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International Journal of Mining Science and Technology 27 (2017) 339–348

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International Journal of Mining Science and Technology

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ijmst

Pre-treatment of rocks prior to comminution – A critical review of

present practices
Somani Aditya a,⇑, Nandi Tapas K. b, Pal Samir K. a, Majumder Arun K. a
Department of Mining Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur 721302, India
Cryogenic Engineering Centre, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur 721302, India

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: It has been an established fact that comminution processes, crushing and grinding, are most energy
Received 24 October 2015 intensive processes which account for more than half of the total energy consumed in mineral industries.
Received in revised form 20 March 2016 Various alternative pre-treatment methods have been tried by experts around the globe. Although these
Accepted 10 July 2016
methods yielded positive results in terms of reduction in energy consumption in crushing and particu-
Available online 21 February 2017
larly, in grinding operations at laboratory scale, their industrial application still remains an unresolved
issue and challenge. Present review paper describes each one of these methods along with outcome of
earlier studies and issues that need to be addressed through further rigorous experimental investigation.
Rock breakage
It also suggests the direction in which future studies can be carried out to meet the primary objective of
Microwave making comminution processes more energy efficient than today they are.
Thermal shock Ó 2017 Published by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of China University of Mining & Technology. This is an open
access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

1. Introduction disparity in two ways. First, as amount of fines increases, surface

area resulting from it approaches nearly infinity. Consequently,
Comminution essentially involves two processes-crushing and energy consumption increases monotonically with it. Another
grinding. This terminology is also applicable to blasting and dril- description relates to the fact that failure of material occurs from
ling [1]. Crushing and grinding marginally differ from the fact that cracks. As particles get finer successively, this cracked zone disap-
crushing liberates particles in coarser size ranges whereas grinding pears. This makes it more difficult to break material further. High
in finer size ranges. Grinding is deemed as an indispensable energy consumption in comminution can also be understood from
method of comminution for separation of minerals from gangue the fact that more than 90% of total energy supplied is dissipated as
producing cleaner concentrate. Producing nearly gangue-free con- heat, kinetic energy, noise, and ineffective breakage of material.
centrate calls for fine grinding of material. The repercussion of high energy consumption is generation of huge
As no process is without its limitations, so is the comminution. grinding zone temperature. This temperature is sufficient enough
Through umpteen researches, it has been established that com- to create cracks on ground surface thus impairing the integrity of
minution is the most energy intensive process of concentrator. whole system [5].
The audit of energy consumption by comminution in Australian Ref. [6] recommended two ways to curtail wastage of energy in
copper and gold mines conducted by Ref. [2] revealed that, on an comminution. One of the suggestions was to develop a pre-
average, 36% of total energy used by mines was consumed by com- treatment process to weaken mechanical properties of rocks before
minution. On the national level, it accounted for 1.3% of Australia’s subjecting them to comminution. Uncontrolled wastage of energy
gross electrical energy consumption. According to the report on has attracted the attention of researchers and industries globally in
study of consumption of energy in Canadian underground base the wake of worldwide augmenting energy demands, frequent
metal mines, comminution consumed energy in the range of fluctuations in energy prices, and enhancement in global warming.
15.2–32.1 kW h/t of crushed and milled gold ores [3]. To address the grave issue of unrestrained power consumption
Among crushing and grinding, grinding is a more energy- in comminution, rigorous investigations were undertaken by vari-
consuming process than crushing [4]. It accounts for nearly 50% ous experts globally to develop alternative and novel methods of
of total energy requirement of concentrator. Ref. [4] explained this comminution. These methods can be commonly termed as Pre-
treatment methods in the sense that rocks are exposed to some
sort of treatment before their full-scale mechanical comminution
⇑ Corresponding author.
by extant technology. As observed by Ref. [7], using Bond’s law
E-mail address: adityasomani88@gmail.com (A. Somani).

2095-2686/Ó 2017 Published by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of China University of Mining & Technology.
This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
340 A. Somani et al. / International Journal of Mining Science and Technology 27 (2017) 339–348

of comminution, it is the strength of rock which controls the power 100

UT ore
consumption and product size under normal operating range of 80

Distribution of tin (%)

HT ore
industrial-scale cone crusher. The principal objective of the devel-
opment of a pre-treatment method is to weaken the mechanical 60

