Many rare earth element (REE) deposits have experienced multistage geological enrichment processes resulting in REE bearing mineral assemblages of considerable complexity and variability. Automated scanning electron microscopy (SEM) mineral liberation analysis of such REE ores is confronted by the difficult assignment of energy-dispersive X-ray (EDX) spectra to REE mineral names. To overcome and bypass this problem, a generic and reliable labelling of EDX reference spectra obtained from REE-bearing minerals based on their contents of Si, Ca, F and P in a bulk normalised analysis is proposed. The labelled spectra are then combined into groups of REE-P (~monazite), REE-Ca-Si-P (~britholite), REE-Ca-F (~synchysite) and REE-F (~bastnaesite, parisite, fluocerite). Mixed spectra with low counts for REE from minute REE mineral grains are combined into a separate group. This classification scheme is applied to automated SEM mineral liberation analysis (MLA) data from beneficiation products by comminution and multistage flotation of REE carbonatite ores. Mineral modes, mineral grain size distribution, mineral liberation, mineral locking and mineral grade versus recovery curves based on the analysis of >200,000 particles in a sample can be recognised and interpreted in virtual grain size fractions. The approach as proposed here will allow future process mineralogical studies of REE deposits to be robust and comparable.
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