Diamond Geology and Exploration

Increased Recovery of Diamonds from Eclogite by Electrical Pulse Disaggregation

Soapbox Wednesday, November 21, 2018 - 13:42 to 13:48 Theatre 3


H. Ali (Presenting)
Canadian Centre for Isotopic Microanalysis, University of Alberta

M.E. Regier
Canadian Centre for Isotopic Microanalysis, University of Alberta

D.G. Pearson
Canadian Centre for Isotopic Microanalysis, University of Alberta

It is well known that mechanical disaggregation, such as jaw crushing, can cause irreversible damage to valuable gemstones hosted in crystalline rocks. The SELFRAG Lab device uses electrical pulses at high voltages - typically between 150 and 200 kV - to separate material into individual grains along natural boundaries. The purpose of this research is to assess the viability of the SELFRAG as a tool to disaggregate diamond-bearing eclogites, and to assess if this method preserves grains that would otherwise be damaged through mechanical disaggregation.

In order to test the applicability of the SELFRAG to diamond recovery from mechanically strong diamond-bearing lithologies, we studied its effects on a diamondiferous eclogite, RV09, from Roberts Victor mine. The Roberts Victor mine is located in South Africa and is renowned for its unusually high abundance of mantle-derived eclogite xenoliths (MacGregor and Carter, 1970). Before the eclogite was disaggregated, we bisected the sample and used a CT scan to determine its constituent minerals and the spatial distribution of diamond. One half of the sample was then placed into the SELFRAG, where it was subjected to ~100 shots of 200 kV electrical discharges that segregated the sample into individual grains of similar sizes. The other half was jaw crushed, using a steel jaw crusher which produced non-uniform composite grains and abundant fine material. The varying sizes and aggregate pieces made it difficult to pick diamonds, and after no diamonds were found, the jaw-crushed portion underwent further disaggregation in the SELFRAG.

After exerting the same time and effort picking through both portions of the RV09 sample, ten diamonds were recovered from the electronically disaggregated portion, while no diamonds were found in the conventionally disaggregated sample. The diamonds released from the SELFRAG were then imaged with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to determine the extent to which the diamonds were damaged. Most of the released diamonds showed no evidence of breakage, but a few showed signs of damage that may have occurred prior to kimberlite eruption.

The dramatic disparity between the number of diamonds recovered with the SELFRAG and the lack of diamonds in the jaw crushed portion indicates that electrical disaggregation is a superior method compared to the conventional mechanical comminution technique. There are little to no signs of breakage in the SELFRAG-liberated diamonds, whereas, the damage caused by jaw crushing was extensive enough to produce small fragments not readily visible via optical microscopy. The SELFRAG is a promising alternative to conventional disaggregation and offers a practical solution for lessening damage to valuable stones in rocks such as eclogites and kimberlites.

MacGregor, I.D., Carter, J.L. (1970) Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors 3, 391–397.