What’s electrostatic separation?

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Electrostatic separation uses charges to separate crushed material particles, commonly used in ore sorting to remove valuable or foreign material. Conducting particles attach to oppositely charged objects, while repulsive force changes the trajectory of falling objects. Electrostatic charges can be positive or negative, and can build up from friction. Electrostatic separation is a preferred method for separating conductors from non-conductors, while magnetic enrichment is used for particles that respond to a magnetic field.

Electrostatic separation is a process that uses electrostatic charges to separate crushed material particles. An industrial process used to separate large quantities of material particles, electrostatic separation is often used in the ore sorting process. This process can help remove valuable material from the ore or it can help remove foreign material to purify a substance. In mining, the process of crushing ore into particles for the purpose of separating minerals is called enrichment.

Generally, electrostatic charges are used to attract or repel differently charged material. When electrostatic separation uses the force of attraction to sort particles, the conducting particles attach to an oppositely charged object, such as a metal drum, thus separating them from the particle mixture. When this type of enrichment uses repulsive force, it is normally employed to change the trajectory of falling objects to sort them into different places. In this way, when a mixture of particles falls past a repelling object, the correctly charged particles move away from the other particles as they are repelled by the similarly charged object.

Charge is the measure of electric current flowing through an object. A charge can be either positive or negative: objects with a positive charge repel other positively charged objects, causing them to move away from each other, while a positively charged object attracts towards a negatively charged object, causing let the two get closer. Electrostatic charges are the charges associated with static electricity. Generally, static charges can build up from friction and can be observed when a balloon pulls on a person’s hair after the balloon has been rubbed against the person’s head.

Experiments showing electrostatic sorting in action can help make the process clearer. To demonstrate electrostatic separation at home, you can conduct an experiment using peanuts still in their shells. When the shells are removed from the peanuts and gently crushed into pieces, an electrostatically charged device, such as a comb rubbed rapidly against a wool sweater, will pick up the peanut shells with static electricity. The light crushed shells that are oppositely loaded by the comb easily separate from the edible parts of the peanuts when the comb is passed by.

Electrostatic separation of conductors is an enrichment method; another common enrichment method is magnetic enrichment. Electrostatic separation is a preferred sorting method when it comes to separating conductors from electrostatic separation non-conductors. Similar to how electrostatic separation sorts particles with different electrostatic charges, magnetic enrichment sorts particles that respond to a magnetic field. Electrostatic enrichment is effective for removing particulate matter, such as ash, from mined coal, while magnetic separation works well for removing magnetic iron ore from clay deposits in the earth.

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