Development of the Heavy Minerals Potential of the Athabasca Tar Sands

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 791, 1978

Lloyd W. Trevoy, Section Head, Analytical Development, Research Department, Rob Schutte, Director, Research Department, and Ronald R. Goforth, Director, Environmental Affairs Department, Syncrude Canada Limited, Edmonton, Alberta

Titanium and zirconium heavy minerals occur in the tailings streams from processing plants which use the hot-water extraction process for recovery of bitumen from tar sand. In a research program conducted by Syncrude Canada Limited, the crude tailings stream was upgraded to produce quality zircon and titanium mineral products. To process the tailings through conventional upgrading equipment, bitumen residues must first be removed from the mineral grains. Then, by gravity separation, fines and coarse sand grains were removed and a 71% heavy minerals concentrate was prepared which was further separated by high-tension equipment into zircon and titanium minerals concentrates. The zircon concentrate was upgraded by gravity, magnetic and high-tension cleaning to produce a high-quality 98% zircon product. The titanium minerals concentrate was separated into rutile, leucoxene and ilmenite fractions. Heavy minerals distribution in tar sand drilling core samples has been evaluated for various locations on Syncrude Lease 17, and expected annual production levels of heavy minerals have been estimated. A preliminary evaluation has been made of the potential for zircon, leucoxene and rutile production and for further upgrading of ilmenite and leucoxene to synthetic rutile for titanium dioxide pigment production.
Keywords: Industrial minerals, Tar sands. Athabasca tar sands. Oil sands, Environmental control, Tailings disposal, Titanium, Zirconium, Heavy minerals, Syncrude Canada Ltd.