Wet ore: a sticky issue

Handling Wet and Sticky Ore (WSO) is a long-standing issue which has left many mining companies shrugging their shoulders. Louise Wallace writes.

Handling Wet and Sticky Ore (WSO) is a long-standing issue which has left many mining companies shrugging their shoulders and questioning how to address the problem.

WSO is a common ailment among miners in the Pilbara, who often find themselves in sticky situations when handling large quantities of the ore.

“WSO becomes a problem when sticky material clings to surfaces and dries up and turns into rock,” Rio Tinto Centre for Materials and Sensing in Mining director Vladimir Golovanevskiy told MINING DAILY.

Handling WSO can significantly add to mining and processing costs by causing equipment blockages and increasing asset maintenance requirements. It can also worsen machinery wear, which may cost mines big bucks in the long run.

“Overall this problem affects output by forcing production to come to a stand still,” he told MINING DAILY.

Problems

While there is no argument that handling WSO has its inherent problems, finding a solution has not been so easy.

Vast differences in the chemical make up of different resources makes it difficult to pin-point factors that determine whether they will become wet or sticky later in the processing stage.

Golovanevskiy points to the need to identify characteristics that make some resources sticky or wet and discover why some materials present a problem while others do not.

However, the solution is not universal, as ore properties change from mine to mine.

In turn, this makes it particularly hard to deal with the problem.

“The WSO phenomena involve many contributing factors including chemical and mineralogical composition, particle size and shape, environmental factors, and processing parameters among others,” Golovanevskiy said.

According to Golovanevskiy, WSO ore has become an “increasingly unpleasant issue” in the past 10-15 years as dry deposits become less plentiful and companies mine from below the water table.

“While a lot of research and development has been invested to the issue, there is no easy answer,” he said. “But the fact is; this issue isn’t going to go anywhere.”

Research

In a bid to find a site-specific solution to the problem, Golovanevskiy is embarking on a two-year research project with Rio Tinto and Curtin University to develop a detailed understanding of the characteristics of WSO.

The $350,000 project will compile 30-40 iron ore and bauxite samples to define key characteristics of a wide variety of resources. They will then be analysed to pin-point varieties that display sticky or wet characteristics.

“We will then be able to quantify the difference and come up with predictive methodologies so miners know as much about certain materials as possible before they process them,” he said.

Though Golovanevskiy claims the project will “not be as simple as taking samples straight from the ground”, he expects research will deliver “significant advantages” to miners in the Pilbara and wider Australia.

“The research will deliver countless benefits to iron ore and bauxite miners by providing them with detailed information on how certain materials will react under different circumstances,” he said.

Equipment

The project will be conducted at Curtin’s recently-founded Rio Tinto Centre for Materials and Sensing in Mining (RTCMSM) to focus on Rio’s iron ore and bauxite assets in the Pilbara.

Curtin has commissioned state-of-the-art, specialised equipment for the project that will allow for the most advanced materials and characterisation techniques to be used.

The facilities will enable researchers to visualise key factors including x-ray fluorescence, light, x-ray defraction to characterise wet and sticky materials at a micro/nano scale.

“The facilities will provide us with data to play with to reach definitive conclusions,” he said.

Time Frame

Though the Rio project comes with a two-year life span, Golovanevskiy expects to see initial results “within a few months”.

“It is important to understand we are stepping into fairly un-researched areas, so it is hard to predict what we may find,” he said

With the first samples to be delivered in the coming weeks, data processing is expected to get underway shortly thereafter.

N Vladimir Golovanevskiy

08 9266 9073

v.golovanevskiy@curtin.edu.au

www.curtin.edu.au

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