strength of rock prior to comminution. As experimentally 40

observed, it leads to hefty decrement in electrical energy consump-
tion by the virtue of increase in crushability and grindability of
treated rock. 0
4000 500 45 0
However, although these methods have been found to efficient
Size (μm)
at laboratory scale, these have not yet been converted to econom-
ically viable and commercially feasible technology which can be Fig. 2. Distribution of tin with product size.
employed for large-scale operations. The subject of current review
paper is, thus, to summarize work done in these areas of pre-
treatment methods and suggest main focus areas for future heat-treated (HT) ore. This is in contrast to that observed for
investigations. untreated (UT) ore. Tin is mainly concentrated in finer size ranges
Among several methods experimented globally, following are i.e. below 500 lm than for UT ore. It can also be seen that HT did
the methods which saw considerable efforts. These methods are not produce considerable loss of tin in slimes.
listed below as: The crusher result showed that HT ore produced 14% lesser
+4 mm product than UT ore. As a result of this, correspondingly
(1) Thermal breakage. lesser amount of material would be recirculated to crusher and
(2) Microwave heating. bring down capacity requirement of crusher and screens. The pro-
(3) High-voltage pulse breakage. duct of crusher was used as feed for grinding. As reported, for the
(4) Ultrasonic breakage. same grinding time, HT ore feed produced finer grinding product
(5) Thermal shock. than UT ore feed. After 5 min of grinding, while the size of UT
ore was about 300 lm, corresponding size of HT ore was about
Following sections deal with these methods in detail. 225 lm. Another significance of this outcome was that the primary
grinding stage could be eliminated, thus saving considerable chunk
of energy and product of crusher could be sent directly for
2. Thermal breakage concentration.
Ref. [10] obtained similar kind of results for lignite coal. Fig. 3
Thermal breakage, commonly known as conventional heating, depicts the data reported after 20 min of grinding. As reported,
signifies heating rocks before comminuting them. The mechanism pre-treated coal ground finer than untreated coal. After 20 min of
of heat transfer in rock is convection, conduction, and radiation. grinding, 84% of pre-treated coal was finer than 13 lm while only
Heating of rocks induces inter-granular cracks in the rock matrix 70% of untreated coal in same size range.
and facilitate easy grinding and generation of less fines. Ref. [11] studied the influence of temperature on the mechani-
Numerous studies have proved that temperature plays a major cal strength of Tournemire Shale under hydrostatic, uniaxial and
role in altering properties of substances than other operating con- triaxial compression tests for three values of confining pressure
ditions like pressure, magnetic field, electric field, etc. In the review of 5, 10 and 20 MPa. Fig. 4 depicts the results of triaxial tests for
paper, Ref. [8] highlighted the impact of subjecting rock to high the confining pressures of 10 and 20 MPa, drawn from the data
temperature condition prior to comminution. As reported, genera- reported by them. It can be observed that increase in temperature
tion of fines was minimized, which improved comminution char- causes increase in brittleness of shale and thus, decrease in its
acteristics and grindability of rock. compressive strength.
Ref. [9] attributed the enhancement in the metallurgical effi- In yet another study, Ref. [12] observed similar trend with gran-
ciency and increase in grade and recovery of valuable minerals to ite and sandstone when subjected to temperature variation from
the heat treatment. The extensive investigation on the influence room temperature to 800 °C. It was observed that granite showed
of heating of Tin ore on its comminution characteristics proved gradual reduction in Uniaxial Compressive Strength (UCS) with
effectiveness of thermal pre-treatment method. It was reported increase in temperature whereas UCS of sandstone did not change
that 80% passing size of ore was reduced from 27.2 mm for substantially in the given temperature range but exhibited rapid
untreated ore to 22.3 mm for treated ore. This corresponds to fall in UCS beyond 800 °C. Young’s Modulus of granite climbed
18% reduction in particle size. This dictates increase in brittleness down at a rate faster than that of sandstone. On the same line,
of ore post heating of rock. The plots of results of single pass crush- [13] reported same pattern in the strength of granite when
ing reported by them are shown in Figs. 1 and 2. It can be seen that exposed to temperature ranging from 105 °C to 600 °C. Initially,
major proportion of product falls under 500 lm size range for for temperatures between 105 °C and 300 °C, a marginal (8%) fall

UT ore 120 Pretreated
80 HT ore Untreated
Cumulative passing (%)

Passing (%)

60 80
20 20

4000 500 45 0 0 106 53 26 13 6.5 3.3
Size (μm ) Size (μ m)

Fig. 1. Mass per cent passing of ore. Fig. 3. Percentage passing of lignite coal after 20 min of grinding.
A. Somani et al. / International Journal of Mining Science and Technology 27 (2017) 339–348 341

100 absorb considerable amount of microwave energy because of their

large dielectric loss factors. In other words, mineralogy of rock

Compressive strength (MPa)

