Molybdenum, in the form of molybdenite, is a common byproduct of many copper mining and concentrating operations. While the recovery of most copper sulfide minerals is principally liberation controlled, the recovery of molybdenite is much more complex, with fully liberated particles commonly lost to tailings.
A geometallurgical investigation was undertaken of molybdenite from the Bingham Canyon deposit with the aim of determining what effects, if any, mineralogy and the mineralogical attributes of morphology, angularity, liberation and size have on molybdenite recovery in the processing circuit. A set of samples was collected from the ores and products of Rio Tinto Kennecott’s Copperton Concentrator. The samples were analyzed by normal polarized reflected light microscopy, X-ray diffractometry, and scanning electron microscopy using a Mineral Liberation Analyzer, revealing the presence of two distinct types of molybdenite, which are the two polytypes: hexagonal (2H) and rhombohedral (3R). The 2H polytype occurs as textbook-shaped particles in quartz-molybdenite veins located in the core of the deposit, while the 3R polytype occurs as disseminated, ball-shaped particles with a dull or frosted appearance along the margins of the mineralized intrusive body or central core. Each polytype exhibited metallurgical properties consistent with those reported in the literature. The 2H polytype is easily ground, kinetically “faster” floating and displays surface attributes that are amenable to higher rates of recovery. This commonly results in the production of a high-quality molybdenum concentrate under normal operating conditions at most copper concentration operations. The 3R polytype is difficult to grind, kinetically “slower” floating and displays surface attributes that are less amenable to recovery. Therefore, in deposits with higher concentrations of the 3R polytype, modifications to operating parameters may be necessary to improve the recovery of molybdenite.
A preliminary investigation into the metal budget of porphyry copper and molybdenum deposits indicated a possible positive correlation between total economic metal budget and polytype content. Higher concentrations of the 3R polytype appear to be more prevalent in gold-enriched porphyries than in molybdenum-enriched porphyries. This may help explain why it is easier to obtain higher rates of recovery in molybdenum ± tungsten-rich deposits, which contain little to none of the 3R polytype. There is a potential for the metal budget of a porphyry deposit to be used as an indication of the molybdenite polytype present as well as its impact on the economics, in terms of exploration, and the processing circuit, in terms of plant design.
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McClung, C.R. Molybdenite polytypism and its implications for processing and recovery: A geometallurgical-based case study from Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah. Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration 33, 149–154 (2016). https://doi.org/10.19150/mmp.6752
- Porphyry ores
- Ore handling
- Mineral processing
- Ore mineralogy