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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Mining Technology Innovations in History

The First gold mining commenced in the ancient Egypt as early as 5,000 years ago. There were four Historical Innovations in the Mining Technologies which greatly contributed to the progress in mining which include:
  • Explosives 
  • Steam engine
  • Froth flotation
  • Electrochemistry
Explosives
  •  The Black Powder is invented in the Tong Dynasty of China (618~907 AD) and is included among the great four inventions of the medieval China along with paper, printing and compass.
  • Early Applications of black powder for mining were recorded in Germany in 1613 and in Hungary in 1627.
  • Dynamite is the origin of modern explosives was invented by Alfred Nobel in 1866. Thereafter, safe and effective rock breakage was successfully practiced both in civil engineering works and mining operations.
Steam Engine
  • Before Industrial Revolution, invention of steam engines, natural energy such as water flow, wind, human muscle, animal power, gravity force, etc is only used for drainage, ventilation, transportation..
  • Thomas Newcomen invented Newcomen steam engine in 1712 which was the first practical device to utilize the power of steam to produce mechanical work, principally to pump out water from coal mines.
  • However, Newcomen engine was costly to operate because of its insufficiency caused by  heat loss.Newcomen engine was gradually replaced by James Watt's improved engine introduced in 1769.
  • By using steam engines, mining was getting into deeper and larger scaled operations.
Froth Flotation
  • The modern froth flotation process was invented in the early 1900s in Australia. Before the flotation technology was available, ore and waste minerals were generally separated by using differences in specific gravity, but hardness and friability /abrasiveness may also affected the separation.
  • Using froth flotation create possibility in separation of valuable minerals from gangue minerals by taking advantages of differences in their hydrophobicity. The flotation process is used for the separation of a large range of sulfide, carbonates and oxides prior to further refinement. 
  • Flotation process is widely used in modern mining to effectively to correct useful minerals and to efficiently concentrate worthy minerals from lower grade ore.
Electrochemistry
  • Modern Copper refining utilizes the electrolysis to purify blister copper upgrading to refined copper with higher grade ore over 99.99% Cu. In Copper electro-refining, large slabs of blister copper serve as the anodes and thin sheets of pure copper serve as the cathodes in an electrolytic cell filled with copper sulfate solution, CuSO4.  Application of a suitable voltage to the electrodes causes oxidation of copper metal at the anode and reduction of Cu2+ to form copper metal at the cathode, since the copper is both oxidized and reduced more readily than water.
  • The impurities in the anode including gold silver can be collected below the anode as anode sludge.
  • Electrochemistry also contributes to the hydro-metallurgical recovery of metals, such as SX/EW.

Ref: Jiro Yamatomi, A Fundamental Lecture on Mining Technologies from MINETEC, October 2015
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