influences its ability to undergo fracturing and offer less resistance
to comminution. Thus any change in mineral composition of rock
will greatly affect its heating characteristics.
40 As quoted by Ref. [15], silicates, carbonates, sulfates and some
Compressive strength (10 MPa) oxides behave like insulators to microwave while sulfides,
20 arsenides, and sulfosalts, act like dielectrics to microwave. Refs.
Compressive strength (20 MPa)
[16,17] revealed that highest temperature was recorded for carbon
0 100 200 300 and most metal oxides viz. NiO, MnO2, Fe3O4, Co2O3, CuO, and
Temperature ( ) WO3. Many metal sulfides, although heated well, did not show
Fig. 4. Variation of compressive strength for confining pressures of 10 and 20 MPa.
consistent pattern of heating and temperature. Gangue minerals
like quartz, calcite, and feldspar were transparent to microwave.
A point has to be noted here that heating rates are different for
in UCS was recorded. This reduction surged to 20% at 500 °C and to all materials, reason being difference in bonding properties of
47% at 600 °C. Young’s Modulus also followed similar trend under these minerals.
same temperature range. In a nutshell, ability of rock to microwave heating depends of its
thermal diffusivity, common term for specific heat, thermal con-
ductivity, and density all taken together. This is a measure of
3. Microwave heating increase in temperature within matrix as a function of time of
exposure of microwave heat and penetration depth form the
In spite of some promising results obtained from conventional surface.
heating in terms of reduction in mechanical properties of rocks, Study conducted by Ref. [18] resulted in the work index curve of
it has not proved to be successful in context of reduction in energy massive copper (MC) and massive copper zinc (MCZ) as shown in
consumption, improved grindability, enhanced throughput, etc. Fig. 5, obtained from data reported by them. As explained, the dis-
The principal cause of above demerits is its mechanism of heating parity in the shape of curves of MC and MCZ is the result of differ-
of rocks. The standard mechanisms of heat transfer through con- ence in their mineralogy. In MC ore, the presence of rapidly heating
vection, conduction, and radiation are very slow on account of pyrite and chalcopyrite in transparent gangue matrix results into
the fact that it requires long time for heat to defuse into the rock more localization of thermal stresses. The presence of sphalerite
matrix. Due to slow heating, density of cracks generated inside in MCZ ore, which heats at the lower rate than pyrite and chalcopy-
matrix is low. Over and above, there is no selective heating of rite, in gangue matrix, results into more uniform distribution of
intended mineral particles. stresses and thus less concentration of thermal stress at the grain
These serious limitations led researchers to the development of boundaries. Due to change in mineralogy, there is 70% reduction
more effective method of heating. This method makes use of a of work index of MC ore whereas 65% reduction of work index of
radiowave namely Microwave. The basic mechanism of microwave MCZ ore after 90 s of exposure to microwave followed by
heating is microwaves are in the form of energy to which electric quenching.
and magnetic fields are associated. When this energy is absorbed Ref. [19] observed that coal with ash content 38% from Jama-
by dielectric material, its atoms are polarized. Resultant dipoles doba experienced higher rise in temperature than the coal with
align themselves according of alternating fields. These fields flip ash content 32% from West Bokaro for the same duration of heat-
about several billion times in a second which expedite change in ing. This observation is in agreement with the fact that mineral
orientation of dipole. Due to the rapid change in orientation of matters heat up 2–3 times faster than carbonaceous matter.
dipoles, the resultant stored energy is dissipated in the form of
heat within the volume of matrix.
Majority of naturally occurring ores have different thermal 3.1.2. Physical characteristics of mineral
properties. As a result of this, these ores undergo thermal expan- It encompasses volume, surface area, size, and shape of mineral
sion to varying degrees due to differential thermal stresses created particles, and texture and structure of rock matrix. These deter-
within the lattice. Varying magnitude and extent of expansion mine consistency and amount of power absorbed in matrix. Ref.
among different minerals result in generation of cracks at their [15] reported that increase in volume of iron ore sample without
interfaces i.e. development of inter-granular and trans-granular changing surface area did not change absorption of microwave
fractures. Microwave heating is a non-contact heating method energy whereas with the increment in surface area of samples
leading to volumetric and rapid heating of rocks and also selective from 50.24 cm2 to 126.6 cm2, the recorded increase in absorption
heating of minerals as opposed to conventional heating. On of microwave energy were from 36.6% to 61.82%. From Fig. 6,
account of expeditious and volumetric heating, the density of
cracks generated is high leading to substantial improvement in
grindability. 12 Work index (MC ore)
10 Work index (MCZ ore)

3.1. Factors influencing microwave heating of materials

Work index (kWh/t)

3.1.1. Mineralogy and thermal properties of material 6

Thermal properties of minerals in rocks play a vital role in the 4

successful application of microwave heating method. Minerals
can be classified into three categories-insulator, conductor, semi-
conductor. According to Ref. [14], insulators (r < 10 8 Xm) are
0 20 40 60 80 100
transparent to microwave energy i.e. they absorb very little energy.
Microwave exposure time (s)
Conductors (r > 106 Xm) have high energy losses and low pene-
tration depth. Semi-conductors (r < 10 8–106 Xm) i.e. dielectrics Fig. 5. Variation of work index with microwave exposure time after quenching.
342 A. Somani et al. / International Journal of Mining Science and Technology 27 (2017) 339–348

from SEM analysis by Ref. [20] of untreated and pre-treated iron

ore showed that heating of ore leads to micro-cracks in it and their
Specific breakage rate 0.06 number increases with microwave exposure time. Also it was
shown that rate of breakage increases with microwave exposure
0.04 time (Fig. 8).
Ref. [19] observed that coal with high ash content experienced
higher increase in temperature with microwave exposure time
than coal with less ash content, as shown in Fig. 9 obtained from
0 100 200 300 data reported by them. This is on account of the fact that mineral
Particle size (μ m) matters have 2 to 3 times faster microwave energy absorption ten-
dency that carbonaceous matter. In the following figure Coal-X
Fig. 6. Variation of specific breakage rate with particle size for 30 s microwave
refers to coal with 38% ash content and Coal-Y refers to coal with
exposure time.
32% ash content.

