Dry industrial technology for processing and beneficiation of iron ore is the solution developed by the Brazilian company New Steel. The adoption of a mineral processing route fully dry is opposed to the traditional method which uses an average of one thousand liters of water for each ton of iron ore produced. Innovation has enabled iron segregation in a sustainable manner and at competitive costs. Through this technology, there is no need to build dams to contain tailings, eliminating socio-environmental and economic risks. As a whole, R$ 200 million was invested in the initiative that preserves the main mineral resource of the planet: water.
Data from the National Mining Agency indicate that Brazilian iron ore production in 2016 was 430 million tons, which corresponds to an expenditure of 430 billion liters of water in mineral processing. Such consumption is sufficient to meet the water demand over a year in a city of 7.8 million inhabitants such as Rio de Janeiro, for example. Until New Steel, a genuinely Brazilian company, develops an unprecedented dry industrial technology.
Innovation allows the segregation of iron in a 100% sustainable way and at competitive costs. Through such technology, there is no need to build dams to contain tailings, eliminating all historically associated risks. The waste generated constitutes a non-magnetic product, basically made up of silica (sand) that can be used as raw material for other production chains.
For ongoing scientific and technological development of the beneficiation process of dry iron ore, the Company established Centro Tecnológico de Soluções Sustentáveis (CTSS)/Technology Center for Sustainable Solutions, a hotbed of innovation with a modern laboratory and industrial park for the assembly of magnetic separators.
CTSS was acquired through Companhia de Desenvolvimento Industrial do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (CODIN)/Industrial Development Company of the State of Rio de Janeiro in an area of approximately 25 thousand square meters, located in the industrial pole of Xerém, in the Rio de Janeiro municipality of Duque de Caxias.
In a time of water crisis and falling prices of iron ore, the present technology aims to provide a process of recovery of fines and superfines of iron ore, materials rejected by conventional mining companies, through an efficient system of processing and beneficiation of iron oxide ore, without the use of water, in a magnetic separation unit, providing high mass and metallurgical recoveries, obtaining a commercially superior product, being able to reach levels of up to 68% of iron. They are millions of liters of water preserved.
Development and implementation
Known as Fines Dry Magnetic Separation (FMDS), this technology developed by New Steel refers to an iron ore beneficiation system that allows the magnetic concentration of fine to superfine particles (below 100#), with low content of iron and of no commercial value, considered as discarded ores (found in sterile piles and tailings dams) by existing conventional mineral exploration methods, transforming them into economically viable products with high iron content and low contaminant content in a totally dry route. The traditional beneficiation of the world’s largest mining companies involves the processing of ore with high iron content (around 52%) so that the whole material below this level is considered rejected material, which has been increasingly restricting the mining process due to the scarcity of materials with high content.
In order to increase the content of iron in particles, the method commonly employed by the mineral sector is flotation, which requires excessive water insertion in the process. However, the uniqueness of the solution conceived by New Steel is disclosed by the adoption of a mineral processing route fully dry-developed, which therefore requires the introduction of a drying and disintegrating unit before feeding finer fractions of the magnetic separator.
The route can be summarized as follows: moisture of the ore is reduced by means of a dryer, which uses natural gas or biomass burning as the main energy input in order to avoid the contamination and emission of atmospheric pollutants, the ore is then classified by different stages of cycloning, and finally separated magnetically, generating a magnetic product (iron ore concentrate) and a non-magnetic product (basically made up of silica).
The technology developed by New Steel makes it possible to obtain a commercially superior product, more precisely a concentrate of iron oxide ore with a content above 63%, which can reach levels of up to 68% of iron.
This way, such technology has several advantages such as:
- It allows for greater disaggregation, enabling greater recovery in metallic mass of iron.
- It allows the recovery of iron ore fines in fractions smaller than 100 mesh, without losses due to the phenomenon of water stripping, as in the cases of wet beneficiation.
- The use of natural gas or biomass in the drying process promotes environmental conservation by producing clean combustion without generating waste.
- The equipment is enclosed, minimizing the emission of atmospheric effluents.
- Preservation of springs and aquifers.
- It does not require tailings dams, eliminating the risks of accidents.
- The physical space required for the implementation of industrial plants is 90% inferior to the traditional wet methods.
- Logistic optimization with local/on-site treatment.
- Modularity and flexibility of the system.
- Low energy consumption.
- Increased lifespans of mines due to the recovery of iron oxide ore with much lower contents.
- The higher efficiency in the separation of iron generates a cleaner waste, with high content of silica (sand) highly useable in other production chains, mainly civil construction and cement industry.
Cost and recognition
Considering the high degree of efficiency and sustainability, the pioneering technique was classified as a Green Patent by the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI), obtaining the respective Patent Letter in record time in Brazil. In addition to holding patents in more than 55 countries such as USA and Australia. Internationally, New Steel was selected winner of the Platts Global Metal Awards, known as the Oscar of Mining, in the innovation category in 2015.
For the development of the innovative technique, R$ 200 million was invested directly. The Company continues to improve the technology and has announced an investment of R$ 20 million to expand the Technology Center, increasing the production capacity of equipment and other projects aimed at sustainability in the mining industry.
In times of increasing and simultaneous economic, environmental and strategic demands in the mining industry, New Steel technology corresponds to a definitive answer to the challenge of generating economic results in an environmentally sustainable way. The recovery of low-grade iron ores, which are currently rejected by existing operations as environmental liabilities, are transformed into marketable products in a technically and economically viable way.
Due to the high silica content and low pollutant content, the waste generated in dry processing can be used as a raw material in other production chains such as civil construction and cement industries.
The dry process completely eliminates the need for containment dams, and consequently the risks of environmental and social accidents, including risk of death.
In addition to these peculiar results of the process of iron ore beneficiation of New Steel, what really elevates this technology as unique in the world is undeniably the fact that it does not use water.
From Steel to New Steel
Formerly known as Steel Mineração e Exportação Ltda., the company was founded in 2007 with a focus on mineral exploration. In 2010, it established a new market repositioning, changing its area of operation and starting to provide services to large mining companies, offering sustainable solutions in the processing and beneficiation of iron ore, at which time the first dry plant was opened in the municipality of Rio Piracicaba, in the state of Minas Gerais.
The positive results have proven technological efficiency and competitiveness in terms of product quality and operating costs. The success of the process was verified by major players in mining in Brazil and abroad, by exporting high quality products in the transoceanic market in 2012. In the same year New Steel Soluções Sustentáveis was born, a company with technology and innovation bias for mining and steel industries, saving water resources.
In the wake of the innovation, the Company set up CTSS in 2015, a wholly owned subsidiary, to foster the scientific and technological development of products and services in the areas of mining, mechanics, metallurgy and solid waste. Currently, the main business model of New Steel is the setting up and operation of industrial ore processing plants, in its areas or third parties, through the use of its own resources, sharing the results obtained.
New Steel currently has 61 employees, of which 29 are directly involved in the improvement, development and research, assembly of exclusive equipment to the technology. The company plans to invest US$ 700 million in two and a half years in Brazil and North America.