By Cameron Chai
The use of nanotechnology has provided researchers with a novel technique to separate precious metals such as silver and gold as well as copper and other priceless metals present in ore and rocks.
Researchers have reported that by using nanoparticles which attach firmly to the metals, the valuable minerals can be easily extracted. The report has been published in the American Chemical Society’s journal, the Langmuir.
Robert Pelton and his team of researchers have illustrated that by using the froth floatation process popularly used by companies to process minerals worth more than 450 million tons every year, can be used to separate the minerals. Ores and rocks containing the minerals are crushed into minute particles and then subjecting the particles to froth floatation separates the commercially valuable particles from the waste. The collector substances, in this case the nanoparticles, attached themselves to the valuable mineral and rise to the surface of the bubbling water from where they are easily separated.
This novel nanoparticle-based collector technology was demonstrated in laboratory experiments, where the researchers used glass beads to simulate the mineral particles. The nanoparticles latched on to the beads firmly and the rate of recovery was estimated at almost 100%. Funding for the technology was received from Canada-based VALE Base Metals and the Centre for Materials and Manufacturing.