drawn from data obtained by Ref. [20], it can be seen that specific 3.1.4. Technical considerations
breakage rate increases with the increase in iron ore size fraction. Technical aspects of this method deal with operating parame-
Same nature of curve was reported for microwave exposure time of ters of microwave heating equipment. These parameters include
60 s, 90 s, and 120 s. Ref. [21] reported results of effect of particle operating frequency i.e. 915 or 2450 MHz, and kind of magnetron
size of lignite coal on specific rate of breakage for three different required to generate microwave of desired frequency. These
mono size fractions. For 3350 + 2360 lm size range, specific aspects also involve material conveying system to microwave
breakage calculated was 1.36 higher than for untreated coal. The oven, power supply, and temperature sensors. Ref. [25] reported
corresponding values of specific breakage rate for 2360 results of the investigation on the influence of method of applica-
+ 1700 lm and 1700 + 1180 lm mono size ranges are 1.24 and tion of microwave energy on the mechanical strength of rock. Two
1.13 higher that untreated coal. This shows that ease of breaking methods of application viz. continuous wave and pulsed wave
of coal reduces as particle size decreases for same exposure time. were used. Under these methods, a given amount of energy input
Similarly, Ref. [22] reported that when exposed to microwave was supplied while power density was increased. As reported, with
power intensity of 900 W for 60 s, particles of size range 9.5 the increase in power density, same amount of reduction in
+ 8 mm attained temperature of 546 °C whereas sample of size strength of rock is achieved in less time of exposure, thus saving
1 + 0.5 mm, under same conditions, had temperature of 485 °C. energy used to heat rock in microwave. However, comparison of
Ref. [23] conducted microwave heating investigation on three power densities used in two methods exhibited that pulsed wave
ores viz. limestone, dolomite, and quartz to assess their microwave method required more power density than continuous wave
heating response and consequent changes in grindability. Each of method for same amount of reduction of strength of rock. This
them was crushed and divided into three size fractions i.e. 9.75 shows that continuous wave method would save more energy than
+ 5.75 mm, 5.75 + 1.6 mm, and 1.6 mm. It was observed that pulsed wave method.
heating behavior and resultant grindability of only two ores i.e. Ref. [26] reported impact of two other technical parameters of
quartz and limestone changed with size of particles, effective size microwave heating system which were reported to have impact
fraction being 9.75 + 5.75 mm. The argument reported for no of the strength of rock. As reported, 15 kW of power level reduces
effect at size below 5.75 mm was loss of heat due to conduction. strength by 55% of the original strength after just 1 s of exposure to
Another explanation presented by Ref. [20] is that with decrease microwave while microwave system with power level of 5 kW
in size of particles, surface area increases. As a result of this, loss reduced strength after exposing rock for considerable amount of
of heat equals the rate of application of heat. Ref. [24] explained time. This is shown in Fig. 10 obtained from their data. It was also
role of texture and structure of rock matrix. They observed that inferred that a certain minimum amount of power level is required
uniform spread of minerals, being dielectric, manifested improve- to induce a particular amount of damage in rock.
ment in grindability than finely disseminated minerals after micro- Another parameter studied was type of cavity to be employed.
wave heating treatment. As reported, for 10 kW of power level, time of 5 s is required to
reduce strength of rock by about 50% in multimode cavity system
3.1.3. Speed of heating and time of exposure whereas only 0.1 s is required to give same amount of reduction in
The speed of heating and duration of exposure to microwave single-mode cavity.
energy influences the generation of cracks and subsequent grind- Ref. [22] reported that, data shown in Table 1, increase in power
ability. The test conducted by Ref. [17] suggested speedy heating density increased temperature of particles. As evident, particle size
of rock. Fig. 7, obtained from data reported by Kumar et al. [20], of 0.25 + 0.125, when exposed to 900 W microwave power level
shows that with the increase in microwave exposure time of iron for 50 s, was reported to have temperature of 330 °C whereas at
ore, its temperature increases correspondingly. Optical evidence

Specific breakage rate
Temperature (ć)



40 0.06

0 50 100 150 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140
Microwave exposure time (s) Microwave exposure time (s)

Fig. 7. Variation of temperature of iron ore with microwave exposure time. Fig. 8. Variation of specific rate of breakage with microwave exposure time.
A. Somani et al. / International Journal of Mining Science and Technology 27 (2017) 339–348 343

80 0.15 Coal X
Coal X
Coal Y

Specific breakage rate

Coal Y 0.13

Temperature (ć)
20 0.07

0 50 100 150 0 50 100 150
Microwave exposure time (s) Microwave exposure time (s)

Fig. 9. Effect of time of exposure to microwave on the temperature of coal. Fig. 11. Variation in specific breakage rate with duration of microwave exposure.

Point load index (15 kW)
ched after 4 h, 92% after 8 h and 97% by 12th hour of leaching after
Point load index (5 kW)
microwaving of gold ore whereas untreated gold ore produced 42%
Point load index (Pa)

gold after 4 h, 68% after 8 h and 92% after 24 h of leaching (Fig. 12).
3 Another investigation by Ref. [18] exhibited that the reduction
2 in work index of microwave treated material resulted in corre-
sponding decrement in circulating load, as shown in Fig. 13. It
was concluded that reduction in recirculating load to crusher
would enable installation of lesser capacity crusher and screens
0 5 10 15
Microwave exposure time (s) without affecting output of the plant.

Fig. 10. Point load index for different rated power.

