Minerals & Metallurgical Processing

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 189–200 | Cite as

Rare earth mineralogy in tailings from Kiirunavaara iron ore, northern Sweden: Implications for mineral processing

  • C. WanhainenEmail author
  • B. I. Pålsson
  • O. Martinsson
  • Y. Lahaye
Special Issue on Rare Earths


Four main and three minor rare-earth-element (REE)-bearing minerals were identified and quantified in the Kiirunavaara apatite iron ore tailings using optical microscopy, an electron probe microanalyzer (EPMA) and a mineral liberation analyzer, and their chemical compositions were analyzed by the EPMA and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. REEs are shown to be contained in the minerals apatite, monazite, allanite, titanite, zircon, thorite and synchysite. In zircon, thorite and synchysite, they occurred in only trace amounts and contributed limited amounts to the total REE budget, and these are consequently of minor importance. Monazite occurred as inclusions in apatite and as free particles, 90 percent liberated. Allanite occurred to some degree in mixed grains with magnetite but also as free particles. Monazite mainly reported to the apatite concentrate, while allanite and titanite largely went to the tailings, the latter preferably to those fractions smaller than 38 µm. The amount of titanite in the finest tailings fraction was 2.3 weight percent, containing close to 1 percent REEs, with heavy rare earth elements (HREEs) making up 28 percent of the total REEs. However, a texturally distinct group of titanite grains showed an HREE/REE ratio of up to 67 percent. Furthermore, titanum dioxide analyses indicate that titanite is preferentially released into the tailings from the secondary magnetic separation step in the concentrator. Our data therefore suggest that titanite, occasionally enriched in HREEs, can be extracted from the processing stream and might thus be considered a new source for REEs at Kiirunavaara and similar deposits.

Key words

Rare earth elements Iron ore tailings Apatite concentrate Host minerals Electron probe microanalyzer (EPMA) Mineral liberation analyzer (MLA) Laser ablation inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) Multivariate analysis 


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Copyright information

© The Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Wanhainen
    • 1
    Email author
  • B. I. Pålsson
    • 1
  • O. Martinsson
    • 1
  • Y. Lahaye
    • 2
  1. 1.Luleå University of TechnologyLuleåSweden
  2. 2.Finland Isotope Geosciences LaboratoryGeological Survey of FinlandEspooFinland

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