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Comment Separation Processes

Pilot plant produces apatite from mine waste

By Gerald Ondrey |

In a project called ReeMAP, LKAB Minerals AB (Luleå, Sweden; www.lkabminerals.com) is developing technology to recycle mine waste to produce phosphorus mineral fertilizers, rare earth elements (REEs), fluorine and gypsum. The first step is to use the mine waste to produce an apatite concentrate, something LKAB is now doing in its pilot plant.

The pilot plant is built on container platforms to allow it to be moved within and between LKAB’s production plants in Malmberget and Kiruna, in Northern Sweden. Tests with tailings sand (waste material that is a byproduct of mining) from the two mines and the respective processing plants will be carried out in campaigns. Right now, a production campaign is underway in Malmberget. The process has multiple steps (diagram), with flotation the key principle applied to separate the apatite from the non-valuable tailings. This process is repeated in several steps to obtain a high-purity product with the right specification for further processing.

apatite

Further processing will be done using innovative chemical processing, which LKAB is developing. Here, the apatite will be processed into monoammonium phosphate (MAP) fertilizers, REEs, fluorine and gypsum.

“We estimate that full-scale production from Malmberget and Kiruna will produce around 400,000 metric tons of apatite concentrate annually, in two plants that will be of similar size to our existing iron-ore concentrating plants,” says Leif Boström, senior vice president for Business Area Special Products and CEO of LKAB Minerals. How soon that will be depends on the technical developments and the pre-engineering, but also on external factors, such as environmental permits, Boström says.

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