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Posts Tagged ‘mining’

Loading chute at Dividend Utah

Ruins at Dividend, Utah

The last few weeks I’ve had to neglect the Elements Unearthed project in order to finish a client video that had a tight deadline. It was uploaded to YouTube Thursday night, so I now have a little bit of a breather before the next project and am back at work on Part 2 of the beryllium video. Winter has finally decided to let go (after one last gasp – we had a snowstorm here just two weeks ago), and already the early summer heat is drying out the cheat grass and turning it a brownish-purple color on the lower south-facing slopes. I decided now was the time to do some exploring and photography while the grass is still green in the mountains.

Belt wheels and Mt. Nebo

Belt Wheels and Mt. Nebo

Over the last two years I’ve visited the Tintic Mining District several times with students and my own children and have collected a considerable amount of photos and video clips, including a tour of the Tintic Mining Museum and an interview with June McNulty, who runs the museum with his wife. But there were several places in the district that I hadn’t visited, including Mammoth and Silver City. So yesterday (Friday, June 4) I packed up the cameras and headed for the hills.

Glory hole at Dividend

Glory hole at Dividend, Utah

Change room stove at Dividend

Change room and stove at Dividend, Utah

I stopped first in the hills above Burgin, the site of the town of Dividend, so called because the mine paid out fairly decent dividends to the miners compared with other mines in the district. I decided to climb up the hill further than before, toward the two large rusty tanks that can be seen from the road. I was surprised to find much more there than I had known about before, including the ruins of miner’s houses (some semi-wild purple irises and lilacs were still alive and blooming). A processing plant once existed here, and the ground is covered with yellowish-stained rocks and pieces of slag and everything smells of sulfides. One ruin 2/3 up the hill still has an old rusted stove for keeping the miners warm in what was probably the change room – the mine portal itself is just above the room, and there are even a few remains of timecards used to clock in and out of the mine. The few I looked at were dated from 1971, which was about the time that the mine at Dividend finally closed down. Mining continued, periodically, further down the slope at Burgin. Almost forty years of weather has taken its toll; all the roofs and any other wooden structures have long since rotted away, leaving old, dry fragments of boards with rusted nails sticking out littering the ground. Most of the equipment is gone, taken by looters and souvenir hunters, but enough of the foundations and structures remain that one can imagine what Dividend looked like in its heyday.

Wild irises at Dividend

Wild irises at Dividend, Utah

The road past Dividend is off the main path of Highway 6. It’s a good road, well maintained and asphalted but not much visited. I only saw two other cars and a motorcycle during the four hours I spent exploring along the road. The East Tintic Mountains between Dividend and Eureka are dotted with old mining ruins and tailings piles, with dirt roads leading off frequently up every side canyon and ridgeline. Most of the area is posted No Trespassing, so I limited myself to taking photos from the main road. It is still late spring up there; the maple trees in the canyons have only just gotten their leaves, and wildflowers including mountain lupine and Indian paintbrush cover the hillsides.

Indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush near Eureka, Utah

Blue Lupine

Blue Lupine near Eureka, Utah

I traveled through Eureka and saw the continuing cleanup efforts there (more on this in my next post) and drove on to the town of Mammoth. Located in a side box canyon just to the south of Eureka, this was one of the richest areas of the Tintic Mining District. The mines are located ringing the valley – many long since abandoned but several showing recent work. With prices for gold and silver high right now, much exploration is underway to re-work the old claims and tailings piles and to do new exploratory drilling. Again, most of the area is posted and is private property; I limited myself to the main streets of Mammoth to photograph the old buildings and mine dumps.

