Monday, 31 August 2015

Wheal Jane is still very much alive

Many of you who visited Cornwall in the 1970s and 80s will have called in at the Wheal Jane mine near Truro, which produced tin, copper, zinc and silver.

Although the mine closed in 1992, the site is still very active, and regularly visited by minerals people from overseas, but for different reasons. SGS Minerals and Wardell Armstrong International, both based on site, have extensive laboratory and pilot plant mineral processing facilities and carry out testwork for clients from many parts of the world. Only 5 months ago, as a result of client demand for a copper porphyry project in Kazakhstan, WAI purchased a SAGDesign test mill from Starkey & Associates of Canada, the first to be installed in the UK (posting of 27th March).

A few days ago I called in at SGS Minerals Services UK to catch up with two visitors from Turkey. Zafir Ekmekci I know very well, as he represents Turkey on the Editorial Board of Minerals Engineering. He and his colleague Hakan Hassoy, from Polimetal Mining were in Cornwall for 3 days to work with SGS on the evaluation of a Turkish copper-zinc ore.
With Hakan Hassoy, SGS's Varun Gopalakrishnan and Zafir Ekmekci
Nigel MacDonald (left) with Physical Separation '15 delegates

This was my first visit to the new SGS offices and laboratories, and I was most impressed, not only by the facilities but also by the enthusiasm of its relatively young 16 strong team of mineral processors, many being graduates from nearby Camborne School of Mines (CSM). Their passion and motivation is exemplified by Nigel MacDonald, who as well as being operations manager also finds time to act as a very knowledgeable volunteer guide at the King Edward Mine Museum. Nigel has worked all over the world in the mineral processing industry for the last 30 years.

Some of the SGS team: Tim Sambrook, Varun Gopalakrishnan, Nigel MacDonald,
Dave Goldburn, Mike Cook, Dominic Comybeare and Jo Byrne
SGS is a world leader in inspection, verification, testing, and certification. The mining business line consists of regional offices serving local markets each of which calls upon a network of field leaders, experts, and, when necessary, equipment, and SGS Minerals Services UK Ltd is the headquarters for the ‘wider-European’ metallurgical operations. It was born out of Holman Wilfley Associates (HWA), which originally focused on gravity separation by Holman and Wilfley tables. As time progressed the need for expanded services and technical skills saw the implementation of flotation and magnetic testing facilities which lead to the acquisition of HWA by SGS in 2009. Since 2009, SGS has made multi-million pound investment in the Cornwall office and integrated it within the wider SGS Minerals strategic vision. Priding itself upon the strong relationships it holds with other local companies within Cornwall and Devon, SGS Cornwall regularly collaborates with the Wheal Jane Group, Grinding Solutions and clients such as Wolf Minerals on their Drakelands deposit. The team attracts the top talent from the Camborne School of Mines Minerals Engineering course and is always looking for the best new talent (those interested can email their CV to

The team is passionate about progressing the mining services sector within Cornwall and is involved in a range of initiatives to support the industry within the country. SGS has had a large part to play in the provision of Geochemistry data to the new Drakeland’s mine in Devon, which will become the fourth largest tungsten mine in the world (posting of 10 July 2014). In early 2015 SGS was successful in a bid for the contract for an onsite Geochemistry lab due to its local experience and global experience in running onsite laboratories for clients across the globe.

What I found particularly interesting is that SGS Cornwall recognises the importance of retaining mining skills within Cornwall and in 2015 started several initiatives to train the next generation of Cornish engineers and technicians. Currently SGS Cornwall is operating a Metallurgical Internship programme to offer high quality mining graduates / CSM undergraduates and 3-month training placement as a transition to further study in Minerals Engineering. Demand for these internship positions has been high, with candidates applying from across the globe. Within the lab, a bespoke 2-year training scheme is being implemented for the locally recruited technicians to develop their skills to a high level. Highly skilled technicians are vital to the impeccable QA/QC for which SGS is known but also provides an opportunity for Cornish technicians to transition to careers as metallurgists.

