MINERALS & METALLURGICAL PROCESSING
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Rare earth mineralogy in tailings from Kiirunavaara iron ore, northern Sweden: Implications for mineral processing

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2017, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 189-200

Wanhainen, C.; Palsson, B.I.; Martinsson, O.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.19150/mmp.7859

ABSTRACT:

Four main and three minor rare-earth-element (REE)-bearing minerals were identified and quantified in the Kiirunavaara apatite iron ore tailings using optical microscopy, an electron probe microanalyzer (EPMA) and a mineral liberation analyzer, and their chemical compositions were analyzed by the EPMA and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. REEs are shown to be contained in the minerals apatite, monazite, allanite, titanite, zircon, thorite and synchysite. In zircon, thorite and synchysite, they occurred in only trace amounts and contributed limited amounts to the total REE budget, and these are consequently of minor importance. Monazite occurred as inclusions in apatite and as free particles, 90 percent liberated. Allanite occurred to some degree in mixed grains with magnetite but also as free particles. Monazite mainly reported to the apatite concentrate, while allanite and titanite largely went to the tailings, the latter preferably to those fractions smaller than 38 μm. The amount of titanite in the finest tailings fraction was 2.3 weight percent, containing close to 1 percent REEs, with heavy rare earth elements (HREEs) making up 28 percent of the total REEs. However, a texturally distinct group of titanite grains showed an HREE/REE ratio of up to 67 percent. Furthermore, titanum dioxide analyses indicate that titanite is preferentially released into the tailings from the secondary magnetic separation step in the concentrator. Our data therefore suggest that titanite, occasionally enriched in HREEs, can be extracted from the processing stream and might thus be considered a new source for REEs at Kiirunavaara and similar deposits.