Abstract: The Neves-Corvo mine opened officially in December 1988 and it is already the biggest producer of copper in the Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB). Tin production started in 1990. The ore deposits of the IPB are related to felsic submarine volcanism which developed during the lower Tournaisian to the middle Visean. At the end of the first phase of Hercynian deformation in the middle Westphalian, the ore deposits were affected by low-pressure metamorphism producing schistosity and prehenite-pumpellyite greenschist facies assemblages in the volcanogenic sediments of the IPB.
The unique nature of the mineralogy of the Neves-Corvo deposit compared with other IPB deposits is mainly a result of the introduction of later Cu-rich hydrothermal solutions to the primitive ore pile and the presence of tin mineralisation. The cupriferous ores are rich in tetrahedrite-tennantite, stannite, kesterite, stannoidite and mawsonite.
Cassiterite occurs in Neves-Corvo: (a) as thin layers of euhedral crystals in cupriferous ores, partially replaced by chalcopyrite; (b) in the schistosity of a banded black shale chalcopyrite hanging wall formation; (c) as metre-sized lenses of massive cassiterite overlying the cupriferous ores.
The ore textures at Neves-Corvo are complex, due to intergrowths of fine colloform pyrite with the base metal minerals. Because of the low grade of metamorphism, colloform, geopetal and soft-sediment diaqgenetic features are preserved in the ‘complex ores’. These ‘complex ores’ have contents of 0.5% Cu, 1% Pb and 5.5% Zn. In copper-rich ores (7.9% Cu and 1.4% Zn), replacement of the primary ore by chalcopyrite has obliterated most of these textures and produced fine chalcopyrite-tetrahedrite-pyrite intergrowths. The textures clearly indicate the genesis of these ores but they impose a practical problem in recovery of the metals. There is no clear correlation between these textures and the ore classification used at the mine, but an understanding of the textures is vital since the ‘complex ores’ require fine grinding to achieve liberation and the fine grinding adversely affects the froth flotation processing of the ore.
The implications of the complex sulphide textures for ore beneficiation have been studied using reflected light microscopy, with determination of modal analyses and grain-size distributions of free particles and middlings from concentrates and tailings.
The outcome of a one-year intensive study is that the ore microscopy laboratory at the mine now produces daily information about the textures of the feed ores so that metallurgical engineers can optimise the performance of the ore dressing plant.