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MEI Online: Analytical Techniques & Applied Mineralogy: Latest News: March 13th 2008


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:: Synchroton may be Invaluable for Improving Nickel Processing

The recently opened powder diffraction beamline at the Australian Synchrotron may prove to be an invaluable resource for improving nickel processing.

About 70 per cent of the world’s nickel is tied up in nickel laterite ores, but the low nickel concentration and complex mineralogy makes it very hard to process. The ore may be processed using high-pressure acid leaching, and a fundamental understanding of the reactions happening within this process is crucial for its optimisation.

CSIRO researchers are using in-situ laboratory and synchrotron x-ray diffraction techniques to study in real time the mineralogical changes occurring during high-pressure acid leaching of nickel laterites. “Understanding what’s actually happening during the process - as a function of time under real conditions of pressure and acidity - is the key to making the process more efficient and unlocking the value of Australia’s large nickel laterite resources," says CSIRO researcher Nicola Scarlett.

Ms Scarlett’s synchrotron studies continue on from work that she began three years ago at the Daresbury Synchrotron Radiation Source in the UK. “The advantages of using the synchrotron radiation for powder diffraction are its intensity, resolution and tuneability," she says. “These features are essential for samples that have components that diffract poorly, making them difficult to study using lower-intensity laboratory x-ray diffraction."

The in-situ studies were conducted under various temperatures and acid concentrations. “This allows us to observe the behaviour of the minerals under different processing conditions, which helps in the design and development of efficient extraction processes."

In a related project, researchers are using the Synchrotron to further understand the reaction mechanisms involved in processing bauxite - the Bayer process. A better understanding of the dissolution of the aluminium-bearing minerals and the formation of by-products from other reactive minerals under the appropriate conditions will help researchers identify methods for optimising process performance.




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