The need to explore more complex and low-grade silver ores and to develop novel and cost-effective processes to recover silver from waste is becoming an important challenge. This paper aims to characterize old, low-grade, silver tailings generated by the former Zgounder silver mine, located in Morocco. Understanding the mineralogical composition, particularly the silver deportment, was critical to allow the recovery of silver from these tailings. More than 88 samples of low grade tailings were sampled and characterized using chemical and mineralogical techniques. Froth flotation was used to recover silver bearing minerals using a combination of different collectors (dithiophosphate, dialkyl dithiophosphinates, Aero 7518, Aero 7640, alkyl dithiophosphates and potassium butyl-xanthate). The main goal was to optimize the flotation process at a laboratory scale through the testing of different parameters, such as collectors and frother types and dosage, activators and sulphidizing agents, and pH conditions. The characterization results showed that silver content varied between 30 and 440 ppm with an overall average content of 148 ppm. Silver occurs mainly in the form of native silver as well as in association with sulphides, such as acanthite and pyrite. Minor amounts of sphalerite, chalcopyrite, arsenopyrite, and hematite were identified. The flotation results showed the following optimum conditions: particle size of 63 µm, conditioning pH of 8.5, a combination of butyl-xanthate and dithiophosphate as collectors at a dosage of 80 g/t each, a concentration of 200 g/t of the activating agent (CuSO4
), 30 g/t of methyl isobutyl carbonyl (MIBC) frother and a duration time of 8 min with slow kinetics. With these optimal conditions, it was possible to achieve a maximum silver recovery yield of 84% with 1745 ppm Ag grade to be cyanided. Moreover, the environmental behavior of the final clean tailings was demonstrated to be inert using Toxicity characteristic leaching procedure (TCLP) leaching tests.
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