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The object of calcining or roasting certain ores before treatment is to dissipate the sulphur or sulphides of arsenic, antimony, lead, etc., which are inimical to treatment, whether by ordinary mercuric amalgamation or lixiviation. The effect of the roasting is first to sublimate and drive off as fumes the sulphur and a proportion of the objectionable metals. What is left is either iron oxide, "gossan," or the oxides of the other metals. Even lead can thus be oxidised, but requires more care as it melts nearly as readily as antimony and is much less volatile. The oxides in the thoroughly roasted ore will not amalgamate with mercury, and are not acted on by chlorine or cyanogen.
To effect the oxidation of sulphur, it is necessary not only to bring every particle of sulphur into contact with the oxygen of the air, but also to provide adequate heat to the particles sufficient to raise them to the temperature that will induce oxidation. No appreciable effect follows the mere contact of air with sulphur particles at atmospheric temperature; but if the particles be raised to a temperature of 500 degrees Fahr., the sulphur is oxidised to the gaseous sulphur dioxide. The same action effects the elimination of the arsenic and antimony associated with gold and silver ores, as when heated to a certain constant temperature these metals readily oxidise.
The science of calcination consists of the method by which the sulphide ores, having been crushed to a proper degree of fineness, are raised to a sufficient temperature and brought into intimate contact with atmospheric air.
It will be obvious then that the most effective method of roasting will be one that enables the particles to be thoroughly oxidised at the lowest cost in fuel and in the most rapid manner.
The roasting processes in practical use may be divided into three categories:
/First or A Process./--Roasting on a horizontal and stationary hearth, the flame passing over a mass of ore resting on such hearth. In order to expose the upper surface of the ore to contact with air the material is turned over by manual labour. This furnace of the reverberatory type is provided with side openings by which the turning over of the ore can be manually effected, and the new ore can be charged and afterwards withdrawn.
/Second or B Process./--Roasting in a revolving hearth placed at a slight incline angle from the horizontal. The furnace is of cylindrical form and is internally lined with refractory material. It has projections that cause the powdered ore to be lifted above the flame, and, at a certain height, to fall through the flame and so be rapidly raised to the temperature required to effect the oxidation of the oxidisable minerals which it is desired to extract.
The rate, or speed, of revolution of this revolving furnace obviously depends upon the character of the ore under treatment; it may vary from two revolutions per minute down to one revolution in thirty minutes. Any kind of fuel is available, but that of a gaseous character is stated to be by far the most efficient.
Any ordinary cylinder of a length of 25 ft., and a diameter of 4 ft. 6 in., inclined 1 ft. 6 in. in its length, will calcine from 24 to 48 tons per diem.
Another form of rotating furnace is one in which the axis is horizontal. It is much shorter than the inclined type, and the feeding and removal of the ore is effected by the opening of a retort lid door provided at the side of the furnace. Openings provided at each end of the furnace permit the passage of the flame through it, and the revolution of the furnace turns over the powdered ore and brings it into more or less sustained contact with the oxidising flame. The exposure of the ore to this action is continued sufficiently long to ensure the more or less complete oxidation of the ore particles.
/Third or C Process./--In this process the powdered ore is allowed to fall in a shower from a considerable height, through the centre of a vertical shaft up which a flame ascends; the powdered ore in falling through the flame is heated to an oxidising temperature, and the sulphides are thus depleted of their sulphur and become oxides.
Another modification of this direct fall or shaft furnace is that in which the fall of the ore is checked by cross-bars or inclined plates placed across the shaft; this causes a longer oxidising exposure of the ore particles.
When the sulphur contents of pyritous ores are sufficiently high, and after the ore has been initially fired with auxiliary carbonaceous fuel, it is unnecessary, in a properly designed roasting furnace, to add fuel to the ore to enable the heat for oxidation to be obtained. The oxidation or burning of the sulphur will provide all the heat necessary to maintain the continuity of the process. The temperature necessary for effecting the elimination of both sulphur and arsenic is not higher than that equivalent to dull red heat; and provided that there is a sufficient mass of ore maintained in the furnace, the potential heat resulting from the oxidation of the sulphur will alone be adequate to provide all that is necessary to effect the calcination.
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