The process of extracting gold from ores by absorption of the precious metal in chlorine gas, from which it is reduced to a metallic state, is not a very new discovery. It was first introduced by Plattner many years ago, and at that time promised to revolutionize the processes for gold extraction. By degrees it was found that only a very clever chemist could work this process with practically perfect results, for many reasons. Lime and magnesia might be contained in the quartz, and would be attacked by the chlorine. These consume the reagents without producing any results, earthy particles would settle and surround the small gold and prevent chlorination, then lead and zinc or other metals in combination with the gold would also be absorbed by the chlorine; or, again, from some locally chemical peculiarity in the water or the ore, gold held in solution by the water might be again precipitated in the tailings before filtration was complete, and thus be lost. Henderson, Clark, De Lacy, Mears, and Deacon, all introduced improvements, or what were claimed to be improvements, on Plattner, but these chiefly failed because they did not cover every particular variety of case which gold extraction presented.
Therefore, where delicate chemical operations were necessary for success, practice generally failed from want of knowledge on the part of the operator, and many times extensive plants have been pronounced useless from this cause alone. Hence it is not to be wondered that processes requiring such care and uncommon knowledge are not greatly in favor.
Mr. Claude Vautin, a gentleman possessed of much practical experience of gold mining and extraction in Queensland, together with Mr. J. Cosmo Newbery, analytical chemist to the government of Victoria, have developed a process which they claim to combine all the advantages of the foregoing methods, and by the addition of certain improvements in the machinery and mode of treatment to overcome the difficulties which have hitherto prevented the general adoption of the chlorination process.
By reference to the illustrations of the plant below, the system by which the ore is treated can be readily understood. The materials for treatment - crushed and roasted ore, or tailings, as the case may be - are put into the hopper above the revolving barrel, or chlorinator. This latter is made of iron, lined with wood and lead, and sufficiently strong to bear a pressure of 100 lb. to the square inch, its capacity being about 30 cwt of ore. The charge falls from the hopper into the chlorinator. Water and chlorine-producing chemicals are added - generally sulphuric acid and chloride of lime - the manhole cover is replaced and screwed down so as to be gas tight. On the opposite side of the barrel there is a valve connected with an air pump, through which air to about the pressure of four atmospheres is pumped in, to liquefy the chlorine gas that is generated, after which the valve is screwed down. The barrel is then set revolving at about ten revolutions a minute, the power being transmitted by a friction wheel.
According to the nature of the ore, or the size of the grains of gold, this movement is continued from one to four hours, during which time the gold, from combination with the chlorine gas, has formed a soluble gold chloride, which has all been taken up by the water in the barrel. The chlorinator is then stopped, and the gas and compressed air allowed to escape from the valve through a rubber hose into a vat of lime water. This is to prevent the inhalation of any chlorine gas by the workmen. The manhole cover is now removed and the barrel again set revolving, by which means the contents are thrown automatically into the filter below. This filter is an iron vat lined with lead. It has a false bottom, to which is connected a pipe from a vacuum pump working intermittently. As soon as all the ore has fallen from the chlorinator into the filter, the pump is set going, a partial vacuum is produced in the chamber below the false bottom in the filter, and very rapid filtration results. By this means all the gold chlorides contained in the wet ore may be washed out, a continual stream being passed through it while filtration is going on. The solution running from the filter is continually tested, and when found free from gold, the stream of water is stopped, as is also the vacuum pump.
The filter is then tipped up into a truck below, and the tailings run out to the waste heap. The process of washing and filtration occupies about an hour, during which time another charge may be in process of treatment in the chlorinator above. The discharge from the filter and the washings are run into a vat, and from this they are allowed to pass slowly through a tap into a charcoal filter. During the passage of the liquid through the charcoal filter, the chloride of gold is decomposed and the gold is deposited on the charcoal, which, when fully charged, is burnt, the ashes are fused with borax in a crucible, and the gold is obtained.
THE NEWBERY-VAUTIN CHLORINATION PROCESS.
We have specified above the objections to the old processes of chlorination, so it may be fairly asked in what way the Newbery-Vautin process avoids the various chemical actions which have hitherto proved so difficult to contend with.
For any system of chlorination yet introduced it is necessary to free the ore from sulphides. This is done by roasting according to any of the well-known systems in vogue. It is a matter which requires great care and considerable skill. The heat must be applied and increased slowly and steadily. If, through any neglect on the part of the roaster, the ore is allowed to fuse, in most cases it is best to throw the charge away, as waste. This roasting applies equally to the Vautin process as to any others. So on this head there is no alteration. One of the most important advantages is not a chemical one, but is the rapidity with which the charge can be treated. In the older styles of treatment the time varied from thirty six to ninety hours. Now this is accomplished in from three to six hours with a practically perfect result. The older processes required a careful damping of the ore, which, to get good results, must leave the ore neither too wet nor too dry. Now "damping" is entirely done away with, and in its place water is poured into the barrel. Pressure to the extent of four atmospheres causes chlorine gas to leave its vaporous form.