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SME Annual Meeting

Feb. 27-Mar. 02, 2011, Denver, CO

Preprint 11-053


P. Koh, CSIRO Minerals Down Under Flagship, Clayton South, VIC, Australia
P. Schwarz, CSIRO Minerals Down Under Flagship, Clayton South, VIC, Australia

ABSTRACT interpenetrating continua. The variables solved include Cartesian velocity

components, pressure and volumetric fractions.
A novel approach incorporating computational fluid dynamics (CFD)
and flotation modelling has been used for investigating flotation cell ( i iU i i Di i ) = Si (1)
designs. CFD modelling has increasingly been employed to enhance
understanding of the cell hydrodynamics in mineral and coal flotation.
Opportunities for improving the flotation cell performance can be identify
r r
( r r
( i iU i U i ) = . i ( L , i + T , i )(U i + (U i )T ) (2)
+ i (Bi Pi ) + Fi + SiU i
by modelling. The CFD-flotation model from CSIRO incorporates cell
hydrodynamics that affect particle-bubble interactions. Information from
the model includes velocities, turbulent dissipation rates, gas hold-up,
particle-bubble attachment and detachment rates. The attachment and The source terms include the pressure sources, the mass source or
detachment rates have been found to be effective measures of cell sink of gas entering and leaving the vessel, the generalised inter-phase
performance for cell design. force including drag and buoyancy forces. Turbulent kinetic energy k and
turbulent dissipation rate are solved for the continuous pulp phase. The
INTRODUCTION turbulent viscosity is calculated using the standard k- turbulence model
by Launder and Spalding [3]. The transport of solids within the pulp phase
Flotation is a well-established process in the mineral and coal is modelled using the algebraic slip model to ease computational effort.
industries. Most flotation operations are carried out in air-sparged or For viscous pulps, there is usually a yield stress and extra coding is
induced-air cells with or without mechanical agitation. Flotation is used for required for non-Newtonian flows, eg. [4].
separating particles containing valuable material in the ore and this is
achieved when the particles preferentially attach to air bubbles and float to The bubble size distribution is obtained with a population-balance
the surface forming a froth layer. The particles are removed from the froth technique. This involves solving transport equations for the transfer of the
by means of an overflow launder. The remaining slurry is discharged from number of bubbles by convection and turbulent diffusion, and changes in
the cell. The dispersion of fine air bubbles required for the flotation is the bubble numbers by breakage and coalescence. The tendency for
generated by a rotor-stator or sparging mechanism, which also serves to bubbles to break up or remain stable is determined by a critical Weber
mix the slurry and air bubbles. Various proprietary mechanisms have number, being the ratio of the disruptive forces to the restoring surface
been used for mineral and coal flotation. tension force. A general form of the population balance equation is given
as follows:
Every improvement in flotation recovery is important because of the
large quantity of ores treated by flotation so that significant benefits are r
available even with a small percentage increase in recovery. As ores mi + (miU i ) = B B D B + BC DC (3)
containing more easily recovered minerals are being mined out, more t
accurate computer models are needed to help improve the design of
larger flotation cells or to increase the throughput of existing cells. There where mi is the number of i-th sized bubbles per unit volume, BB and BC
are also urgent issues to be investigated, eg. energy savings, plant are the birth rates due to breakage and coalescence, and DB and DC are
optimisation and new cells. These issues are generally influenced by the the death rates due to breakage and coalescence respectively.
flow conditions inside the cell. The flotation effect is modelled as three sub-processes involving
At CSIRO, computational fluid dynamic (CFD) models have been collision, attachment and detachment. In simulating flotation kinetics, the
developed for large-scale industrial flotation cells through AMIRA and transfer of particles between the pulp and bubbles is achieved by applying
ACARP projects (see Koh et al [1]). The models incorporate fundamental source terms for particle number concentration ni in the transport equation
aspects of flow with bubble-particle interactions including bubble-particle as follows:
collision, attachment and detachment as reported by Koh and Schwarz
( i ni ) r
[2]. + ( i niU i ) = a + d (4)
Opportunities for improving the flotation performance can be found
by CFD modelling of the flotation behaviour in the cell. The results from
where a and d are sources or sinks specifying attachment and
the model help to identify regions in the cell where particles and bubbles
detachment rates respectively. The local particle-bubble attachment and
are attaching or detaching. The information allows cell design or operation
detachment rates are from the flow field using equations shown in Table 1
to be modified for improved recovery through maximising the attachment
as reported previously by Koh and Schwarz [2]. The Bond number
rate or through minimising the detachment rate. This approach is an
represents the ratio of forces acting on the bubble-particle aggregate and
advance on existing methods of cell design and operation.
bond strength between a particle and a bubble. It determines the
MODEL DESCRIPTION probability of stabilisation in any local position for calculating the rates of
attachment and detachment. The equations are solved within the CFX-4.4
Fundamental equations for the conservation of mass, momentum computer code [5]. The model predictions have been extensively validated
and turbulence quantities are solved in the model. Using the Eulerian- by measurements in laboratory batch tests and in pilot-scale cells.
Eulerian multi-fluid approach, the gas and pulp phases are treated as