4. High-voltage pulse breakage

Table 1 High-voltage electric pulse disintegration method is one of the

Effect of microwave power of temperature of mineral for exposure time of 50 s. most pursued methods besides microwave heating. Generation of
Size range (mm) Temperature at 450 W (°C) Temperature at 900 W (°C) fractures in the rock matrix is accomplished by two mechanism
namely electrostriction and electrical breakdown. Electrostriction
0.032 90 210
0.065 + 0.032 140 240 is the property of an electrical insulator which, when subjected
0.125 + 0.065 160 270 to electric field, undergoes deformation in some way. Electrical
0.25 + 0.125 180 330 breakdown means there is occurrence of rapid reduction in the
0.5 + 0.25 190 360 resistance to the flow of electrical current when the applied volt-
1 + 0.5 210 370
age across material exceeds breakdown voltage. Understanding
2+1 225 380
4+2 235 390 of mechanism of rock breakage of rock by electrical pulses has log-
8+4 240 400 ically led to the argument that effectiveness of this method is
+8 260 425 ascertained by differences in electrical properties of minerals.
Greater is the difference, more effective is the method. The electri-
cal properties of prime importance are permittivity and electrical
450 W power level, particles of same size range were observed to conductivity.
have temperature of 180 °C for the same duration of heating Ref. [28] explained mechanism of disintegration of rock and
exposure. effect of differences in electrical properties. When electric field is
applied, the atoms resist flow of current through them but eventu-
ally the atomic structure is changed leading to change in shape
3.2. Results of microwave heating treatment
through deformation. Due to differences in electrical properties,
each mineral undergoes deformation to varying degree which
Ref. [22] demonstrated that with the increase in microwave
results in varying expansion and stresses in rock matrix leading
exposure time of iron ore, saturation magnetization increased
to generation of micro cracks. The location and shape of micro
and an instance is reached when ferromagnetism occurred in par-
cracks create path for concentration of electrical field. This concen-
ticles. The reason posited to this was occurrence of phase changes
tration leads to the electrical breakdown along the path. This facil-
at the grain boundaries of minerals. This resulted in the formation
itates flow of channel of plasma through the path which is in the
of new magnetic phase (c-hematite) and altered magnetic proper-
form of tree with spreading trunks. A point is reached when this
ties of sample. As reported, this resulted into significant increase in
path joins electrodes. This constitutes the first stage of mechanism.
the recovery of iron by magnetic separation. The recovery of
untreated iron ore, at magnetic intensity of 1 T, was found to be
39.54% whereas the recovery of microwave treated iron ore, for 120
the same magnetic intensity, 900 W power level, and 90 s expo-
sure, was found to be 97.95%.
Gold recovery (%)

Similarly, Ref. [19] also reported relative ease of grinding of coal 80

post microwave exposure as compared to untreated coal. Corre- 60

sponding results of increase in breakage rate were also reported Microwave treated ore
for microwave treated coal. However, coal with less ash content Untreated ore
experienced more breakage rate than with more ash content, 20

shown in Fig. 11.

0 10 20 30
Study undertaken by Ref. [27] obtained results showing signif-
Leaching time (h)
icant increase in leaching of gold ore post microwave treatment in
comparison to untreated gold ore. As reported, 70% of gold was lea- Fig. 12. Recovery of gold in cyanidation process.
344 A. Somani et al. / International Journal of Mining Science and Technology 27 (2017) 339–348

