Understanding Lateritic Ore Agglomeration Behaviour as a Precursor to Enhanced Heap Leaching
Although nickel (Ni) laterite ores constitute the majority of Ni mineralization resource world-wide, in contrast to Ni sulphides, their processing via conventional beneficiation (e.g. multi-gravity and flotation) and hydrometallurgical routes is intractable as they are predominantly low grade and complex, both mineralogically and chemically. Due to their physico-chemical character-istics, low grade lateritic ores require more aggressive but costly chemical and hydrometallurgical techniques (e.g., leaching in high pressurized tanks) for value metal (Ni and Co) extraction. Processing such ores through cost-competitive heap (4-10 m high) leaching as an alternative, requires successful agglomeration of the feed into robust and porous granules. To date, produc-ing of granules with desirable attributes poses a major geotechnical challenge to industry. In the present work, we investigate agglomeration behaviour of siliceous goethite Ni laterite ore and selected oxides and clay minerals (hematite, quartz and kao-linite) which constitute the predominant host gangue phases of typical low grade Ni laterite ores. Fundamental knowledge and understanding of the agglomeration mechanisms and kinetics which are essential for producing robust real ore granules, and pivotal to the subsequent heap leaching process, are gleaned. Isothermal, batch agglomeration tests involving 30 and 44 % w/w sulphuric acid solution as a binder indicated that 5 – 40 mm granules of differing roughness and morphologies were produced in 8-14 min. The results showed feed characteristics (e.g., mineralogy and particle size distribution) and binder content (15-25 wt.%) dependent agglomeration behaviour. Slow agglomerate nucleation and growth were displayed by the kaolinite clay min-eral whilst the oxides exhibited faster agglomeration kinetics. Siliceous goethite feed ore fine/coarse ratio, H2SO4 binder dosage and acid content, product drying temperature and aging conditions, all showed significant impact on agglomeration mecha-nisms (e.g., particle wetting, nucleation and growth processes) and granule attributes (e.g., size and strength). Agglomerates strength increased with increasing fine/coarse particle ratio.