Particle size distribution (PSD) determination is a typical practice for the characterization of the slurries generated in a precipitation plant. Furthermore, the precipitates generated in these processes form colloidal or aggregated suspensions. Nevertheless, the conventional methods used to estimate PSD (e.g., laser diffraction and/or a cyclosizer) have not been designed to measure particles that tend to aggregate or disaggregate, since they include external forces (e.g., centrifugal, agitation, pumping and sonication). These forces affect the true size of the aggregates formed in a unit operation, thereby losing representativeness in terms of aggregates particle size. This study presents an alternative method of measuring the size distribution of particles with aggregation behavior, particularly, by using non-invasive microscopy and image processing and analysis. The samples used were obtained from an experimental precipitation process by applying sulfidization to treat the cyanide-copper complexes contained in a cyanidation solution. This method has been validated with statistical tools and compared with a conventional analysis based on laser diffraction (Mastersizer). The PSD results obtained with optical microscopy show a bi-modal behavior of the precipitates. However this behavior could be not determined when using the laser diffraction technique. The PSD obtained for the sample tested by microscopy had a mean of 119.7 μm, a median of 147 μm and a 90% distribution reached a particle size of 312.5 μm. These values differ with those obtained by the laser diffraction technique. Our results show significant differences between the methods analyzed, demonstrating that the image processing and analysis obtained by optical microscopy is an excellent and non-invasive alternative to obtain size distributions of aggregates in precipitation processes.
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