Partnering with local education institutions is recognised within SGS as part of the company’s ethos of sustainable development through working with the communities where their offices are based. SGS Cornwall is currently in discussion with Cornwall College and Camborne School of Mines to identify opportunities to work more closely together and bring the opportunities of a career in mining to more young people within Cornwall. As these plans develop, SGS intends to keep MEI informed so that the wider mining community can hear about the great talent developing within the county.

My recent visits to WAI and SGS at the Wheal Jane site have shown me that exciting things are going to be happening for Cornish mining over the next few years and I will certainly be reporting on developments as things progress.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

An update on the Drakelands tungsten-tin mine

Charlie Northfield of Wolf Minerals has emailed to tell me that commissioning of the Drakelands process plant continued throughout July and into August (see also posting of 25th June). The primary, secondary and scavenger DMS circuits were successfully commissioned. The primary and concentrate regrind mills were also started up. Commissioning of the pre-concentrate refinery commenced with tests on the flotation cells, filter, dryer and reduction kiln. The month also saw the successful completion of 200 working days without a lost time incident (LTI). The official opening of the UK's newest metal mine is on September 17th.

Earlier this month Wolf employees and contractors enjoyed another good sundowner in the warm sunny weather at the Miners’ Arms, Hemerdon.


Monday, 24 August 2015

New Book- Comminution Handbook

One of the giants of comminution is undoubtedly Prof. Alban Lynch, who I had the honour of interviewing a year ago (posting of 11 August 2014). Amongst his many honours, last year he was inaugurated into International Mining's Hall of Fame.

I last saw him in Brisbane in 2010 where he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the IMPC (posting of 8th September 2010) and where his latest book, The History of Flotation, co-authored with Greg Harbort and Mike Nelson was launched (posting of 7th September 2010).

Great to hear therefore that a new work, set to become a seminal volume, is to be launched at Metplant '15 in Perth on September 7th. The Comminution Handbook, edited by Alban Lynch, is a new publication from The AusIMM with chapters from experts in all fields of comminution.

Most mineral processors think of grinding as wet grinding of mineral ores. On the first page Alban gently reminds us that more than twice this tonnage of cement and coal is subjected to fine dry grinding. So this text includes contributions on the whole array of crushing, grinding and classification equipment used to comminute the wide range of materials demanded by our communities. Of course, the discussion would not be complete without the explanations of sizing techniques, classification, testing and scale-up methods, mineral liberation, circuit design, process control, circuit practice and recent technology developments.  It should haunt us that more efficient devices such as high-pressure grinding rolls and tower mills were common in dry grinding at least 25 years before they were discovered for ore grinding. This book may help ensure that we don’t let that happen again.

The handbook begins with mineralogy, and reviews mineral liberation theory and quantitative analytical tools before addressing machines and circuits. Chapters 4 – 10 address types of comminution and classification machines including tumbling mills, crushers, stirred mills and HPGR, then chapters 11 – 16 cover circuit design, process control and modelling. Unlike classic mineral processing texts, this handbook gives substantial attention to comminution in the coal and cement industries as well as hard rock mining. The purpose of the book is to present comminution as it is today to those with the responsibility of improving the technology in the future.

The volume should appeal to professionals who are involved in, or have an interest in, comminution, metallurgy and related fields.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Cornish Mining Sundowner- August

A light drizzle drove us indoors for last night's Cornish Mining Sundowner at Falmouth's Chain Locker. Just over 20 people attended, exclusively Camborne School of Mines staff and students past and present. Apart from myself, past lecturers present were Phil Oliver and Tony Batchelor, and it was good to see past-Director Frances Wall, and my old mineral processing colleague Tony Clarke, one of the great driving forces behind the success of the King Edward Mine Museum. Although I did not catch their names there were a few post-graduate students present and I hope we continue to see more in the future, as the sundowner provides an ideal opportunity to network in a very sociable atmosphere, as well as to sample some of Cornwall's finest ales.

