A Review of the Flotation of Copper Minerals

Tinashe O. Ndoro, Lordwell K. Witika


Copper is most commonly present in the earths crust as copper-iron-sulphide and copper sulphide minerals, for example, chalcopyrite (CuFeS2), bornite (Cu5FeS4) and chalcocite (Cu2S). Copper also occurs to a lesser extent in oxidised minerals, for instance, malachite (Cu2(OH)CO3), azurite (Cu3(OH)2(CO3)2) and chrysocolla (CuO.SiO?). These oxidised copper minerals are found in weathered regions of most copper sulphide ore bodies The overlaying oxidic ore is usually stockpiled after it is removed from the sulphide lode and left unprocessed as the sulphide ore is simpler to recover by conventional flotation procedures and thus, more attractive to the plant operator. Oxidic ore can be concentrated using flotation or, if it has a low acid demand, it may be economic to acid heap leach the stockpile. The recovery of these copper minerals by flotation or hydrometallurgy from ores, typically containing 0.5%TCu (open pit mines) and 1-2%TCu (underground mines) is of great commercial importance. This paper reviews the literature on the recovery of the above mentioned minerals by flotation. The increasing complexity of ore deposits, declining ore grades and higher global demand for copper has resulted in increased ore processing by flotation plants around the world. The depletion of high-grade ores, increased demand for metals and separation difficulties associated with low-grade or refractory ores, has resulted in new flotation challenges in terms of economic and sustainable beneficiation of these ores. However, improvements in technology have allowed various processing plants to treat low-grade ores at almost no extra cost.

This has allowed companies to sustain their mining operations and the livelihood of the mining community. Therefore, in order to appreciate the challenges and innovations in terms of recoveries and concentrate grades due to the exploitation of complex and low-grade ores, it is important to present this literature review by first highlighting the fundamental principles of flotation. These principles generally involve the chemical and electrochemical aspects considered in flotation, which include the use of various reagents namely, collectors, frothers and modifiers such as activators and depressants. Flotation of sulphidic and oxidic copper minerals is reviewed, with particular reference to previous studies of refractory copper ore flotation.


Flotation; recovery; refractory.

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