Although the majority of current steel production is supported by iron ore sourced from high grade haemetite deposits, the long-term growing demand for steel has led to higher raw material prices and opened the way for many new magnetite deposits to also be developed. There is a rich and long history of magnetite ore processing in Western countries, including large operations such as Cleveland Cliffs in the USA and LKAB in Sweden, as well as smaller operations like Savage River in Tasmania. The challenge for virtually all magnetite operations is to minimise operating costs, which is dominated by the cost of power required to fine grind the ore in order to achieve acceptable concentrate iron grade together with low impurity content. This remains the case today and will be even more important in the future when a carbon tax is expected to become a significant addition to the operating costs for magnetite deposits.
Historically, the lowest operating cost was achieved by multistage fully autogenous grinding with integrated magnetic separation steps between the stages. The major benefit of fully autogenous grinding is the elimination of steel grinding media costs and the need to discriminate between steel and magnetite in coarse magnetic separation. The separation step between grinding stages progressively reduces the amount of material to be ground.
Application of more efficient grinding technologies developed in the last 20 years, including high pressure grinding rolls (HPGR) for fine crushing and stirred milling for fine grinding, has provided opportunities to further reduce the operating costs associated with comminution. Both technologies are already implemented in some magnetite processing operations, although in limited capacity.
The results of a theoretical option study for high capacity processing of a hard, fine-grained silica-rich magnetite ore is presented in this paper, with the emphasis on comminution circuit options. Several circuit options are ranked based on a net present value analysis incorporating an estimate of carbon tax added in the operating cost. The study demonstrates the significant advantages of applying more efficient autogenous grinding technologies.