It would be good to see more current CSM staff at the sundowners. MEI's Biohydromet '16 consultant Chris Bryan was the only staff member present last night, and good also to see next year's keynote speaker, biohydrometallurgist Dave Dew in attendance. He graduated from CSM way back in 1979, as did Pete Walsh, who has now become a regular at these events.

Hopefully someone can help me out with a few names on the photos below.

Chris Bryan, Dave Dew, Tony Clarke, Phil Oliver, Nick Eastwood and Pete Walsh

Barbara Wills, Joan Oliver, Frances Wall, Barry Wills, ?, Carol Richards, ?

Dave Chilcott, ?, Malcolm Hooper, ?, Paul Burton, ?, ?, ?, Linda Batchelor, Tony Batchelor

Thursday, 20 August 2015

St. Agnes to Chapel Porth and Wheal Coates

St. Agnes beach, Trevaunance Cove

This is a fairly easy 3.3 mile walk, with an elevation gain of 720 ft, starting from the beach at St. Agnes, and leading to one of Cornwall's most photographed engine houses.

After a short steep hike up the clifftop from St. Agnes' Trevaunance Cove, the next 2 and a half miles is relatively gentle, but uninspiring cliff walking.

Above Trevaunance Cove 

Looking back towards Perranporth

Between St. Agnes and Wheal Coates
The great attraction of this walk is the opportunity of exploring Wheal Coates, the ruins of which tumble down the cliff, with one of Cornwall's most photogenic engine houses, the Towanroath Shaft pumping engine house, adjacent to the coastal path.

Wheal Coates' Towanroath pumping engine house

Looking south-west to distant St. Ives from Wheal Coates
The mine opened in 1802 and was worked until its closure in 1889. It came into full production in 1815. The surviving buildings date from the 1870s when deep underground mining began at the site. There are three engine houses that formerly housed Cornish engines. Towanroath Pumping Engine House (1872) was used to pump water from the adjacent 600 ft Towanroath shaft. Another Engine House was added in 1880 to crush ore for processing. A calciner dating from 1910-1913 roasted the tin to remove impurities such as arsenic.

In 1881 138 people were employed at the site to mine a seam of tin just below sea level but this and a subsequent period of operation from 1911-1913 were not very successful because tin production was sporadic. From 1815-1914 the mine produced 335 tons of copper and 717 tons of tin.

Looking back to the engine houses of Wheal Coates
From Wheal Coates the steep descent offers great views of the beach at Chapel Porth, and for anyone wishing only to visit Wheal Coates a good option might be to park at the National Trust car park at Chapel Porth and walk the half mile to the mine site.

The descent to Chapel Porth

More Cornish Walks

More on Cornwall

More on Cornish Mining

Monday, 17 August 2015

In conversation with Richard A. Williams

Professor Richard Williams is a remarkable man. He is currently a Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Birmingham UK and Head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, holding a Chair in Energy and Mineral Resources Engineering and leading work on large scale energy storage policy and technology.

Next month he will take over as Principal and Vice Chancellor at Heriot Watt University, a large science and engineering university based in Edinburgh, Dubai and Malaysia.

I first met Richard in 1986, when he attended the NATO Advanced Study Institute in Falmouth. He was then a Research Associate with Imperial College, UK, but it was obvious even at that early stage that he was destined for great things. In 1992 I invited him to the Editorial Board of the developing Minerals Engineering journal, a position he has held with enthusiasm and distinction ever since. But he is much more than a mineral processor. He is an academic leader, engineer and innovator, his leadership experience spanning a career developed at five UK Universities (Imperial, UMIST/Manchester, Exeter, Leeds and Birmingham) and he is one of the few engineers in UK to be an Academician of both the UK and Australian Academies of Engineering. He has particular experience at building and inspiring academic teams to develop significant new activities and business partnerships in UK and overseas locations. He has also been successful in the acquisition of global talent to build and focus research capacity and is widely networked in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and three provinces in China. His direct experience with building businesses and business awareness in UK and internationally has yielded new strong university partnerships in rail, automotive, renewable energy, nuclear, space technology and defence sectors. Some of these are cross-disciplinary reflecting the necessity for future research frontiers to address social, technical, political and economic agendas.

