There are many who are interested in learning the origins of the materials they use for various construction or contracting projects, and metal is a chief candidate for this research in many cases. A common area of interest here: How are metals extracted from their original locations in the earth, and processed to the point where they cab be used as products for various needs?
At Wasatch Steel, we’re always happy to detail the manufacturing sources and processes for any of our steel products, which range from steel pipe and steel sheet to many other varieties. What is the metal extraction process, what goes into preparing for it and carrying it out, and what are the key steps that are typically followed for most metals? Let’s take a look!
Before we move forward, let’s define what we even mean when we talk about “metal extraction.” In a nutshell, this phrase simply refers to the process of extracting valuable metals from ore found in the Earth’s crust. Metal ores are essentially rocks that contain high concentrations of metals, and these can be mined using a variety of methods, as we’ll see in a moment.
The extracted metal then goes through further refinement processes (which may also be referred to as “smelting” and/or “purification”) so that it can be used for various applications. For example, the steel pipes that we sell at Wasatch Steel go through an extraction process before they’re ready to be turned into products like fencing, handrails, or even piping for various construction needs.
So, how is metal extraction carried out? Read on to learn about some of the key steps involved in this process!
The first step in any kind of mining or extraction operation is exploring for potential metal deposits. This generally involves a combination of field studies (which may include geologic mapping, geochemical sampling, and airborne/ground geophysical surveys) and drilling operations.
The aim of this exploration phase is to identify areas where metal ores are likely to be found in commercial quantities. Once these potential “ore bodies” have been identified, further investigation can be done to determine the size, shape, grade, and depth of the ore deposit.
Once a metal deposit has been identified and explored, the next step is to develop a mining plan. This plan will take into account factors like the ore grade, geology of the area, ground conditions, environmental considerations, and more. The aim is to create a cost-effective and safe mining operation that will minimize risks and maximize profitability.
The actual mining process will then be designed to extract the ore in the most efficient way possible, while also minimizing any environmental impact. For example, some metal extraction operations may use open-pit mining, while others may use underground mining methods.
Finally, it’s time to get started with the actual process. Let’s dig in.
The first major step in the metal extraction process is to screen the ore. This helps to separate out the valuable ore minerals from the waste rock, which will then be discarded.
As you’ll see when we move to our next step, it involves the use of a crusher to bust the rock down into smaller sizes. The reason the ore is screened before this, though, is to ensure the crusher is not overloaded and damaged in the process. The screening process will also help to sort the ore by size, which is important for further processing steps down the line.
Once the ore has been screened, it’s time to break it down into smaller pieces using a crusher. The type of crusher that’s used will depend on the type of ore being extracted. For example, harder ores may require a jaw crusher or cone crusher, while softer ores may be processed using an impact crusher or hammer mill.
In any case, the goal is to reduce the ore down to small pieces that can then be further processed.
For most metals, a second screening process known as reclaiming will be necessary. This helps to ensure that any valuable metals that were missed during the initial screening process are caught at this stage.
After the ore has been crushed and screened, it’s fed into a machine known as a reclaimer. This separates out the valuable metal minerals from the waste rock, which is then discarded.
Also called pulverization in some circles, the next important step in the metal extraction process is to reduce the ore down to even smaller pieces. This is typically done using a ball mill, which is a giant cylindrical machine that uses steel balls to pulverize the ore down to a fine powder.
The ball mill is rotated at high speeds as the ore is fed into it, causing the steel balls to pulverize the ore even further.
And finally, the impurities in the ore will be fully separated from the metal itself. A few methods may be used to accomplish this:
And there you have it! These are the essential steps that are involved in metal extraction, regardless of the type of metal being extracted. As you can see, it’s a complex process that requires a great deal of precision and expertise.
Next time you look at a metal product, whether it’s a car, a can of soup, or a bridge, remember the long and complex journey that it took to get there. And to learn more about any of our steel products or services, or how they’re created, speak to our team at Wasatch Steel today.