Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Mining Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Rick Q. Honaker


Froth flotation is the most commonly used process to recover and upgrade the portion of the coal preparation plant feed that has a particle size smaller than 150 microns. Problems that occur when employing froth flotation in the coal industry include i) coal surfaces that are weakly-to-moderately hydrophobic, and ii) flotation systems that are overloaded and limited by insufficient retention time.

Research was performed to evaluate techniques that could be implemented to improve flotation performance under the aforementioned scenarios. Pre-aeration of flotation feed using a cavitation system was extensively evaluated in laboratory and full-scale test programs. The benefits of adding hydrophobic, magnetic plastic particles were also investigated to improve froth stability and increase bubble surface area.

Laboratory tests revealed that pre-aeration through a cavitation tube improved coal recovery by as much as 20 absolute percentage points in both conventional cells and flotation columns when treating difficult-to-float coals. Carrying capacity increased by 32% which was projected to provide a 4 t/h increase in flotation recovery for a typical 4-m diameter flotation column. Product size analyses suggest that the improved particle recovery was more pronounced for the finest coal fractions as a result of particle agglomeration, resulting from the use of the nucleated air bubbles on the coal surfaces as a bridging medium. In-plant testing of a commercial-scale cavitation system found that feed pre-aeration could reduce collector dosage by 50% when no additional air is added and by 67% when a small amount of air is added to the feed to the cavitation system. At a constant collector dosage, recovery increased by 10 absolute percentage points with cavitation without additional air and 17 absolute points when additional air is provided.

The addition of hydrophobic plastic particles to the flotation feed at a 10% concentration by weight was found to substantially improve froth stability thereby elevating the recovery and enhancing carrying-capacity. Test results showed that the primary flotation improvements were directly linked to the coarsest particle size fractions in the plastic material which supports the froth stability hypothesis. Combustible recovery was increased up to 10 percentage points while producing the desired concentrate quality.