Metallurgy is the discipline where ores are processed to valuable and usable products and metals. Extractive metallurgy is the combination of processes (hydrometallurgy, base processes, and sometimes pyrometallurgy, and eventually physical or materials processing) to remove valuable elements from ores, and process them into valuable salts or metals.
Part of extractive metallurgy is minerals processing where the valuable minerals are concentrated for onward processing in wet (hydrometallurgy) or hot (pyrometallurgy) primary processing.
A variety of processes exist, and these take advantage of the physical and chemical properties of the minerals. One or a combination of processes will be selected to separate the valuable minerals, with the rest of the ore being deposited on waste dumps or tailings dams, depending on the size to which the ore has been milled. Metalliferous minerals require further treatment such as smelting to reduce them to the required metal.
Pyrometallurgists and Chemical Engineers practice the oldest branch of extractive metallurgy. It dates back many thousands of years and involves the use of high temperatures to extract metals or slags as products. Pyrometallurgy is employed to a significant extent in the extraction or refining of copper, lead, zinc, tin, antimony, titanium, gold, cobalt, silver, mercury, bismuth, and several other metals.
A Physical Metallurgist upgrades metal products to optimise strength, hardness, corrosion resistance, weldability and other factors that are important for metals or alloys in manufacture. These properties include mechanical strength and toughness, ability to resist abrasive wear and chemical attack, electrical conductivity, and ease of fabrication into useful components and structures.
Departmental Web sites where this discipline is offered.
The Metallurgical Engineer is therefore one of the key contributors to the welfare of the mining industry.
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