1000 4.1.4. Energy input

Experiments by Ref. [31] proved that with the increase in
Recirculating load (t/h)
energy input, density of cracks generated also increases. However,
600 minimum amount of input energy would depend on rock proper-
ties, sizes of particles in feed, and electrical properties of con-
stituent minerals.
4.1.5. Sharpness and angularity of particles
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 According of the theory of electromagnetism, the electric field
Work index (kWh/t) intensity is more at sharp points than at relatively flatter surface.
This theory gives the argument that sharpness and angularity par-
Fig. 13. Change in recirculating load with work index.
ticles in feed will be more responsive to this method than any
other particle of different shapes.
In next stage, counter flow of ions takes place which promotes
widening of cracks. These widened cracks weaken integrity 4.2. Results of electrical disintegration study
between minerals and cause their liberation.
Ref. [32] reported the results of effect of electrical disintegration
4.1. Factors influencing electrical disintegration on various metal ores. The granulometric data showed that electri-
cal disintegration produced finer product than mechanical com-
These factors can be classified into two categories viz. mineral- minution for same kind of ore. The results of size analyses of
related and operation-related. Mineral-related parameters are electrical comminution and rod milling were reported for copper
mineral morphology, grain size of desired minerals, feed particle and nickel ores. It was observed that nickel ore reported to finer
size, differences in electrical properties of minerals and gangue size ranges than copper ore.
material, and shape and angularity of particles. Operation-related Ref. [33] reported that when platinum ores from Karee Meren-
parameters are number of pulses, high-voltage power supply, sky and Eastern Platinum deposits were electrically disintegrated,
high-voltage pulse generator, process area, discharge voltage, elec- followed by standard flotation test yielded grade and recovery of
trode gap, and frequency of discharge. metals of platinum group and gold respectively as 76 g/t and 77%
for Karee Merensky and 24 g/t and 94% for Eastern Platinum depos-
its. Their corresponding figures for conventional comminution are
4.1.1. Electrical properties
30 g/t and 76% for Karee Merensky and 14 g/t and 92% for Easter
The impact of dielectric strength on the efficacy of electrical dis-
Platinum deposits. The effect of electrical disintegration on the lib-
integration of rock can be understood from the experiments con-
eration size of coal was studied by Ref. [34] Through experiment, it
ducted on coal and Banded Hematite Jasper (BHJ) iron ore
was shown graphically that carbonaceous matter i.e. coal liberate
samples by Ref. [29]. When a high-voltage electric current was
at coarser size range of +4 mm and +2–4 mm fraction while the
passed through coal samples, the material shattered into pieces.
mineral matter reported mainly to finer size ranges below 2 mm.
One of the reasons for this explosion was low dielectric strength.
Ref. [35] studied the impact of pre-treatment i.e. pre-weakening
On the other hand, when a 300 kV electric current was applied to
of phosphate ore by electrical pulses on its crushability. The ore
BHJ iron ore sample, there were no changes in micro-hardness of
sample in the size range of 5–7.5 cm was treated at input energy
ore. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) of treated sample
levels of 3 kW h/t and 5 kW h/t. It was observed that energy con-
revealed that quartz and hematite remained affected while feld-
sumed in crushing pre-treated ore at 3 kW h/t and 5 kW h/t input
spar and magnesium burnt due to this high shock. The reason
energy levels were reduced by 7.8% and 10.6% respectively. Analy-
behind this was high dielectric strength of BHJ iron ore due to
sis of product particle size distribution of pre-treated and non-
absence of any conductive mineral in it.
treated ore samples showed that pre-treated ore produced finer
products than non-treated ore. Ref. [34] reported higher degree
4.1.2. Feed particle size of coal liberation by electrical disintegration than by conventional
Feed particle size influences the effective transfer of electrical grinding.
energy in the sense that coarser size particles provide a continuous Similar studies were conducted [36] but these studies focused
bridge between electrodes. This considerably reduces travel dis- only on weakening of rock by the application of electrical pulses
tance for energy, leading to less loss of energy. In case of fine feed and then subjecting them to conventional mechanical grinding.
particle size, the discontinuity is created between electrodes. Results showed that energy consumption in grinding was reduced
Sparks jump from one particle to another which results in long tra- by up to 24% when ores were treated by high voltage pulses of low
veling distance and more loss of energy. Thus sizes of particles in input energy. Experimental results reported by Ref. [21] revealed
feed highly influence the disintegration of minerals. that treated coal samples had 7.8% less volatile matter and 36% less
moisture content than non-treated coal samples. Moreover, the lib-
4.1.3. Rock morphology and properties eration of carbonaceous material was 150% and 40% higher for
It was found through experimental study that the rocks with 1.5 g/cm3 and 1.6 g/cm3 density treated coals respectively than
high porosity are amenable to electrical disintegration. The reason non-treated coal.
quoted was that air has lower electrical breakdown strength than
water and rock itself. Thus, it promotes easier electrical breakdown 4.3. Present challenges
and formation of plasma channel. Rocks with higher quartz content
were reported to have fine size products. The reason represented Ref. [12] listed the challenges which have to be overcome to
for this observation was its piezo-electric nature i.e. charges accu- realize benefits of electrical comminution on industrial scale. The
mulation in response to mechanical stress or its brittle nature. Ref. first challenge is to scale up the laboratory work to industrial scale
[30] provided evidence that hard rocks are more fragile than softer which involves dealing with larger capacity, increasing the chances
ones. With the increase in hardness of rock, electrical shocks can of each particle getting exposed to electrical pulses. Another aspect
easily cause fracture in them due to their brittle and fragile nature. that demands focus is enhancement of efficacy of delivering the
A. Somani et al. / International Journal of Mining Science and Technology 27 (2017) 339–348 345

electrical energy equally to entire feed which will have direct effect the rollers is ultrasonically activated. Although conventional ball
on their mechanical comminution by conventional method. mill and HPRM produced similar final particle size distribution,
Another challenge is the integration of process of electrical dis- the operational time for latter was 1.85 min and 40 min for former
integration in comminution circuit, distribution of power in the and corresponding power consumptions were 6.8 kW h/t and
circuit, particle size of the feed to be treated which is in accordance 20 kW h/t respectively.
with ability of electrical disintegration system as well as comminu-
tion mill. Next issue to be addressed is to maintain cracks in ore 5.2. Practical issues
and prevent them from closing while undergoing comminution
at different stages. The success of ultrasonic comminution method is governed by
Final and most important challenge which has direct impact on the ability to tap the synergistic potential of vibrating and com-
the quality of final product is the effect of electrical treatment on pressive stresses to weaken mechanical properties of targeted rock.
the effectiveness of downstream processes. It shall be ensured that The important operating parameter is gap i.e. space between roll-
electrical treatment do not degrade surface chemistry or grade of ers for roller mill used for grinding. Increase in gap results in
ore and shall not reduce recovery of valuable minerals in these increase in energy consumption as well as production of less fine
processes. products.

