In the mineral industry, beneficiation is a process which is designed to improve the yield from a deposit of ore. This increases the potential profits available from the ore, and allows a company to increase the overall profitability of a mine and its business in a particular area. A number of processes are used to accomplish beneficiation objectives, and several companies which make mining equipment have lines of products which are designed to help companies get more out of their ore.
The goal of beneficiation is to eliminate inefficiency and waste by ensuring that as much recoverable material as possible is extracted from ore. A number of techniques can be used for this, often starting with grinding the ore into particles. Once ground, the particles can be sifted and sorted to extract usable material and set waste aside. For example, the particles may be suspended in water to allow various components to separate out, making it easy to access usable ore.
For rare resources, beneficiation is critical, because it takes advantage of every scrap of material available. This practice can also make a marginal mining facility more practical than it might otherwise be, and may in fact be used to extract ore from a facility previously believed to be exhausted. The potential for beneficiation is also considered when evaluating sites of prospective mines, to determine whether or not the expense of mine operation will be outweighed by the products of the mine.
People concerned with sustainable development and ethical business practices also use the term “beneficiation,” but in a slightly different way. Rather than meaning that the maximum potential of a resource has been exploited, beneficiation refers to business practices which benefit the communities where products are mined, harvested, and otherwise taken. Historically, major companies have tended to enter small communities, take resources, and then leave, with no benefit to the populace.
This practice of exploiting a community and then leaving has become frowned upon as a form of exploitation of people and national governments, making beneficiation increasingly popular. With beneficiation, a company does things like moving some of its operations to the country where a product is harvested or mined, giving back to the community, and doing more work to keep some of the profits and benefits in country. For example, if a company is mining opals, it might open a facility for cutting and polishing opals near the mine, rather than shipping them overseas for processing, to create more job opportunities for the local community. Likewise, a company taking timber might operate a mill near the forest rather than shipping raw timber overseas.