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Damaged and discarded firebrick transformed into high-grade ore.

Damaged and discarded firebrick transformed into high-grade ore

Right under the shadow of the superstack Inco Ltd. is digging some of the highest grade ore it has ever discovered.

However, it is not exactly ore, but another era's junk.

The material being mined is fused, worn and damaged smelter furnace firebrick which had been tossed away over the past 60 years. It is permeated by high concentrations of copper and nickel.

The brick is crushed into small stones of less than three-quarters of an inch and transported to the Copper Cliff mill. It is ground to a powder and then fed into a flotation circuit to recover the copper and nickel.

"It's a very viable project, no doubt about it," said project manager George Whitman.

The circuit was switched on at the Copper Cliff mill in 1989 and, after some adjustments, it ran smoothly.

Whitman explained that the brick is not like building brick. It does not burn in the heat of the smelter.

That characteristic makes it very difficult to extract the copper and nickel out of the used firebrick. It was not until recently that Inco developed a process, after working on the problem for a decade.

The method was partly developed by the company's Mineral Dressing Test Centre.

The firebrick had been replaced in an on-going procedure since smelting began in the 1930s. Over the past six or seven years it had been dumped in the upper pond area behind the smelter.

Whitman said the firebrick is basically being recovered from a garbage dump.

Whitman noted that the brick averages six per cent nickel and six per cent copper. That compares to the average ore grade in the Sudbury area mines of 1.5 to two per cent copper and 1.5 to two per cent nickel.

In 1989 more than three million pounds of copper and nickel, as well as precious metals, were recovered from 21,000 tons of refuse.

This year 46,000 tons have already been processed and an estimated 30,000 tons are still to be excavated.

Whitman estimated that the area would be excavated by this month and all the material would be processed by sometime in 1991.

Total production for 1990 will be in the area of 3.4 million pounds of copper and 3.2 million pounds of nickel.

He said one of the big advantages of the project is that it cleans up the dump site, allowing it to be landscaped in a more ecologically sound manner.

Whitman said other dump sites are being sought.

The site currently being worked was discovered after a veteran Inco employee recalled that brick had been dumped there in past years.

Inco's exploration and technical services division has been approached about discovering new sites.
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Title Annotation:Mining Report; Inco Ltd.
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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