South Africa Launches Metals Atomisation Project

Minerals atomisation process
Minerals atomisation process

South Africa’s Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu has launched state mineral research company Mintek’s new R44-million water atomising plant.

The demonstration plant, situated at Mintek’s Randburg, Johannesburg campus, will initially be used for a two-year, R200-million research and development project with mining company Anglo American Platinum.

The project will explore and develop atomisation technology as a means of improving metal recoveries in South Africa’s precious and base metals industries. The water atomising plant will provide an effective means for the production of solid metal powder from six-ton batches of molten metal.

Unveiling the new plant this week, Shabangu said the facility represented an ongoing collaboration between Mintek and South Africa’s platinum industry.

“What is encouraging with this initiative is the public-private partnership,” Shabangu said. “As the department we have consistently said that beneficiation can never be government’s responsibility alone.

“The launch of this programme could not have come at a better time, when the mining industry, particularly the platinum sector, is faced with crippling global market conditions and in turn the spate of labour unrest,” Shabangu added.

Shabangu said the technical collaboration was aimed at lowering the costs and environmental burden of the platinum sector, and thus represented a tangible area where the government was working with the industry to remove technical impediments and reduce risk.

The atomiser plant was designed and built by MDM Engineering, who sourced the atomisation technology from UK-based metals processing company Atomising Systems.

Inside the atomiser, high-pressure jets impinge on the molten stream to break it down into fine particles which can vary in size depending on the alloy and the pressure of the jets. The solidified particles are initially separated from the water by a magnetic separator, followed by a dewatering screw. The final drying of the powder takes place in a rotary kiln.

Mintek’s pyrometallurgy division is well known internationally for its work in direct current arcing furnace technology. The technology is well established for use in the production of ferrochromium from chromite, and titania slag and pig iron from ilmenite.