Mine at Mammoth Utah

Mine at Mammoth, Utah

At one time, when the processing plant was in full operation in the early 1900s, Mammoth boasted a population of about 2000. The people lived in the upper eastern portion of the canyon (Upper Mammoth) while the mill was at the mouth of the canyon lower down the slope (called Robinson after the mill’s foreman and later Lower Mammoth). Once the town was incorporated, public works such as churches and even a hospital (rare for a mining town) were built in the middle, or Midtown. In the early 1930s, my father used to visit his first cousin Ralph Larsen, whose family lived in Mammoth. During the winter the road leading up to town would be covered in packed snow, and the two of them would ride their sleds from Upper Mammoth all the way down to Highway 6, almost two miles, without ever stopping. Then they’d have to wait for someone to give them a lift back to the top.

Miner's shack in Mammoth Utah

Miner's Shack in Mammoth, Utah

Even though the mines had all closed by the 1950s, Mammoth somehow escaped the fate of most boom-and-bust mining towns; it never completely died. A few people hung on. Over the last ten years, since I last drove up here, it even appears to have grown in population. More houses have been fixed up and are occupied than before, and it is becoming an artistic community of sorts. Renewed interest in mining has also given the town a boost.

Lizard

Lizard in the ruins at Dividend, Utah

After Mammoth, I visited the old Jesse Knight smelter at Silver City and drove up the canyon there, but I’ll leave that for next time.

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Topaz-Spor Mountain area

Topaz-Spor Mt. area

I am continuing this series of posts on the sources, mining, and refining of beryllium ore. I am in the middle of editing the interview my students did in Dec., 2007 of Phil Sabey at the Brush Resources’ Delta Concentration Mill and will have the final videos done by next week. Today I’ve been creating a series of Flash animations showing the geologic history of the Spor Mountain area where the bertrandite deposits are located. Today’s post will be on the refining process used at the Delta Mill to concentrate the bertrandite and beryl ore into beryllium hydroxide.

Bertrandite and Fluorspar

Fluorspar with Bertrandite

Refining Beryllium Ore

With only 0.65 % beryllium oxide (or 4.5 lbs. per ton of beryllium) in the final ore, a process had to be engineered to economically concentrate the beryllium for final processing. The properties that make beryllium useful also make it difficult to extract from its ores. Robert Maddox, Howard Gimperline, Jack Valliquet, Richard Shank, and other chemical engineers at Brush Wellman’s plant in Elmore, Ohio in the early 1960’s devised a unique solvent extraction process. With refinements, the process was seen to be economical and the go-ahead was given to build a concentration plant as close to the mine and to railroad transportation and a good water source as possible. In Dec., 1967 a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the mine and in April, 1968 a ceremony was also held at the mill site north of Delta, Utah. By the end of 1969, the plant was producing its first beryllium hydroxide concentrate.

Process for refining bertrandite

Process for Refining Bertrandite Ore

The solvent extraction process removes the beryllium by first crushing and wet grinding the ore in a ball mill, then leaching it with sulfuric acid and steam in rotating tanks at 95 ° C to dissolve the beryllium. Thickening agents are added which help to settle the sludge in a series of flotation tanks while leaving the beryllium sulfate in solution. The sludge is stirred by counter current decantation and pumped from tank to tank as the dissolved beryllium sulfate is washed over the side to continue the process. The remaining sludge is finally discarded to a tailings pile.

Sulfation Tanks

Sulfuric Acid and Steam are added to the bertrandite to dissolve the beryllium

The beryllium is then separated from the sulfate using an organic compound, then stripped from the organic by ammonium carbonate. Impurities of iron and aluminum are removed through steam hydrolysis, which leaves the beryllium in the form of beryllium hydroxide, which is vacuum drum filtered. Since beryllium dust is toxic, this entire process must be done in a sealed system, including the final packaging of the beryllium hydroxide into blue drums for shipment.

Panorama of the Brush Resources plant

Panorama of the Brush Resources Beryllium Plant

There are a lot of impurities in the bertrandite ore; some that gave problems early on were the high sodium content, the high uranium content, and the zirconium. The leftover filtrate still has appreciable quantities of uranium, so it is pumped to evaporation ponds, then shipped elsewhere for final uranium processing.