5. Ultrasonic breakage 6. Thermal shock

Another method of pre-treatment of rock uses ultrasonic waves Thermal shock is a phenomenon which results from consider-
which have frequencies more than 20 kHz i.e. frequency more than able differences in temperature. When an object, at high tempera-
human hearing range. Ultrasonic waves are produced when an ture, is suddenly subjected to colder condition, a stress known as
oscillating electric field is applied to a piezoelectric crystal which Tensile Thermal Stress is developed within the body of object
converts it into mechanical vibration. The combination of mechan- resulting in generation of cracks. This takes place only when tensile
ical vibration and compression has proved to be an energy efficient thermal stress exceeds tensile strength of material of object.
method, though only at laboratory scale. Material with inherent Similar phenomenon is observed in case of rocks. An abrupt
cracks when subjected to ultrasonic treatment experienced widen- change in temperature of rock induces fracture in it [39]. Ref.
ing of cracks which may propagate to the outer surface of material [40] explained mechanism of development of crack. Rocks have
[37]. lower thermal conductivities. This implies it requires longer time
for rock to transfer its heat to surrounding and establish equilib-
rium with it. So, when the hot rock is suddenly cooled, the mole-
5.1. Historical development
cules converge together and increase density of rock. Due to
lower heat conductivity, the contracting molecules experience
The history of ultrasonic pre-treatment dates back to 1981
stress due to change in density. This results in fracturing of rock.
when it was first experimented at Energy and Minerals Research
The generation of fracture in rock is attributed to the fact that
(EMR) Company at Exton, Pennsylvania. Their rotating roller ultra-
ores/minerals constituting rock have different heat conductivities.
sonic device with the capacity of 10 lb/h and 30 lb/h produced an
Through prior studies, it is known that object undergoes expansion
output of 80% finer than 74 lm consuming about 3 kW h/t in com-
or contraction due to variation in temperature it is subjected to.
parison to 20 kW h/t by hammer mill to produce same product.
Due to different heat conductivities, these constituents experience
Ultrasonic device consumed 24 kW h/t for fine grinding in compar-
different amounts of expansion or contraction. This engenders
ison to 300 kW h/t for non-treated grinding application [38].
uneven deformation of rock, eventually leading to fracturing.
In 1988, The US Department of Energy applied ultrasonic com-
Ref. [41] corroborates the phenomenon of thermal shock in
minution to Illinois No. 6 coal in the Coal Preparation Division at
granite. When cold water was circulated around hot dry rock,
Pittsburg Energy and Technology Centre (PETC). However, this pro-
due to induced tensile thermal stress, its strength reduced and
ject proved to be a complete fiasco with results following opposite
porosity increased. This favoured formation, propagation and
trend. The study of effectiveness of ultrasonic comminution
growth of cracks. The presence of moisture may be an added
resulted in the energy consumption of 300–400 kW h/t coupled
advantage. Water undergoes expansion by about 9 per cent when
with very little size reduction [38].
it freezes. This develops expansion pressure which is sufficient
In 1993, Ref. [38] studied the application of ultrasonic on the
enough to fracture rock and may shatter it as well.
comminution of Copper ore. This study led to the determination
Ref. [42] showed experimentally that decrement in strength of
of influencing factors which establish effectiveness of this method.
rock is more pronounced when heated rock is immersed in water
For this exploratory study, 200 g of three feeds having size frac-
than when it is air cooled. It was reported that reduction in uniax-
tions as 9 ⁄ 14, 20 ⁄ 28, and 35 ⁄ 48 Tyler mesh. Electric input
ial compressive strength (UCS) achieved post air-cooling was 34%
power was fixed at 100 W. Each sample was subjected to three fre-
after heating up to 600 °C whereas corresponding decrease in
quencies of 15.11, 16.494, and 16.764 kHz. It was revealed that
UCS for water-cooled sample was 50% when heated up to same
although energy consumption increases with increment in fre-
temperature (Fig. 14).
quency but there exists an optimum frequency which produces
desired finer product. Although for 15.11 kHz frequency, energy
consumption was lower than that for 16.494 kHz frequency, latter 7. Comparison of different methods
produced finer product than former. The study on effect of gap set-
ting in nip roller grinder revealed that energy consumption fol- The earlier sections highlighted some of the results of the appli-
lowed linear trend with gap in roller grinder. The feed size cation of various pre-treatment methods. Careful analyses of these
distribution has great influence on final product size. Smaller feed results show the development of a promising method to treat
size produces finer product. However, production of fines materials before subjecting them to conventional comminution
decreases with reduction in feed size. process. Two methods, pre-treatment by microwave heating and
A recent study by Ref. [37] provided more promising results electrical disintegration i.e. electrical comminution, have been
with the use of High Pressure Roller Mill (HPRM) in which one of shown to more effectively liberate valuable minerals from the
346 A. Somani et al. / International Journal of Mining Science and Technology 27 (2017) 339–348