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SME Annual Meeting
Feb. 27-Mar. 02, 2011, Denver, CO

Table 1. Equations for particle-bubble interaction. Model for turbulence gave similar results as the k- turbulence model, and
dn p1 did not improve significantly the match between measured and predicted
Net attachment rate = k1 n p1 nbT (1 ) + k2 nbT velocities. The turbulence level is generally highest near the stator and
dt reduced as the wall or free surface is neared. Other higher-order
Attachment rate
k1 = Z 1 Pc Pa Ps discretisation schemes have also been tested and found to be no better
constant than the hybrid upwind scheme generally used in the model.
Detachment rate
k2 = Z 2 (1 Ps ) Spatial Model
CFD-flotation modelling deals with the actual geometry of the
= where Smax = 0.5S and flotation cell. Important physical details of the cell, such as rotor-stator and
S max nbT launders, can be included in the model. Through 3-dimensional (3-D)
Bubble loading 2
meshing, the cell is divided into small segments where local properties
d can be calculated. The model is ideal for non-uniform systems where the
S = 4 b local properties vary over a wide range spatially in the cell. Multi-phase
p simulations are generally more compute intensive so it is not possible to
use an extremely fine grid because of run time and memory storage
d p + db
'2 1/ 2
U p + U b'
Collision frequency limitations. A compromise between the accuracy and the convenience of
Z 1 = 5.0
across eddies obtaining results is required so that useful solutions can be obtained fairly
2 quickly. Sensitivity study of the model predictions to grid size found that no
significant changes in velocity fields were obtained when the number of
15 f U 'f

Critical diameter d >d2 2

= cells was doubled.
i crit
The model needs to be fully 3-D (ie. 360 ) to enable inflows and
outflows, as occur in most industrial cells, to be investigated. Importantly,
d p + db
1/ 2
Collision frequency
Z1 = a fully 3-D model allows residence time distributions and flotation kinetics
within eddies 15 to be calculated within the CFD-flotation model. This type of calculation
can only be performed in fully 3-D models. For example, Figure 1 shows
0.4 4 / 9 d i7 / 9 i f 3
the mesh with 280,000 elements for an Outotec 150-m cell used in nickel
Turbulent fluctuating
U i' =

velocity 1/ 3 flotation.
Detachment C1 3
Z2 =
(d p + db ) 3

4 dp
Probability of collision Pc = 1.5 + Re b0.72 2
15 db
Bubble Reynolds d b U b'
number Re b =

(45 + 8 Reb0.72 ) U b' tind

Pa = sin 2 2 arctan exp

Probability of
adhesion 15db (db / d p + 1)

Induction time tind = d p0.6

Probability of 1
Ps = 1 exp As 1
Bo *
2 d d 3

d p2 p g + 1.9 p 3 p + b + 1.5d p d b f g sin 2
2 2 db 2
Bond number Bo* =

6 sin sin + Figure 1. CFD mesh of Outotec 150-m cell with rotor, stator, launders,
2 2
inlet and outlet.


For predicting the hydrodynamics in flotation cells containing three
Numerical Model phases (liquid, solids and gas), fundamental equations for multi-phase
There has been a considerable amount of validation of underlying flow are solved to obtain the velocity, void fraction, bubble size and
numerics for the CFD model at CSIRO. The numerical validation work has turbulence quantities. Validation of the CFD model predictions have been
built on an extensive experience that had been accumulated over several reported elsewhere (eg. Lane et al [6] and Evans et al [7]).
years simulating agitated vessels of various kinds (see discussion below
on cell hydrodynamics). In modelling the rotor motion, steady-state Figure 2 shows velocity vectors in a Metso Minerals flotation cell that
simulations have been performed with the multiple-frames-of-reference has been validated by detailed measurement in the laboratory [1]. The
technique: it is faster than the transient sliding-mesh method and it has velocity field in the cell was measured using Laser Doppler Velocimetry
been found to give essentially the same result. When the sliding mesh (LDV). However, Particle-Image-Velocimetry (PIV) is the method currently
technique was used, a periodic steady state was achieved after about 20 used at CSIRO. The horizontal baffle in the Metso design separates the
rotations of the impeller. cell into two zones: a turbulent zone for particle collection and a quiescent
zone for froth stability. Three vortexes have be observed: one vortex
More detailed turbulence models have been tested to compare below the impeller, another below the horizontal baffle and a third vortex
against the k- turbulence model. For example, the Differential Stress near the surface.
2 Copyright 2011 by SME
SME Annual Meeting
Feb. 27-Mar. 02, 2011, Denver, CO

