June 2010    Print this article

There's an Iron Rush On!

Iron Mines and Projects in Québec

Denis Blackburn and Denis Raymond
Direction générale du développement de l’industrie minérale

Iron is the most commonly used metal in the world. It is used mainly for manufacturing various types of steel, which makes it an essential material in all industrialized societies. China, Brazil, and Australia are the main producers of iron ore. Canada, which recorded shipments to the tune of $2.5 billion in 2008, is a minor producer on a world scale (Table 1). Québec accounts for about 40% of Canadian production, which mainly occurs along the Québec-Labrador border. In Québec, the Mont-Wright mine produces iron concentrate and pellets by processing specular hematite, also called specularite.
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Table 1
Iron Production in 2008

World 2

Canada 1

Québec 1

Québec/Canada

Québec/World

2,200 Mt

32.1 Mt

13.4 Mt

42%

0.60%

1: Natural Resources Canada
2: 2010 USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries

The economic boom in emerging countries like China and India has boosted demand and prices for iron concentrate and pellets. While in the early 2000s these products sold for $20 per metric ton, they are now six times more expensive at $120 per ton. This has boosted iron exploration, development, and extraction in Québec (see attached map).

Iron Deposits from a Geological Point of View

Most iron deposits being mined in the world are stratiform. These are thinly bedded or layered sedimentary rocks of chemical origin. There are two known types of deposit: Lake Superior, representing 90% of deposits, from sedimentation on the continental shelf during the Paleoproterozoic (2.3 to 1.9 Ga), and Algoma, associated with a volcano-sedimentary environment particularly during the Archeozoic era (3.4 to 2.6 Ga). Banding occurs on various scales, and beds rich in iron oxide alternate with siliceous, carbonated, and sulfidic layers.

The Labrador Trough, which stretches more than 1,000 km, contains an exceptional concentration of these two types of deposits.

The Lake Superior iron formations are subdivided into taconite and meta taconite. Taconite is a bedded, iron-bearing sedimentary rock composed of fine magnetite and hematite alternating with silica-rich beds (chert, jasper). Metamorphism and surface alteration are very little developed. The deposits are often huge (1–100 Gt), tabular, and show great lateral continuity. The iron content of the world’s richest deposits can reach up to 65%.

Lake Superior iron formations that have been highly metamorphosed are called meta taconites. They are mainly composed of magnetite and specularite. Metamorphism and folding has resulted in mineralogical changes, a concentration of the ferriferous bands, and coarser texture, as in the folded, medium to coarse-grained specularite-quartz deposits in the Mont-Wright sector, for example.

Algoma iron formations exhibit less lateral continuity and are associated with alternating bands of clastic sediments and volcanic rock. The iron content of the deposits is 20 to 40%. The repeated ore layers (especially magnetite) and metamorphism could favor their extraction. In Québec, the Attikamagen exploration project not far from Schefferville is an example.

Table 2
Commercially Mined Iron Minerals

Mineral

Composition

Iron Content (%)

Hematite (specularite)

Fe2O3

69.9

Magnetite

Fe3 O4

72.4

Goethite

Fe2O3 ·nH2O

63

Limonite

Fe2O3 .nH2O

50–66

Siderite

FeCO3

48

Other Types of Iron Deposits

Iron, especially in the form of magnetite, is present in many other types of mineral deposits. Magnetite can be vanadiferous (V) or associated with ilmenite (Ti), apatite (P), or chromite (Cr). This type of deposit is usually not mined for iron. The mafic complexes and anorthosites in the Côte-Nord, Lac-Saint-Jean, and Matagami regions are examples of this. The Lac Tio mine (titanium) in the Côte-Nord region is the only mine of this type in Québec that also extracts iron. A number of magnetite deposits are being evaluated for the production of magnetite concentrate with or without vanadium or titanium. Two exploration projects (Lac à Paul and Lac Arnaud) are being conducted with a view to producing phosphate. The main projects in these various categories are also shown on the accompanying map.

