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New sensor sorting technology for coal sector

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article image X-Ray Sorting System Transmission

Materials and minerals processing technology supplier IMS Engineering is looking to launch the dual-energy X-Ray sorting system transmission (XSST) sensor-sorting technology to the local coal industry.

The company acquired the technology from German separation technology expert Steinert Elektromagnetbau a year ago, after a joint venture deal between them two years ago.

The technology can have a variety of uses but IMS Engineering is examining its best, most efficient use before industrialising it locally.

IMS Engineering business development manager Shannon McEwan emphasised the technology cannot replace traditional technologies but can be used together for further support in the mining process and decrease costs.

The company built a test plant at its Kempton Park site in Ekurhuleni to find out its best use. Tests included destoning of coal by dividing the minerals from shale and stone. It also identifies the pyrite or sulphur content of the coal.

“We send the product and waste through the sensor to check it can detect the difference. If it can, we know that more extensive testing, which may entail the installation of a machine on site, can be undertaken,” Bracher said.

The sensor-sorting technology separates at the extraction stage and does not measure a particle’s density. The XSST scans the particle and looks at the approximation of the atomic weight of the particle instead of scanning the density.

“In mining processes, the mineral is often small in mass and volume, compared with the ore body that contains it; and the fundamental element of mining processes is that you want to separate the product from the waste material. Traditionally technology involves some sort of gravity or density separation,” Bracher said.

The sensor technology does not use water in its operations, which lowers the chance of producing acid water. It also identifies the location of the mineral in the ore and removes waste, which means the amount of material to be crushed and hoisted will be reduced.

This uses up less energy.

This also means only the ore with the mineral needs to be transported, which saves transportation costs.

Material is fed into the machine on a conveyor belt, where it moves across the sensors, which detects the place and size of the material to be segregated.

A computer examines the material and the sensor signals the valves, which are placed on compressed-air platforms that open to eject and segregate the waste from the products.

“Every single particle in the material flow is recognised and classified. The long fast-running belt ensures that the particles are singulated and homogeneously distributed.

“As it passes the X-ray source and camera, it is recognised and classified in a fraction of a second according to preset criteria programmed in the flexible system software,” McEwan explains.

Bracher says the mineral in the ore does not need to be seen by the naked eye as the machine will identify it. He added the technology could give access to reserves that were previously inaccessible.

“Coal is an application in which the technology works well. The sensor-sorter can detect ash and bedrock and this will allow miners to upgrade their coal quality and they can meet or beat the grade that is expected. State-owned power utility Eskom can also gain quality coal that is much more consistent,” he said.

Bracher said small, newly incubated coal mines will benefit the most from this technology.

McEwan said junior coal miners and small coal operators can quickly start up and can bring their coal up to the specifications of Eskom.

IMS Engineering is asking the mining sector to look into the technology and examine process problems.

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