Electrostatic separation is a process that uses electrostatic charges to separate crushed particles of material. An industrial process used to separate large amounts of material particles, electrostatic separating is most often used in the process of sorting mineral ore. This process can help remove valuable material from ore, or it can help remove foreign material to purify a substance. In mining, the process of crushing mining ore into particles for the purpose of separating minerals is called beneficiation.
Generally, electrostatic charges are used to attract or repel differently charged material. When electrostatic separation uses the force of attraction to sort particles, conducting particles stick to an oppositely charged object, such as a metal drum, thereby separating them from the particle mixture. When this type of beneficiation uses repelling force, it is normally employed to change the trajectory of falling objects to sort them into different places. This way, when a mixture of particles falls past a repelling object, the particles with the correct charge fall away from the other particles when they are repelled by the similarly charged object.
The electrostatic separation of conductors is one method of beneficiation; another common beneficiation method is magnetic beneficiation. Electrostatic separation is a preferred sorting method when dealing with separating conductors from electrostatic separation non-conductors. In a similar way to that in which electrostatic separation sorts particles with different electrostatic charges magnetic beneficiation sorts particles that respond to a magnetic field. Electrostatic beneficiation is effective for removing particulate matter, such as ash from mined coal, while magnetic separation functions well for removing the magnetic iron ore from deposits of clay in the earth.