Ore Processing: Production of Iron Concentrate and Pellets

The market is looking for products (concentrate and pellets) that contain more than 60% iron. The ore extracted in Québec has an iron content of about 30%, so it must be processed before reaching a marketable iron content. On average, it takes 2.5 metric tons of ore to obtain one metric ton of iron concentrate. Processing takes place in two steps: liberation and separation of iron grains.

Liberation: The iron grains (specularite, magnetite) in the ore are fixed to other minerals like silica. The various components are separated from one another by crushing and grinding the ore. In the case of specularite, the ore must be ground to about 1 mm in diameter before the specularite is released. Magnetite may require much finer grinding into particles only a few microns in size.

Gravimetric separation : Iron (specularite, magnetite) is heavier than silica. This density difference can be exploited to separate out the two elements using a device called a spiral. A spiral works exactly like a water slide in an amusement park. The iron and silica grains are flushed down like a bather on an inner tube by water flowing through the spiral. The lighter silica is carried farther than the heavier iron, so the two elements are separated out along the length of the spiral.

Magnetic separation : Magnetite can be separated from other elements using its natural magnetic properties. The ground ore is passed near a magnet (magnetic separator). The magnetite sticks to the magnet, but the silica and other constituents continue on since they are not affected by the magnetic field.

Pellets : Iron concentrate is too fine for certain metallurgic applications (grains ≤1 mm), so it must be compressed into pellets of about one cm in diameter. A pellet is made of a number of iron grains stuck together with a binding material. The pellet is then heated (sintering) to enhance its mechanical properties.

Direct shipping ore (DSO): Some iron deposits in the Schefferville area have an iron content of nearly 60%. The ore in these deposits, commonly called DSO, requires no processing. These deposits were mined over a period of thirty years (1952–1982), and two companies are now planning to mine these deposits once again.

Mines and Projects

Two iron mines are currently being operated in Québec. Table 3 presents the rated production capacities of each mine.

Table 3
Mines Producing Iron Concentrate and Iron Pellets in Québec

Mine

Company

Location

Concentrate (Mt)

Pellets (Mt)

Lac Bloom

CTIM

Fermont

8

0

Mont Wright

AMMC

Fermont

15

9

1: The Lac Bloom mine started production in spring 2010.

Table 4 presents ongoing projects and the type of mineralization associated with each. Only projects whose main objective is the production of iron concentrate are listed.

Table 4
Ongoing Projects

Project

Company

Status

Type

Fire Lake

ArcelorMittal Mines Canada

Development

Meta taconite (spec.)

DSO

New Millennium Capital Corp.

Development

Taconite (hem.)

Lac Otelnuk

Adriana Resources Inc.

Exploration

Taconite (mag.)

KéMag

New Millennium Capital Corp.

Development

Taconite (mag.)

Attikamagen

Champion Minerals Inc.

Exploration

Taconite (mag.)

Fermont

Champion Minerals Inc.

Exploration

Meta taconite (spec.)

Lamêlée-Peppler

Consolidated Thompson Iron Mines

Exploration

Meta taconite (spec.)

Mont Reed

ArcelorMittal Mines Canada

Exploration

Meta taconite (spec.)

Great Whale Iron

Niocan Inc.

Exploration

Taconite (mag.)

Duncan

Augyva Mining Resources Inc.

Exploration

Taconite (mag.)

spec.: specularite, hem.: hematite, and mag.: magnetite

The Iron Industry Takes on New Life!

The price of iron products has soared in the past decade, from $20 a metric ton in the early 2000s to $120 in 2010. Experts forecast that demand for iron products will remain strong for the next five years, making this a good time to develop new iron mines in Québec. The startup of the Lac Bloom mine and the announced reopening of iron mines near Schefferville (DSO) are clear signs of the vitality of Québec’s iron market.

 

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