Agglomeration is a common practice utilized in a wide range of industries, from agriculture to mining to pharmaceuticals. This process offers a myriad of advantages, many of which are becoming more and more relevant in today’s global market. The benefits of agglomeration include waste reductions, increased product efficiency, increased material functionality, improved product characteristics, and enhanced material handling — and the list goes on. This article outlines the basics of agglomeration, as well as the many reasons why a material may benefit from agglomeration.
What is Agglomeration
Agglomeration is a process that allows materials to collect in a mass, such as a pellet or granule. It can either increase or decrease the porosity or density of a material. There are two basic methods of agglomeration: pressure and non-pressure.
Pressure agglomeration technologies use mechanical compression to shape a dense product into a desired form. Very little, if any, moisture is needed. Pressure agglomeration processing options include compaction/granulation and briquetting.
Non-pressure agglomeration technologies use a tumbling process to ‘grow’ material into a spherical or ‘jagged’ pellet form. A binder is often used to reach the desired form. Non-pressure agglomeration methods include disc pelletizing, rotary drum granulation, pin mixing, and paddle mixing.
A variety of elements are considered when determining which agglomeration equipment and process should be used. Contributing factors include: equipment capabilities, binder properties, industry standards, desired product outcomes, and raw material characteristics.
When a material is agglomerated, you can expect to achieve several of the following benefits:
Dust-free product handling, segregation prevention, and improved product characteristics and appearance.
Industry Example: Agglomerated agricultural wastes (such as manure or compost) are easier to transport, store, and apply than unprocessed fertilizers. Other improved characteristics include a more precise fertilizer formula that combats the risk of runoff pollution.
Raw Material Benefits
Simplified transportation, dust loss prevention, and increased porosity, density, and melting abilities.
Industry Example: Ore agglomeration creates a uniform particle size distribution, which in turn maximizes the heap leaching process, allowing a more efficient extraction of minerals from the ore.
Elimination of dust and fines, increased process flow effectiveness, and increased process efficiency.
Industry Example: Glass powder in its raw state incurs a great deal of material loss during processing. Agglomerated glass powder reduces product losses and increases process efficiency.
Conversion of waste to a marketable product, reduced transportation costs, and reduced material handling costs.
Industry Example: After agglomeration processing, previously unsalable limestone fines become a marketable product (known as limestone soil amendment pellets).
Potential to eliminate the need for landfill, improved cost-efficient recycling capabilities, potential for waste-to-fuel processes, and improved waste disposal cost efficiency.
Industry Example: After agglomeration processing, previously landfilled waste paper sludge is recycled into a usable product.
In addition to the benefits listed above, the following chart identifies specific reasons why agglomeration is used in various applications:
|To produce useful structural forms||Powder metallurgy|
|To provide a defined quantity for dispensing and metering||Agricultural chemical granules, pharmaceutical tablets|
|To eliminate dust handling hazards or losses||Briquetting of waste fines|
|To improve product appearance||Food products|
|To reduce caking and lump formation||Fertilizers|
|To improve flow properties for further processing||Pharmaceuticals, ceramics|
|To increase bulk density for storage||Detergents|
|To control dispersion and solubility||Instant food products|
|To control porosity and surface-to-volume ratio||Catalyst supports|
|To improve permeability for further processing||Ore smelting|
|To create non-segregating blends of powder ingredients||Ore smelting, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceuticals|
|Source: Lister, Jim and Ennis, Bryan. The Science and Engineering of Granulation Processes. Boston : Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004.|
FEECO’s Agglomeration Advantages
FEECO’s strength in the field of agglomeration lies in its total system capability. FEECO’s resources can offer solutions to meet the needs of most agglomeration systems. “What sets us apart in terms of agglomeration solutions is our testing capabilities, which help us determine the best possible process to suit a customer’s needs,” stated Chris Kozicki, FEECO Sales Engineer. Utilizing versatility and vast processing knowledge, FEECO can not only determine if a material is suitable for agglomeration, but also what equipment is needed to deliver optimum results from the final product.
Since 1951, FEECO has delivered agglomeration solutions to many industries you’d expect, as well as many industries you may not guess would benefit from the advantages of agglomeration. Although FEECO is recognized in the fertilizer industry as an all-around agglomeration expert, the company’s reputation for turning waste into a value-added product through agglomeration processing may not be as well-known in other industries. In fact, many other industries are just getting started in the ‘waste-to-value’ practice and are unfamiliar with the benefits of agglomeration. “FEECO’s wide range of experience is applied and adapted to benefit a customer’s unique needs. Each industry has waste materials, but not all of them have researched the potential to turn these raw materials into a marketable solution. Our company acts as a link to different industries, with customers benefiting from this extensive range of knowledge,” says Ron Eichorn, FEECO Lab Engineer.
The possibilities with agglomeration seem endless, with more and more innovative solutions being developed each year. From reducing waste, to generating new income streams, the benefits of agglomeration processing are a proven technique for success and improved product performance. Additionally, relying on a company with the know-how to support the entire agglomeration process is vital to gaining the most benefits from this valuable practice.
To discuss how agglomeration may benefit you, or for more information on FEECO’s agglomeration equipment, contact us today!
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