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Economic Potential

of Pegmatites

Introduction

Types of Pegmatites

Economic Aspects

ANZAPLAN Services
1. Introduction

Pegmatites are typically igneous roc


rocks of limited extent of mostly granitic
composition which are closely linked
ked to major granitic bodies in the
earths crust. Besides offering specta
ectacular, giant-sized crystals they can
be host to a number of highly valuab
luable and strategic elements finding
widespread use in green and energy rgy technologies.

Pegmatites represent highly differenrentiated parts of the original magma


concentrating all incompatible eleme
ements such as the lithophile elements
including e.g. lithium, beryllium, bor
boron, the large-ion lithophile elements
(LILE) as potassium, rubidium, caesi
aesium, strontium, barium or high field
strength elements (HSFE) such as s zirconium,
zi niobium, tantalum, Figure 1:
1 Photograph of graphic texture in
granite,
te, rresulting from quartz-microcline
hafnium, rare earth elements, thoriu
orium, uranium which are not readily in-
intergrow
rowth
corporated in the typical rockforming
ming minerals such as feldspar or quartz.
Often fluxing agents such as Li, B, P and F are present in elevated concen-
trations leading to the crystallization
tion of fluorides and phosphates.

Several features are generally regar


garded as characteristic of pegmatite
bodies. According to London and Kontak
Kon (2008) they exhibit:

- a crystal size zonation with


ith a coarsening from the margins to the
center (presence of giantt cry
crystals)
- a compositional zonation wit
with sharp transitions between different
mineral regions
- a unique texture termed gra
graphic granite (intergrowth of quartz
Figure
e 2:
2 Typical LCT pegmatite rock
and feldspar, Fig. 1)

According to erny & Ercit (2005)) gr


granitic pegmatites can be classified into
several families based on their petro
etrogenetic origin.

Rare-element pegmatites

Those containing rare and valuable


ble eelements of strategic interest including
lithium, beryllium, cesium, rubidium
ium, boron, phosphorus, tantalum and
niobium minerals are termed rare-el element pegmatites and can be divided
into two main families (LCT, Fig. 2 and NYF, Fig. 5) which will be discussed
in the following. A small subset off th
the rare element pegmatites are the
gem-bearing pegmatites which exhibxhibit sought after high-quality crystals of
beryl, tourmaline, topaz etc.

DORFNE
FNER
Analyse
lysenzentrum
und Anl
Anlagenplanungs-
gesellsc
ellschaft mbH
Scharho
rhof 1
922422 Hirschau
H

www.an
.anzaplan.com
Rare-element pegmatites are of economic interest due to their elevated
concentration of valuable elements. The fact that pegmatites typically con-
tain large, high-quality crystals and minerals exhibiting pronounced colour
differences offers the possibility of recovering a wide range of high quality
specialty mineral products including industrial mineral by-products such as
feldspar and quartz which are typically low in impurities therefore repre-
senting premium products for glass and ceramics industries.

Due to a unique, typically zoned structure and mineral assemblage each


pegmatite requires a tailor-made processing concept, to meet specific re- Figure 3: Perfectly liberated, coarse
quirements of downstream industries while taking advantage of the full spodumene crystals
potential of the rock.

ANZAPLAN has served as a partner for a wide range of pegmatite projects


tailoring processes including advanced and innovative processing technolo-
gies such as e.g. automated sensor based sorting technology or alternative
comminution technologies. For further information on the extraction of
lithium from lithium minerals see our white paper Alternative Lithium Min-
erals Processing Concepts.

This white paper describes general features of rare element pegmatites


and their economic aspects.

2. Types of Pegmatites
Pegmatites are found in a wide variety of geological and tectonic settings
often associated to large granitic bodies. The pegmatite classification
scheme by erny and Ercit (2005) identifies two major rare element peg-
matite types: those enriched in Lithium, Cesium and Tantalum (LCT-type)
and those enriched in Niobium, Yttrium and Fluorine (NYF-type).

2.1 LCT-type pegmatites


LCT-type pegmatites, which are the most abundant type of rare element
pegmatites, are generally found associated with peraluminous S-type gran-
ites and gneisses which are derived from melting of clay-rich sediments.
Typically LCT-type pegmatites are light coloured rocks forming characteris-
tic hinges in the field due to their resistance to weathering.

They exhibit an enrichment in lithium evidenced by the presence of various


lithium ore minerals such as spodumene (Fig. 3), petalite, lepidolite, am-
blygonite and zinnwaldite. The mineral assemblage found in LCT-type
pegmatites includes alumosilicate minerals such as muscovite, garnet,
cordierite, sillimanite, andalusite and tourmaline which reflect the Al-rich
source material.

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Highly differentiated LCT pegmatites do also contain niobium and tantalum.
Typically the Ta-rich parts are found in the centre of the pegmatite body
while Nb is enriched at the margins. Ta and Nb mineralization can be fairly
complex typically including columbite-tantalite (Fig. 4), wodginite and
microlite as main ore minerals.

