The Year of Geology 2016

Super magnet picks up even small metal particles

There are large piles of mineral sand near every mine that has been in operation for a while. Niklas Törnkvist plans on moving those piles with his invention. He has created a device that separates extremely small magnetic particles from non-magnetic ones. Now we can look at these waste piles as a source of valuable material that can be recovered.

Magsort Oy’s CEO Törnkvist gives an example case from Pakistan. There a mining company is extracting zircon from the sand of a beach. With present methods, the mine is also able to extract barium and rutile, which the company then sells. However, they are left with 15 000 tonnes of black, magnetic sand every month, and they have no cost-effective way of processing it.

“The sand contains hematite, i.e. iron, chrome mineral chromite, and titanium mineral ilmenite. It is easy to recover iron, but the other two minerals are challenging. After these materials have been extracted so that 44 percent of the sand is chromium, a thousand kilograms of the sand is worth hundreds of dollars.”

This result can be achieved with a magnetic field that is strong enough. Magsort knows the composition of the sand and the magnetic responses of the grains exactly due to the detailed elemental analyses the company has commissioned GTK’s research laboratory to do.

The goal of Magsort, a new startup, is to create a business model based on buying and cleaning piles of mineral sand, and then selling the clean product.

“We are one enrichment technology,” Törnkvist says.

In Pakistan, the company wants to utilise the five-meter tall pile of sand in its entirety.

“The remaining hematite, magnetite, and ilmenite can be used for, for example, manufacturing heavy bricks.”

Valuable material is sent to incinerators

The invention of Niklas Törnkvist, who has a Master of Science degree in engineering, represents circular economy and green mining.

“Crushing rock is expensive and requires a lot of energy. If there is rock material that has already been crushed and that can be utilised with new technology, this opportunity must naturally be looked into.

According to Törnkvist, Magsort’s separator can be used for all industrial processes that produce magnetic material in their minor flows, not only mineral sands.

“We can recover and recycle the metal in the slags of, for example, waste incineration plants,” Törnkvist says.

From an environmental point of view the permanent magnet technology is better than an electric magnet, because permanent magnets do not use energy. Magsort’s method is only used for processing dry sand, which is important, for example, at the zircon mine in Pakistan, where the water has to be brought in by tanker trucks.

Although the features of the magnetic separation method were first studied in the 1930s, there is no other technology similar to that of Magsort’s in the market. The idea that was born by coincidence has come far. Törnkvist thanks the cooperation with GTK’s specialists.

“Understanding how minerals behave is the core of our technology.”