Froth Flotation vs. Gravity Separation

What's the Difference?

Froth flotation and gravity separation are two commonly used methods for separating valuable minerals from ore. Froth flotation involves the use of chemicals and air bubbles to create a froth that selectively attaches to specific minerals, allowing them to be separated from the rest of the ore. This method is particularly effective for separating sulfide minerals. On the other hand, gravity separation relies on the differences in density between minerals to separate them. It involves the use of water and gravity to separate heavier minerals from lighter ones. Gravity separation is often used for separating heavy minerals like gold, tin, and diamond. While both methods have their advantages and limitations, froth flotation is generally more effective for complex ores with multiple minerals, while gravity separation is simpler and more cost-effective for ores with a high concentration of a single valuable mineral.


AttributeFroth FlotationGravity Separation
PrincipleSeparation based on the differences in the ability of particles to adhere to air bubbles.Separation based on the differences in the density of particles.
ApplicabilityEffective for separating fine particles, especially for minerals.Effective for separating larger particles, especially for heavy minerals.
ProcessParticles are suspended in water and chemicals are added to create a froth layer. Air bubbles are introduced, and the particles attach to the bubbles, forming a froth that rises to the surface for collection.Particles are fed onto a inclined surface or a shaking table. The table's motion or the inclination causes the particles to stratify based on their density, allowing the lighter particles to be washed away while the heavier particles settle.
SelectivityCan achieve high selectivity due to the use of chemicals and froth stability.Relatively low selectivity as it primarily relies on the density differences of particles.
ReagentsRequires the use of various chemicals, such as collectors, frothers, and modifiers.Generally does not require the use of chemicals, although sometimes depressants or dispersants may be used.
EquipmentTypically involves flotation cells, agitators, and froth paddles.Equipment can include shaking tables, spirals, jigs, or centrifugal concentrators.
Particle Size RangeEffective for particles ranging from 10 to 150 microns.Effective for particles ranging from 0.1 to 50 millimeters.
Water UsageRequires a significant amount of water for the flotation process.Requires minimal water usage.

Further Detail


Froth flotation and gravity separation are two commonly used methods for the concentration of minerals. Both methods have their own advantages and limitations, and understanding their differences can help in selecting the most appropriate method for a specific application. This article aims to compare the attributes of froth flotation and gravity separation, highlighting their principles, applications, efficiency, and environmental impacts.


Froth flotation is based on the selective attachment of air bubbles to hydrophobic particles in a pulp, leading to their separation from hydrophilic particles. The process involves the addition of specific reagents to create a froth layer on top of the pulp, which is then skimmed off to collect the hydrophobic particles. On the other hand, gravity separation relies on the differences in specific gravity between minerals. By utilizing the force of gravity, heavier particles settle faster than lighter particles, allowing for their separation.


Froth flotation is widely used in the mining industry for the concentration of minerals such as copper, lead, zinc, nickel, and rare earth elements. It is particularly effective for the recovery of valuable minerals from low-grade ores and complex ore bodies. Gravity separation, on the other hand, finds its applications in various industries including mineral processing, recycling, and environmental remediation. It is commonly used for the concentration of heavy minerals, such as gold, tin, tungsten, and iron ores.


Froth flotation is known for its high efficiency in separating valuable minerals from gangue materials. The process can achieve high recoveries and concentrate grades, making it economically viable for many mining operations. However, it requires the use of specific reagents, which can be costly and may have environmental implications. Gravity separation, on the other hand, is a relatively low-cost method that does not require the use of chemicals. While it may not achieve the same high recoveries as froth flotation, it can still be effective for certain applications, especially when dealing with coarse particles.

Environmental Impacts

Froth flotation has been criticized for its potential environmental impacts. The use of chemicals, such as collectors, frothers, and modifiers, can lead to the generation of toxic byproducts and the contamination of water sources. Additionally, the disposal of flotation tailings can pose challenges due to their high water content and potential for acid mine drainage. Gravity separation, on the other hand, is considered a more environmentally friendly method. It does not involve the use of chemicals and produces minimal waste. However, it may still require water for the separation process, and the disposal of tailings can still be a concern.


In conclusion, froth flotation and gravity separation are two widely used methods for the concentration of minerals. Froth flotation offers high efficiency and selectivity but requires the use of chemicals and can have environmental impacts. Gravity separation, on the other hand, is a low-cost method that does not require chemicals but may have lower recoveries. The choice between the two methods depends on various factors, including the nature of the ore, desired product quality, economic considerations, and environmental concerns. By understanding the attributes of each method, engineers and operators can make informed decisions to optimize mineral processing operations.

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