In highly differentiated pegmatites additionally economic concentrations of


cesium can be found and mined economically as in the Tanco deposit, Can-
ada, which is the only mine in the world where pollucite, a Cs-
alumosilicate, is mined.
Figure 4: Photograph of columbite

2.2 NYF-type pegmatites

NYF-type pegmatites (Fig. 5) are a sparse type of rare element pegmatite


that is believed to have predominantly anorogenic or subduction related
sources. They contain complex minerals of the heavy rare earth elements
(HREE, e.g. Y ) as well as Sc, Zr, Ti, U, Th, Nb and Ta which are of great
economic interest. Scandium and REE are important functional elements in
a large number of high tech applications and alloys.
Figure 5: Photograph of NYF-type pegma-
NYF-type pegmatites, as implies their name, are also rich in fluorine tite
which is expressed by the presence of topaz or fluorite (Fig. 6), the latter
being of interest as a base material for HF and fluorochemicals production.

3. Economics Aspects
Granitic pegmatites, especially LCT-type pegmatites, are by far the most
common type of rare element pegmatite and an important source of rare
elements indispensable in a number of high tech applications. The
following discussion will therefore focus on their economic potential.
Figure 6: Photograph of fluorite
LCT-type pegmatites are the primary hard rock source of lithium with
spodumene and petalite being the predominant ore minerals.

Lithium ore minerals can be concentrated and directly used for application
in the glass and ceramics industry given the fact that they are generally
low in iron. Lithium holds a large number of benefits, including energy sav-
ing in glass melting, improved brilliance in glaces, and improved thermal
shock resistance in glass-ceramic bodies such as stove tops (Ceran).

DORFNER
Analysenzentrum
und Anlagenplanungs-
gesellschaft mbH
Scharhof 1
92242 Hirschau

www.anzaplan.com
On the other hand lithium chemicals can be extracted from lithium mineral
concentrates via a sequence of different hydrometallurgical processing
steps including thermal treatment, acid or caustic leaching and precipita-
tion and purification of lithium compounds. For further information on the
extraction of lithium from lithium minerals see our white paper
Conversion of Spodumene to Lithium Chemicals.

Lithium chemicals such as lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are


important base materials for the chemical industry finding application e.g. Figure 7: Photograph of quartz with micro-
in the production of lithium ion batteries or in the glass, ceramics and chip
porcelain industries. Furthermore lithium in its metal form finds
application in lithium aluminium and lithium magnesium alloys which ex-
hibit excellent strength for most demanding applications as e.g. in air-
crafts.

Due to the advent of electromobility and new generation energy storage


solutions there is a growing need for lithium with an increasing number of
lithium projects worldwide focused on pegmatite hard rocks. Rare metal
pegmatites are being intensively explored with several projects in ad-
vanced stages e.g. in Canada, Finland and Australia.
Figure 8: Photograph of alaskite
Tantalum, often associated with Nb is another, highly valuable rare ele-
ment that is found in elevated concentrations of hundreds of ppm in certain
LCT-type pegmatites.

It is indispensable in microelectronic devices such as smartphones where it


is used for electrolyte capacitors Ta ore minerals can be separated by grav-
ity concentration due to their high specific gravity. Extraction of tantalum
and niobium from the mineral concentrate requires treatment with strong
mineral acids such as sulphuric and hydrofluoric acid. Dissolved Ta and Nb
are then separated sequentially by solvent extraction and precipitation. For
further information see our white paper Hydrometallurgy of Nb/Ta ores.

Besides being host to a number of highly valuable rare elements (REE, Li,
Nb, Ta, Cs, Sc etc.), pegmatites provide a source of a number of industrial
minerals including feldspar, quartz, mica and kaolin which can be of excep-
tionally high quality providing benefits for a large number of applications
due to generally low impurity levels. A prominent example for a high value
by-product recovered from a pegmatites is high purity quartz (Fig. 7)
which is recovered from the alaskite (Fig. 8) deposit at Spruce Pine, North
Carolina.

DORFNER
Analysenzentrum
und Anlagenplanungs-
gesellschaft mbH
Scharhof 1
92242 Hirschau

www.anzaplan.com
4. ANZAPLAN Services
Anzaplan offers complete process development for lithium and tantalum
minerals, from the first characterisation of ore, through the options for
concentration, to the hydrometallurgical steps for recovering lithium and
tantalum fine chemical.

Test work and analysis are carried out in our own laboratories and test
centre, using state-of-the-art analytical methods or pilot plant processing.
Figure 9: High efficiency Dorfner Calciner
Our expertise allows us to competently and confidently assess the lithium built in 2009
ore and ultimately approve future products with potential end-user cus-
tomers. We provide know-how in the design and optimisation of innovative
tailor-made processing plants, and all our services are proven by interna-
tionally accepted certifications (ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 14001).

Furthermore, Dorfner ANZAPLAN and its laboratory is accredited with DIN


EN ISO/IEC 17025 by the DACH-accreditation chamber which is a signatory
of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC). Therefore
analysis and test work by ANZAPLAN are internationally accepted.

In close cooperation with the Dorfner Group of Companies our renowed Figure 10: ANZAPLANs laboratory is fully
international standing in the glass and ceramics industries is in strong de- certified and accredited
mand for product testing and expert advice.

We invite you to contact our experts

Dorfner ANZAPLAN
e-mail: anzaplan@dorfner.com
phone: + 49 9622 82162

DORFNER
Analysenzentrum
und Anlagenplanungs-
gesellschaft mbH
Scharhof 1
92242 Hirschau

www.anzaplan.com