The effect of microwave radiation on mineral processing
Between 50% and 70% of the total energy used in the extraction process may be attributed to comminution. Microwave pre-treatment has been suggested as a means to decrease the energy requirements. A variety of mineral ores have been investigated and the effects of microwave radiation quantified in terms of the mineralogy, changes in the Bond Work Index, flotability and magnetic separation. It has been shown that microwave pre-treatment is most effective for coarse grained ores with consistent mineralogy consisting of good microwave absorbers in a transparent gangue (up to a 90% decrease in Bond work index for Palabora copper ore) whereas fine grained ores consisting predominantly of good absorbers are not affected as well (a reduction of only 25% in work index for Mambula ore). Although the mineralogy of minerals are affected by exposure to microwave radiation, flotability and magnetic separation characteristics have been shown not to be adversely affected, unless the microstructure is completely destroyed after prolonged microwave exposure. Computer simulations have shown that significant changes to comminution circuits are possible as a result of microwave induced work index reductions (three mills reduced to one). Purpose-built microwave units may hold the solution for more efficient mineral extraction in the near future.