His academic work spans scholarly publications in chemical and mineral engineering sciences, to applied engineering and instrumentation that has created new high throughput manufacturing processes with major environmental and business benefits. He was appointed full professor aged 33 and one of the youngest Academicians and Vice Presidents of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2000 and again recently in 2015. Amongst his many honours, awards and prizes is the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to science and engineering. He is on the technical advisory board of Lloyds Register Foundation.

Richard graduated from the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College in 1981 with a degree in Mineral Technology, and in 1985 with a PhD in the electrochemistry of ferrosilicon suspensions.

With fellow Imperial College students John Marsden and Cathy Evans, and their
former tutor Prof Tim Napier-Munn at the IMPC in Brisbane
After a brief period as a Research Associate, he took up a lecturing appointment at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and became Honorary Professor of Chemical Engineering in 1993. In 1998 he became Royal Academy of Engineering – Rio Tinto, Professor of Minerals Engineering at Camborne School of Mines, which had recently been incorporated into the University of Exeter. In 1999 he left Cornwall to take up a position as Anglo American Professor of Mineral and Process Engineering at the University of Leeds, where in 2001 he became head of the Department of Mining and Mineral Engineering. In 2005 he was appointed Pro-Vice Chancellor for Enterprise and Knowledge Transfer and International Strategy and in 2010 for International Partnerships, before taking up the role in 2011 of Head of College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Birmingham.

At Birmingham he continued research in minerals systems with a focus on particle adhesion and wider systems energy. He was a Director of the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry and of the development of a new metallurgical activity in the form of a £60M High Temperature Research Centre in collaboration with Rolls Royce. These activities have developed the Coventry site as a major industrial campus for the University of Birmingham. In 2013 he became Professor of Energy and Minerals Resource Engineering at Birmingham, and in 2014 Honorary Professor at Taylors University, Kula Lumpur, Malaysia as part of the Grand Challenge Alliance. He is a visiting professor at Southeast University in Nanjing and at Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A characteristic of his fundamental work in particle, surface science and processing systems has been the way it has transferred to industrial practice. His early work on packing of ‘arbitrary shaped particles’ is widely cited and used in particle packing and waste management. The frustrations of visualising the invisible particle behaviour in opaque mineral slurries led to the creations and commercialisation of industrial electrical tomography, now used worldwide in minerals separation and audit, hydraulic conveying and food sectors. He was amongst the first to demonstrate desk-top use of x-ray tomography in mineralogical assessment of complex ores and multi-scale modelling of filter cakes. 
Richard with other UK Pioneers of Process Tomography, Ken Primrose, Prof Brian Hoyle,
Prof Lynn Gladden, Prof J Seville, Prof H McCann and Prof D Parker

Richard (right) and his wife Jane (left) and collaborators from the nuclear industry
receiving the Institute of Chemical Engineering prize for best innovation based company
(Industrial Tomography Systems plc) from Mr Boris Johnson

On Sky TV discussing the energy storage
and transport using cryogenic liquids
In the last ten years his interest in heat and cold transfer in nanofluids and process scale energy utilisation has contributed to new work in using cryogenic fluids to store energy, provide zero-emission transport, resulting in a National Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage. Related commercial equipment is now being developed. In conversation recently he said “As an academic your latest research is often your best! For me this involves two topics. First, new fundamental measurements on the origin of stickiness in industrial powders. Secondly, and at a completely different scale, the adoption and wider understanding of what is now termed ‘the cold economy’ - as industries see how they can store power and create cold resource using cryogenic liquids. This has opportunity to transform energy utilisation in mining and other sectors. A story that we hope may unfold in coming years.”

As I said earlier, he is a remarkable man, and the above brief outline of his achievements only scratches the surface of his many achievements in what has been a relatively brief career to date. The wonderful thing, however, is that his many accomplishments has not changed the man within. He is still the friendly, unassuming man that I met all those years ago at the NATO conference in Falmouth, so it was a pleasure to talk to him about his life and his thoughts on the future of science and engineering.

More conversations