Mining facts

Mining and Mineral Processing at the Mount Polley mine

In the Mount Polley Mine, run-of-mine ore from the open pits and underground is hauled to the crusher.  The crusher has three stages of crushing involving five crushers, twenty conveyors and four sets of screens.  Ore is dumped by the surface mining fleet into the feed pocket of the primary gyratory crusher, and is then crushed in three stages to produce a product at finer than 16 mm for the grinding circuit. Periodically, the crusher also used for the production of aggregates used in tailings construction and other tasks.

The grinding circuit consists of two parallel rod mill/ball mill circuits and a pebble mill circuit. Crusher product is first split between two rod mills where water is added to form slurries.  The rod mill discharge is pumped to the primary hydrocyclones that classify the particles by size.  The larger particles flow to feed the ball mills while the fine particles report to two flash flotation cells. The ball mills are in “closed circuit”, meaning that the discharge is pumped to the classifying units (primary hydrocyclones) and the particles will not pass to the next grinding stage until they are fine enough to feed through the flash flotation cells.  The underflow from the flash flotation cells is pumped to the secondary hydrocyclones, the flash flotation product can report directly to the concentrate circuit or to regrind for further upgrading.

The coarse particles classified by the secondary hydrocyclones reports to three pebble mills for further size reduction. The pebble mills are in “closed circuit” with the secondary hydrocyclones and product that is sized at 65% finer than 200-mesh is fed to the flotation circuit. Pebbles obtained from the triple deck screen in the crusher are used as grinding media in the pebble mills.

The flotation circuit separates the valuable minerals from the rest of the crushed rocks. With the addition of reagents, the valuable minerals, mostly in the form of sulphide minerals chalcopyrite and bornite, are separated by flotation and are collected and upgraded to produce a concentrate. Initial separation is completed in a rougher/scavenger circuit, where the remaining minerals are discarded as tailings (which flow by gravity to the Tailings Storage Facility).  Rougher concentrate is reground in a regrind mill and further upgraded in a cleaner circuit to produce the final concentrate product. Cleaner tailings are recycled to the scavenger circuit.

The concentrate from the flotation circuit is dewatered in two stages: the thickener settles particles and decants water so that the settled particles form a sludge by sedimentation and have a reduced water content of roughly 25%-30%; pressure filtration further reduces water content to approximately 8%. The water removed is utilized as process water. The filtered concentrate is stored in the load-out building and loaded onto 40-tonne trucks for shipping. Tailings materials generated by mill operations are piped via gravity to the TSF.

Mining facts

Tailings – What are they and what is in the Mount Polley tailings?

First, what are tailings?

Tailings are essentially crushed rock, and are the leftover material after the minerals containing the “elements of interest” have been removed. At Mount Polley the elements of interest are copper, gold and silver. The minerals containing the copper, gold and silver are released by crushing and grinding the mined rock down to sand and silt sized particles.

At Mount Polley, a process known as flotation is then used to separate the important copper-bearing minerals from the rest of the crushed ground rock. The remaining crushed rock is considered waste (gangue) and is what makes up the tailings. No cyanide is used at Mount Polley.

Read more about Tailings on the Mining Association of BC’s website here.

What is the in the Mount Polley tailings?
At Mount Polley, the valuable elements are copper, gold and silver and they are found most commonly in the sulphide minerals, chalcopyrite and bornite. The leftover minerals found in the waste are piped as a slurry with water to the tailings storage facility. [ref: Community Updates 2017 Issue 3; 2016 Apr Issue 2]

The rocks that are mined at Mount Polley are around 200 million years old and represent ancient volcanic rocks and magma that intruded into these rocks. The intrusive rocks host the copper, gold and silver mineralization.

Let’s talk rocks!
The rocks which host most of the ore are made up primarily of the minerals orthoclase (potassium feldspar), albite (sodium plagioclase), magnetite (iron oxide), Ca-plagioclase (calcium plagioclase), diopside (pyroxene), garnet, biotite (mica), epidote and calcite (calcium carbonate). These minerals are all common rock-forming minerals, and represent 90% of what ends up in the Mount Polley tailings pond.

Of the other 10 percent, most are also common minerals, with a minor amount of sulphide minerals, including a little bit of chalcopyrite (0.17%) that didn’t get captured in the mill and a small amount of pyrite (0.04%).

What is unusual about Mount Polley is that, when compared to many other copper deposits (and the reason why these tailings are considered by geochemists to be chemically quite benign) there is very little pyrite (iron sulphide) and a fair amount of calcite (calcium carbonate) in the tailings.

Due to this, Mount Polley’s tailings do not generate “acid rock drainage”. This is the process that happens when sulphide minerals, especially pyrite, are exposed to the atmosphere and react to form sulphuric acid, which then can leach metals out of tailings and lead to metal mobility and potential contamination.

Mount Polley’s tailings do not have this “acid rock drainage” problem, as there is very little pyrite, and calcite acts as a neutralizing agent if any of the minor amounts of sulphide in the tailings breaks down. The vast majority of the rest of the minerals in Mount Polley’s tailings does not react easily with air or water, and are very similar to natural sand.