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Oct 3, 2018

Stable growth in steel pellets quality at Ferrexpo

Long-term cooperation is always about the final result. Starting from the first joint projects on crushing and separation equipment in 1985, Ferrexpo and Metso Outotec have built a 20+ year history of improving the quality of steel pellets. The next common project was completed in 2014 - increasing the iron content in processing of low-grade ore. Construction of flotation line for magnetite concentrate including Vertimills made it possible to raise the iron content in pellets from 62% to 65%. Read our article how this technology was implemented.
Poltava iron ore mine view.

A new approach to crushing and separation

In 1960, the exploration of the Kremenchug Magnetic Anomaly started on the left bank of the Dnieper River, Ukraine. At that time, the foundations of the Poltavskiy processing plant were laid, which is today operated by Ferrexpo, and in 1970 the plant produced its first batch of concentrate.

There were several phases of plant construction: in 1980, after launching the pelletizing plant the company presented a new type of product to the market - iron ore pellets. To stimulate the demand for this product, the company needed to improve the product's quality, i.e. increase the iron content in the concentrate. 

Keeping this in mind, the company’s managers decided to upgrade the ore pretreatment operations: reduce the crushed material size to cut the costs of the further grinding process. Due to space constraints at the crushing plant, the company required new equipment with the exact dimensions of the current foundation structures. At that time, Svedala* engineers suggested testing the Barmac vertical shaft impact crusher.

“The conventional crusher-based closed cycle of check screening was not an option for us, so we were offered inertial crushers for coarse lumps. And this proved to be a good technical solution,” says Vladimir Khovanets,  Beneficiation Engineer at Ferrexpo.

“Metso and now Metso Outotec always does lots of research and testing to offer us an integrated solution, i.e. technology that gives us exactly what we want,” says Alexander Lysenko, Ferrexpo's Chief Technical Officer.

After the pilot testing, the medium and small fraction crusher lines were upgraded with Barmac crushers.  That project was a success, so both companies decided to expand further joint activities: two double-drum separators were installed instead of eight locally manufactured triple-drum separators with no loss in productivity.

Introduction of flotation technology for processing the low-grade ore

These earlier projects to upgrade the crushing and magnetic separation processes laid the foundation for further improvement in the concentrate quality.

“It's common knowledge that our ore is quite lean, and the market was in demand of high-quality iron ore pellets containing 62-65% iron,” says Alexander Lysenko.

Two methods are used for the concentration of lean ores: magnetic and flotation upgrades. During the engineering study of these methods, Metso installed a pilot plant with laboratory mills, flotation cells, magnetic separators, and hydrocyclones.

“The pilot results proved that 67-68%+ iron content in the pellets manufactured from  Ferrexpo’s ores was quite possible after the flotation upgrading,” says Igor Grebeniuk, Regional Sales Manager at Metso Outotec.

In 2002, the company launched Flotation Plant 1 equipped with Metso RCS130. It was the first project in the former Soviet Union to use flotation upgrading in the ferrous industry. Keeping this in mind, the engineers at Ferrexpo ran a detailed preliminary analysis of the new technology, studying the cases of Metso equipment supplied to the concentration plants in the USA and Canada.

“Metso explained all the benefits and the hidden risks. And we saw that the technology works. It's friendly to the environment and commercially successful,” says Alexander Lysenko.

Flotation equipment at Poltava mine.

10 points reduction in grain size after mill replacements

Commissioning of the new flotation plant entailed the modification of the crushing lines since super-fine grain is required for efficient magnetic upgrading of concentrate.

“While working with Flotation Plant 1, we gained the insight that Flotation Plants 2 and 3 need to be constructed for the strategic development of the company. And conventional drum mills were not so good for that process,” recalls Vladimir Khovanets.

“Thanks to flotation, we were able to increase the yield of iron from quite lean ores, but we couldn’t get enough homogeneous product using the conventional crushing line,” says Alexander Lysenko.

Metso engineers suggested Vertimill for high-quality and fine milling of the product. In coordination with Ferrexpo engineers, a concentration line with vertical mills for all flotation cells was developed.

“After magnetic concentration, we get about 85-89% sizing less than 44 microns. Vertimill machines help to bring up the fineness of grinding, i.e. up to 90% of ground materials are below 33 microns,” says Vladimir Khovanets.

“Vertimill machines offer a new design. A conventional drum mill operates in the horizontal position, while Vertimill is installed vertically. The space needed for this equipment is much smaller, and it enables us to achieve the required crushing grade,” says Vladimir Khovanets.

Before commissioning the plant, we produced pellets with 62% iron content. As a result of the upgrades, we are able to produce concentrate with over 68% iron content, and this brings the product's quality to a new level. Now we produce pellets with almost 66% iron content.
Alexander Lysenko, Chief Technical Officer, Ferrexpo

~4 percentage point increase in iron content of pellets

Two additional flotation banks were commissioned in 2014. These additional banks gave a step-change in the concentration technology. Today ore from different fields is processed separately at Flotation Plants 1 and 2, while Flotation Plant 3 is used for iron recovery from froth.

“Before commissioning the plant, we produced pellets with 62% iron content. As a result of the upgrades, we now have over 68% concentrate, and this brings the product's quality to a new level. Now we produce pellets with almost 66% iron content,” says the CTO of Ferrexpo.

The introduction of the new iron ore concentration technologies entails the upgrading of the next downstream process, namely filtration. After the equipment upgrade, it will be possible to reach the maximum dehumidification of concentrate to gain additional quality.

“Today with the growing demand for high-quality Ferrexpo pellets, management have started a campaign to massively increase production capacity to 80+ million tonnes per year of crude ore processing. The program will mean the extensive reconstruction of existing Beneficiation facilities by adding energy-efficient grinding with Vertimills as well as requiring refurbishment and capacity upgrades to the existing pelletization facilities” says Igor Grebeniuk about the current projects.

The modern iron ore market requires a high-grade product rich in iron and with minimum impurities. Through its process upgrades, Ferrexpo has been able to consistently improve its pellet quality, which has also meant continued investment in the infrastructure of its hometown.

 

*Metso Outotec was formed July 1, 2020 when Metso and Outotec merged into one company. This case study has been written prior to the merger under the old company name.

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