool for thermodynamic analysis of metallurgical processing," says Dr Chen. “Similar models are being developed in Australia and overseas, but they may be four to five years behind in terms of their complexity and applicability to industrial systems."

CSIRO is working with an industry partner to further develop and test the model in the next 12 months.




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