flow that rises in the centre with downward flow near the wall. The
maximum attachment rates occur at the centre of the column as well as
near the feed and sparger exits where the bubble concentrations are high.
Although the column is well designed, further improvements are still being
investigated in the ACARP project.

Figure 2. CFD predicted velocity vectors in a vertical plane in the pilot-

scale Metso Minerals flotation cell (Koh et al [1]).
From the flow field, it is possible to characterise the flow of a flotation
cell in detail and prevent potential problems such as short-circuiting and -3 -1
solids settling. The power consumption can be estimated from the energy Figure 3. Particle-bubble collision frequency (m s ) in a pilot-scale
dissipation rates obtained in the simulation. The results will also assist in Wemco flotation cell.
providing suggestions for modifications to the flotation cells.
Flotation performance can be affected by other hydrodynamic
effects. The transport of bubble-particle aggregates from the collection
zone to the froth layer and the transport of the particles within the froth
layer are significant processes. These are especially significant in plant-
scale cells where the distances are large. This is one of the reasons why
flotation rates are much better in laboratory cells where the bubble-particle
aggregates have much shorter distances to reach the froth layer.
Particle-Bubble Collision Model
The flotation effect in the CFD model is based on turbulent collisions
between particles and bubbles in the cell. The particle-bubble collision
frequency depends on the cell hydrodynamics as well as the sizes and
numbers of particles and bubbles. The turbulent velocities of the particles
and bubbles relative to the liquid are continually fluctuating and estimates
of these fluctuating velocities have been obtained from the local turbulent
dissipation rate as shown in Table 1. The collision frequency in a 1-m
pilot-scale Wemco #56 cell is shown Figure 3. Model results have been
compared against hydrodynamic measurements in a physical cell at
CSIRO laboratories for an AMIRA sponsored project.
Attachment and Detachment Model
The particle-bubble attachment and detachment rates are calculated
from the collision frequency using equations in Table 1. CFD-flotation Figure 4. CFD predicted velocity vectors (m/s) in the Microcel column
modelling allows individual cells to be investigated to identify regions in with 12 spargers; only six are visible.
the cell where particles and bubbles are attaching or detaching. The Figure 6 shows the local detachment rates in a standard B6000-20
information allows cell design and operation to be modified by retro-fitting Jameson Cell used for coal flotation. It has a diameter of 6 m operating
if necessary. Improved flotation recovery is obtained by maximising with 20 downcomers. As most of the attachment occurs inside the
attachment rates or through minimising detachment rates. For comparing downcomers, data from Harbort et al [8] indicate that 80% of the particles
cells with different operating conditions, the attachment rate per particle are attached to the bubbles at the exit of the downcomer. The
and the detachment rate per particle should be used because the particle attachments outside the downcomers are treated as a secondary process.
number concentration changes with the feed rate, pulp density, particle The main consideration outside the downcomer is to minimise the rates of
size and particle density. The rate per particle can be obtained by taking detachment in the cell. The maximum detachment rates have been found
the total rate and dividing it by the particle number concentration. near the wall of the inner launder where the turbulent dissipation rates are
The Microcel flotation column of 4.9 m diameter operating with 12 highest. In order to improve the flotation, it is important to minimise these
spargers and four feed inlets was investigated in an ACARP project for regions with high turbulent dissipation rates to minimise detachment.
coal flotation. The velocity vectors and attachment rates in the column are
shown in Figure 4 and Figure 5 respectively. There is a general circulating
3 Copyright 2011 by SME
SME Annual Meeting
Feb. 27-Mar. 02, 2011, Denver, CO

colour represents the fraction of bubble surface covered by attached

particles (Koh and Schwarz [11]). Detachment of particles can be
deduced from changes in the bubble loading which reaches a maximum
near the impeller and decreases towards the top of the cell. The impeller
speed of 1200 rpm used in this situation is probably too high for floating
120-m particles.


