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Coal Flotation

The objectives of coal flotation as a major fine coal cleaning method is


reduction of the content of mineral matter in coal; this increases calorific value
of thermal coals and, in the case of metallurgical coals, improves the reactivesto-inerts ratio in the feed to a coke-making plant. Reduction of mineral matter
also translates into lower content of sulfur and reduces the impact of coal
utilization on the environment. Coal organic matter may be quite hydrophobic,
but this strongly depends on coal rank, and while bituminous coals
(metallurgical coals) are very hydrophobic, lower rank sub-bituminous coals
and anthracites(thermal coals) are not. This translates into extremely easy
flotation of bituminous coals and very difficult flotation of sub-bituminous coals
[4]. As is shown in Figure 1, the separation of coal organic matter from
inorganic matter can be achieved either via forward flotation or via reverse
flotation. Since bituminous coals are hydrophobic and float easily the forward
flotation is a common practice. But since sub-bituminous coals, and also the
coals stored in old tailings ponds, are difficult to float the reverse flotation may
be quite an attractive option in such cases. The reverse flotation of coal has
recently been shown to be possible [5]. There are fundamental differences
between the forward and reverse coal flotation. In the case of the forward
flotation, the clean coal is recovered as a froth product that is made
hydrophobic with the use of various flotation reagents. In the case of reverse
flotation, the clean coal product is what is ending up in the flotation tailings;
this product is kept as hydrophilic as possible to make its flotation impossible.
While these differences may not seem to be very significant they are extremely
important when these products are utilized to make a coal-water fuel.