Perlite expanded processing plant

Perlite is a glassy volcanic rock with a pearl-like luster. It usually exhibits numerous concentric cracks that cause it to resemble an onion skin. A typical perlite sample is composed of 71 to 75 percent silicon dioxide, 12.5 to 18.0 percent alumina, 4 to 5 percent potassium oxide, 1 to 4 percent sodium and calcium oxides, and trace amounts of metal oxides. Crude perlite ore is mined, crushed, dried in a rotary dryer, ground, screened, and shipped to expansion plants. Horizontal rotary or vertical stationary expansion furnaces are used to expand the processed perlite ore.

The normal size of crude perlite expanded for use in plaster aggregates ranges from plus 250 micrometers (µm) (60 mesh) to minus 1.4 millimeters (mm) (12 mesh). Crude perlite expanded for use as a concrete aggregate ranges from 1 mm (plus 16 mesh) to 0.2 mm (plus 100 mesh). Ninety percent of the crude perlite ore expanded for horticultural uses is greater than 841 µm (20 mesh).

Crude perlite is mined using open-pit methods and then is moved to the plant site where it is stockpiled. Figure 11.30-1 is a flow diagram of crude ore processing. The first processing step is to reduce the diameter of the ore to approximately 1.6 centimeters (cm) (0.6 inch [in.]) in a primary jaw crusher. The crude ore is then passed through a rotary dryer, which reduces the moisture content from between 4 and 10 percent to less than 1 percent.

After drying, secondary grinding takes place in a closed-circuit system using screens, air classifiers, hammer mills, and rod mills. Oversized material produced from the secondary circuit is returned to the primary crusher. Large quantities of fines, produced throughout the processing stages, are removed by air classification at designated stages. The desired size processed perlite ore is stored until it is shipped to an expansion plant.

At the expansion plants, the processed ore is either preheated or fed directly to the furnace. Preheating the material to approximately 430EC (800EF) reduces the amount of fines produced in the expansion process, which increases usable output and controls the uniformity of product density. In the furnace, the perlite ore reaches a temperature of 760 to 980EC (1400 to 1800EF), at which point it begins to soften to a plastic state where the entrapped combined water is released as steam. This causes the hot perlite particles to expand 4 to 20 times their original size. A suction fan draws the expanded particles out of the furnace and transports them pneumatically to a cyclone classifier system to be collected. The air-suspended perlite particles are also cooled as they are transported to the collection equipment. The cyclone classifier system collects the expanded perlite, removes the excessive fines, and discharges gases to a baghouse or wet scrubber for air pollution control.

The grades of expanded perlite produced can also be adjusted by changing the heating cycle, altering the cutoff points for size collection, and blending various crude ore sizes. All processed products are graded for specific uses and are usually stored before being shipped. Most production rates are less than 1.8 megagrams per hour (Mg/hr) (2 tons/hr), and expansion furnace temperatures range from 870 to 980EC (1600 to 1800EF). Natural gas is typically used for fuel, although No. 2 fuel oil and propane are occasionally used. Fuel consumption varies from 2,800 to 8,960 kilojoules per kilogram (kJ/kg) (2.4 x 10 to 7.7 x 10 British thermal units per ton [Btu/ton]) of product.


Perlite products are made from an amorphous alumino-silicate rock, which has some very special properties: it contains water, which expands into steam on heating, producing a foamed structure. The type of foaming depends very much on the hardness of the particular perlite ore, and the initial concentration of water. Only a few, select deposits have the correct characteristics for expansion.

Imerys Filtration owns and operates several perlite ore mines throughout the world, including major deposits in western Turkey, USA and South America which is used to feed dedicated perlite expansion plants throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The mines have been selected because of the natural purity of the ore seams found in these respective deposits.

Construction Applications

Because of perlite's outstanding insulating characteristics and light weight, it is widely used as loose-fill insulation in masonry construction. In this application, free-flowing perlite is poured into the cavities of concrete block where it completely fills all crevices. In addition to providing thermal insulation, perlite enhances fire ratings, reduces noise transmission and it is rot, vermin and termite resistant.

When perlite is used as an aggregate in concrete, a lightweight, fire resistant, insulating concrete is produced that is ideal for roof terraces and other applications. Perlite can also be used as an aggregate in Portland cement and gypsum plasters for exterior applications and for the fire protection of beams and columns. Other construction applications include under-floor insulation, chimney linings, paint texturing, gypsum boards, ceiling tiles, and roof insulation boards.

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