Beryl crystals

Beryl Crystals Ready for Refining

Once it was proven that this process could compete economically with the beryl extraction process already being used, the go-ahead was given to build the Utah processing plant. A site was selected near the Union Pacific railroad tracks and the Sevier River north of Delta and south of Lynndyl in west central Utah. The plant was completed in 1969 and began processing ore that had already been mined and stockpiled. Brush Wellman was awarded the prestigious J. C. Vaalor Award for Chemical Engineering in 1970 for the implementation of this process. In 1978, an addition was built on the plant to allow the processing of beryl ore, making the Delta plant the only facility in the United States that processes either form of beryllium ore. When beryllium was identified by the U. S. government as a strategic metal for its critical uses in the aerospace industry, beryl ore was purchased from mines in Brazil and stockpiled. Brush Resources has now purchased this strategic stockpile and is extracting the beryllium from it.

Pouring molten frit

Pouring Molten Beryl Frit

To recover beryllium from beryl crystals, the crystals must first be destroyed, since the beryllium is tightly bound in the beryl crystal lattice. The beryl is melted at 1700 ° C in a furnace, then quenched rapidly in water to break the crystal lattice and turn the beryllium particles into a frit, with the non-beryllium materials removed as slag. The frit is heat-treated at 1000 ° C in a rotary kiln, ground up in a ball mill, and leached with steam and sulfuric acid at 325 ° C in a rotating drum to dissolve the beryllium. This solution is added to the bertrandite solution in the flotation tanks to continue the process. In 1980, additional flotation tanks were added to accommodate the beryl solution.

Heat treater kiln

All of these processes require careful control and monitoring to improve yields and ensure safety. Using a Continuous Improvement Process, the Delta plant has added computer automation controls and improved laboratory analysis. New flocculent agents and organic solvents have improved the extraction yields, and the plant now processes ore at a 99% efficiency level. Around 400 tons of bertrandite and about 10 tons of beryl ore can be processed per day at the Delta plant.

Special thanks go to Phil Sabey for the tour of the Brush Resources plant and for providing the brochures, Powerpoint presentations, and photos upon which this post is based.

Phil Sabey in Chem Lab

Phil Sabey in Analysis Lab

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The next videos that will be completed for the Elements Unearthed Project are two episodes on the sources, mining, refining, and uses of beryllium. I’ve written a few posts previously about this topic, and as I continue to organize and prepare materials to use in the videos (which will be edited over the next week), I have created several diagrams that describe the process used for surveying and developing open pit mines at the Brush Resources’ Spor Mt. mine site in western Utah. You might say, “Beryllium? Why should I care about some rare metal that I’ll never use in my lifetime?” But you’d be surprised. You are already using beryllium (for example, the electrical contacts inside the automatic windows of your car use a beryllium-copper alloy because it can handle frequent changes in heat and resists corrosion better than many other alloys). Beryllium is also an essential metal for medical, nuclear power, and aerospace applications. I’ll discuss more of beryllium’s uses and its refining and sources in a later post, but in this post let’s talk about how the bertrandite ore is mined.

Spor Mt. beryllium deposits

Location of Bertrandite in Western Utah

Mining Operations at Brush Resources

The bertrandite ore found in the Spor Mts. is very similar to clay (an aluminum silicate) and looks like common dirt except it has a slight pinkish color. It’s also associated with fluorspar or fluorite, which is often a deep blue to violet color. One is tempted to think the more colorful fluorite is the mineral we want, but it’s actually the crumbly pink coating found on the fluorite nodules. Elsewhere in the Spor Mts., the fluorite has been mined commercially.

The first attempt at mining the bertrandite ore was started by Anaconda on their claim. They tried hard rock mining, but the soft altered rhyolite of the ore body proved too dangerous to mine that way.  One day, while the miners were all having lunch, the mine caved in. Fortunately no one was hurt, but it was determined then that the only safe method was open pit mining.