35 post microwave treatment. On the other hand, Ref. [32] reported

30 that although recovery of copper was lower after electrical disinte-
Compressive strength 25 gration, grade of the ore improved.
Ref. [22] defined the magnetic recovery ratio as fraction of mag-
15 netic material in the total weight. It was reported, post magnetic
10 Air-cooled separation tests, that after exposing iron ore to microwave for
Water-cooled 90 s, magnetic recovery was 97.95% for 1 T magnetic intensity.
On the other side, Ref. [32] reported that after magnetic separation
0 200 400 600 800
Temperature (ć) of electrically disintegrated material, total recovery of Fe was
67.65% for the same magnetic intensity.
Fig. 14. Uniaxial compressive strength of rock after heating at different temper- As observed and reported by Ref. [44] since electrical disinte-
ature followed by cooling.
gration method break solids by the virtue of expansion of high
temperature plasma, energy of pulses get dissipated as heat which
results into 25% to 40% more energy consumption than in mechan-
gangue matrix at relatively finer size ranges than mechanical com-
ical compression and impact. Moreover, electrical disintegration
minution process.
creates split between minerals rather than disintegration of ore
An attempt has been made to prove efficacy of application of
fragments, causing more consumption of electrical energy.
ultrasound as a pre-treatment method. However, availability of
In light of above results it can be concluded that microwave
limited literature calls for more extensive investigation in this area.
pre-treatment method is more efficient method of liberation of
This section aims to compare efficacies of aforementioned pre-
valuable minerals and size reduction than electrical disintegration.
treatment methods with the help of data and results obtained from
The reason for this conclusion is that in microwave treatment
experimental investigation of researchers globally. This would
method, material is heated and then subjected to mechanical com-
enhance the understanding of the method and help in making rea-
minution which results into better liberation and enhanced recov-
sonable decision regarding the adoption of method based on the
ery of valuable minerals; whereas in electrical disintegration
mineralogical condition at hand. Earlier sections compared effec-
method, the rock is comminuted with the use of high voltage elec-
tiveness of conventional comminution process with these afore-
trical pulses with the use of any mechanical means. Also former is
mentioned novel methods.
less energy intensive than latter.

7.1. Comparison between microwave heating and thermal heating

7.3. Comparison between microwave heating and thermal shock
Ref. [43] compared efficacy of the conventional and microwave methods
heating of high phosphorus oolitic iron ore. It was reported that
while microwave exposure of few seconds created considerable In the grindability study conducted by Ref. [18], it was reported
amount of fracturing in rock matrix, even one hour of heating at that the reduction in bond work index of Massive Copper Zinc,
higher temperature by conventional means did not initiate notice- after 90 s of exposure of rock to microwave, was 50% while the cor-
able fracturing in rock. Also energy consumption in microwave responding reduction in bond work index, after same duration of
treatment was considerably lower than that in conventional heat- microwave exposure and followed by quenching with water, was
ing. The grindability test showed that while weight percentage of 65%. Similarly, experiment conducted by Ref. [45] also showed that
sample for 0.125 mm size fraction increased from 46.6% for the compressive strength of granite decreased by greatest amount
untreated sample to 50.8% for 1 h heating at 600 °C, the corre- on subsequent quenching with water post microwave treatment
sponding increase in weight percentage for same size fraction for than quenching in air after microwave treatment for two different
60 s of microwave treatment was 59.76% from 46.6%, as reported powers of microwave 600 and 850 W (Fig. 15).
by them.
The above findings prove that microwave heating not only
8. Conclusions
improves the liberation and resulting comminution characteristics
of microwave treated ore more than conventional heating, but also
The present review paper attempted to summarize develop-
has the potential to reduce energy consumption which is otherwise
ments and advancements made globally to develop novel methods
spent in heating material for hours at higher temperatures with no
of comminution. The primary goal of these methods was to
conspicuous benefit realized in generation of fractures and subse-
improve liberation and grade of valuable minerals and at the same
quent liberation. Such method of conventional heating is even
time bring down load of energy consumption on mining industry
more uneconomic than the mechanical comminution process.
and/or mineral processing plants. Many promising results are
reported by various researchers in these regards. They demon-
7.2. Comparison between microwave heating and electrical strated the ability of these methods to realize principal goal behind
disintegration the idea of development of pre-treatment methods.

Comparison of liberation results of microwave treated iron ore

from investigation of Ref. [20] and that of electrical disintegration 1.2 Air-cooled
of iron ore i.e. hematite by Ref. [32] for particle size of 250 lm is 1.0 (600 W)
Ratio of compressive

made. This shows that while the mass retained after electrical dis- 0.8 (850 W)

integration is 23.29%, the corresponding mass retained post micro- 0.6 Water-cooled
(600 W)
wave treatment can be decreased to about 6% with increase in 0.4
grinding time. This comparison shows that microwave treatment 0.2 (850 W)
of ore produces finer product that electrical disintegration of same
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140
Exposure time (s)
The result of the floatability study conducted by Ref. [18]
showed that there is no marked increase in the grade of copper Fig. 15. Variation of compressive strength due to thermal shock.
A. Somani et al. / International Journal of Mining Science and Technology 27 (2017) 339–348 347

The common central point of these methods was to examine the Acknowledgments
efficiency of method in comparison to conventional i.e. mechanical
comminution method to liberate and separate minerals. The inves- Authors acknowledge the support provided by Indian Institute
tigation encompassed aspects from reduction in mechanical of Technology, Kharagpur.
strength to recovery of metal in concentration processes. There is
a lack of investigation proving effectiveness of these methods with
regards to energy consumption. There needs a further probe to
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