Standard Mod 1 Mod 2 Mod 3 Mod 4 Mod 5



Froth detachment rate (1/s/m3)






-3 -1
Figure 5. CFD predicted attachment rates (m s ) in the Microcel column. 0.0E+00
1 2 3 4 5 6

Figure 7. Detachment rate at froth interface in the standard cell and five
design modifications.


Standard Mod 1 Mod 2 Mod 3 Mod 4 Mod 5

Average attachment rate (1/s/m3)




-3 -1
Figure 6. Particle-bubble detachment rates (m s ) in the Jameson
1 2 3 4 5 6

Plant Optimisation
For optimising existing cells, CFD-flotation modelling can be Figure 8. Overall attachment rate in the standard cell and five design
performed for individual cell operations to obtain the cell attachment and modifications.
detachment rates. Similar simulations can be carried out for different
design modifications. Results of the existing (standard) case and design
modifications are analysed to find the best outcome. For example, Figure
7 shows the detachment rate at the pulp-froth interface in an existing cell
and five design modifications, and Figure 8 shows the overall attachment
rate for the same cases. These results can be analysed together to find
the modification that produces the maximum attachment rate and the
minimum detachment rate. In this example, the second modification
appears to give the best compromise between attachment and
detachment rates.
Kinetic Model Validation
Validation of the CFD-flotation model has been carried out with data
obtained from carefully controlled batch experiments at CSIRO. The
experiments involved flotation of narrowly-sized spherical ballotini in a 3-L
CSIRO cell which is a modified Denver laboratory cell. The particles have
been made hydrophobic by methylation with trimethylchlorosilane.
Flotation recoveries and rate constants obtained from the
experiments were in good agreement with model predictions (see Koh et Figure 9. Bubble streamlines with colour representing fraction of
al [9]; Koh and Smith [10]). The effects of particle size, hydrophobicity and bubble surface covered by 120-m particles in 5-L Denver cell.
stirring speed on flotation in the model have also been investigated and
found to compare favourably with experiments. As flotation rates in laboratory cells are generally faster in
comparison to the flotation rates observed in plant-scale cells, this work
Other details, such as the bubble loading are also predicted by the helps to relate metallurgical performances in the laboratory with those in
model. Figure 9 shows bubble streamlines in a 5-L Denver cell where the the plant.
4 Copyright 2011 by SME
SME Annual Meeting
Feb. 27-Mar. 02, 2011, Denver, CO

CONCLUSION FLSmidth, Xstrata Technology and Eriez Magnetics in the model

development of various flotation cells.
The paper has described a novel approach using CFD modelling to
increase understanding of the hydrodynamics of flotation cells and to REFERENCES
identify opportunities to improve cell design and operation. The
hydrodynamics and particle-bubble interactions in a number of 1. Koh P T.L., Schwarz M.P., Zhu Y., Bourke P., Peaker R. and
commercial flotation cells have been investigated. The attachment and Franzidis J.P., (2003), Development of CFD Models of Mineral
detachment rates have been found to be effective as a comparative Flotation Cells, in Third International Conference on
measure of cell performance for cell design. The CFD-flotation model has Computational Fluid Dynamics in the Minerals and Process
been shown to be a powerful tool for design, scale-up and optimisation of Industries, Melbourne, Australia, December 2003, p. 171-175.
industrial cells. 2. Koh, P.T.L. and Schwarz, M.P., (2006), CFD modelling of
NOMENCLATURE particle-bubble attachments in flotation cells, Minerals
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As constant = 0.5
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Di diffusivity of phase i (m /s) flotation at Mt Keith Operations, In MetPlant2008 - Metallurgical
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t time (s) M.P., (2008), Mixing and Gas Dispersion in Mineral Flotation
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volume fraction 8. Harbort, G.J., Cowburn, J.A. and Manlapig, E.V., (2005), The
bubble loading parameter effect of residence time and aeration on coal recovery within the
shear rate (1/s) high intensity zone of a flotation machine, Proc. Centenary of
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2 3 Flotation Symposium, Brisbane, p. 449-456.
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9. Koh P.T.L., Hao F.P., Smith L.K., Chau T.T. and Bruckard W.J.,
contact angle (degree) (2009), The effect of particle shape and hydrophobicity in
dynamic viscosity (Pa s) flotation, International Journal of Mineral Processing, 93: 128-134.

kinematic viscosity (m /s)
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The authors acknowledge financial support from the AMIRA aerating flotation cell", International Journal of Mineral
International, Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) Processing, 85, No. 1-3, p. 16-24.
and CSIRO, with technical support from Metso Minerals, Outotec,

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