Exploratory drilling

Exploratory core drilling

Potential mine sites are surveyed by drilling core samples every 100 feet to map out the general location of the ore bodies. The bertrandite deposits in the Spor Mts. are located in a mineralized zone of altered rhyolite tuff that overlies a bedrock of limestone. This soft and crumbly altered layer is overlaid by a tough, hard layer of unaltered rhyolite with about the same composition and hardness of granite. All of this is further overlaid by a layer of gravel, loose rock, and sand deposited by Lake Bonneville during the last ice age. Since the ore body is tilted, it occasionally reaches the surface (where it was originally discovered) and in other places dips so far below ground as to be unfeasible to mine. Several mine sites, such as the Blue Chalk and Roadside I sites have already been mined, but enough reserves have been mapped to last at least 50 more years at current production levels.

Planning an Open Pit Mine

Planning an Open Pit Mine

Once the location of the ore body has been generally mapped out, mining engineers plan out an open pit structure that will reach the ore with the least disturbance to the overlying layers while keeping the sides of the pit terraced to safely prevent rockslides and excessive erosion. Once the plan is approved, a contractor is hired to remove the overburden, usually in the winter and spring months. The loose alluvial gravel and soil is removed first and set aside for later reclamation. The hard rhyolite is blasted and removed, and the altered rhyolite layer is also removed to within about seven feet of the bertrandite ore.

Removing the Overburden

Removing the Overburden

A second phase of core drilling is carried out, with holes every 25 feet to more accurately map out the exact ore locations. For a typical ore body, between 40 and 60,000 cores are drilled and sampled every two feet. 3D structural maps are prepared to identify where various grades of ore are located. The ore is then removed carefully; a technician with a portable field berylometer walks before the bulldozer and stakes out the locations of the ore grades that are being removed; a self-loading scraper scoops up the ore and moves it to stockpiles where it is sorted by grade into the same pile. The ore is then transported by 18-wheeler to the processing plant near Delta, Utah, about 50 miles southeast. High-grade ore is mixed with low-grade ore so that all the bertrandite coming to the plant has about the same percentage of beryllium. The final ore has less than .65% beryllium, or about four pounds per ton.

Next Post: Refining Beryllium Ore

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   Time is rushing forward and we are almost to the end of another school year at Mountainland Applied Technology College. Students in my Multimedia classes have been working daily to complete the alpha or “Director’s Cut” versions of their group video projects.

   Altogether, four projects will be completed within the next three weeks. These include projects titled: The Art and Science of Blown Glass (that group is currently creating their B-roll titles, images, and animations); The Art and Science of Stained Glass (this group is doing rough edit); High Pressure Alchemy: The Story of Synthetic Diamond (this group is capturing and editing the narrations); and The History of the Tintic Mining District (currently being captured and transcribed).

Eureka, Utah c. 1925

Eureka, Utah c. 1925

   This last project came about rather unexpectedly; the Tintic District is centered around the town of Eureka, Utah and was one of the richest mining areas in the West in the late 1800s. By 1960, the mines had closed and the town has since fallen on hard times. It is now designated as an EPA Superfund Site, and millions have been spent to cover up old tailings piles and replace contaminated soil.

   We had a team of students last year that filmed the area, but we didn’t have a good Subject Matter Expert that could tell the story. After driving through the town in early April, I saw that many of the historic buildings downtown are literally falling down and that this story needs to be told now rather than waiting for funding (my biggest challenge, besides having a full-time teaching job, is that I have no sponsorship as yet to support this project). I had one group of students that was going to do a project on pottery, but we hadn’t located a good site to visit. So I contacted June McNulty, who runs the Tintic Mining Museum in Eureka and arranged for him to be interviewed and to show us through the museum (which is only open by appointment) in an effort to preserve the history of this area before the reclamation efforts change things forever.

June McNulty in front of Eureka City Hall

June McNulty in front of Eureka City Hall

   On April 21 we took this team of students to Eureka and interviewed June and filmed the contents of the museum. Now I am going to be working on a final synthesis of two year’s worth of footage into two or more podcast episodes – one will tell the history of the mines, the other the history of the town and what life was/is like there, and perhaps a third will talk about the recent clean-up efforts and their impact on the town.

   The four projects will be completed by students and myself to an alpha test level by May 21, when we will have students from other classes at MATC watch the episodes and make comments and suggestions. At that point we will be too close to the end of the year for the students to do much more editing, so I will probably work on them over the summer to tighten the presentation/story and polish the images and audio.

Drawing of Iron Blossom Shaft 3

Drawing of Iron Blossom Shaft 3

   It will be a challenge getting this all done over the summer, since I will be in Philadelphia for three months researching background information and collecting images and photos on the history of chemistry in general at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, where I have been selected as a 2008-09 Fellow, sponsored by the Societe de Chimie Industrielle (American Section). This effort at CHF will result in at least two episodes as well, in addition to the four episodes this year and two from last year that I will be doing final edits on. My goal is to have 8-10 episodes completed and posted to this site and to iTunes and YouTube by the end of August. So far I have completed one episode on the rationale for this project. I will post that episode before leaving for Philadelphia (May 28) so that we can at least have a presence on iTunes and YouTube over the summer. I have been waiting until May 22 when I will be teaching the students how to compress and add metadata to podcasts; I’ll demonstrate how with this episode and take it all the way through posting and uploading to iTunes.

   Later today or tomorrow I will be adding a new post on how you, as an individual interested in this topic, can conduct similar research in your own community, or how you can participate to evaluate episodes or to provide sponsorship for this project.

June McNulty by mine hoist cage.

June McNulty by mine hoist cage.

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Introduction Audio [m4a]

Fractal cover image
Fractal cover image

   The Elements Unearthed: Our Discovery and Usage of the Chemical Elements is a project developed by David V. Black and his students at Mountainland Applied Technology College (MATC) in Orem, Utah. Our objective is to document the history, sources, uses, mining, refining, and hazards of the chemical elements and important industrial materials. Teams of students are visiting mine sites, refineries, chemical manufacturing plants, museums, and artisan workshops to interview scientists, engineers, historians, and other experts and to tour and videotape the sites. The video interviews, photos, and background research are being compiled into audio and video podcasts and written PDF files that will be posted at this Blog and made available on YouTube, the Apple iTunes Store, and other podcast aggregate sites.

   These podcast episodes will be a step in the right direction to preserve the history of mining and chemical refining; to provide accurate information about how chemicals are made and used (including safety precautions to observe); to encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); and to ensure that the general public is well informed on vital issues such as resource depletion and environmental degradation in order to make sound decisions in the future. We intend that students, teachers, and the public will make free use of these podcast episodes.

   We hope to add you, our audience, as collaborators on this project. We need your help to test and critique the podcast episodes and provide us with feedback on what we’ve done right and what we still need to improve. We will provide a downloadable PDF evaluation form that you can fill out and return to us, as well as post comments on this Blog. We also hope that you will consider forming a team in your own community to document how the elements are used there. We are working on grant applications in the hope of securing funding to turn this into a national project, with teams from all states documenting the history and uses of the elements.

   In future posts, we will talk about who we are, what our goals are in detail, our rationale for creating this project, and our intended timeline for completion as well as how you can help out and get involved. We will also display podcast episodes that our student teams have already created and report our ongoing progress for new episodes. As they are complete, these episodes will be posted here for your feedback before they are uploaded to the broader aggregate sites.

   Please feel free to post comments related to this project including any questions you may have. If you wish to contact me directly, please e-mail me at:  dblack@mlatc.edu. You can also snail-mail me at: David V. Black, Mountainland Applied Technology College, 987 South Geneva Rd., Orem, UT  84058. I have attached a PDF version of our Feedback Questionnaire at the bottom of this post, which you can download, fill out, and return to us at the address above. We look forward to collaborating with you!

   Thank you for your interest in this project!

David V. Black

Feedback Questionnaire [pdf]

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