Friday, 19 December 2014

Christmas Mining Sundowner

Around a dozen hardy souls braved the atrocious weather last night to attend the last Sundowner of the year in Falmouth's Chain Locker.

It is many years since I last saw Colin Belshaw, who made his debut last night. He was my squash nemesis in the late 1970s, knocking me off the number 1 spot in the Camborne School of Mines squash team during his undergraduate days. Colin graduated in 1978, and after an interesting career as a mining engineer is now retired, which makes me feel very old. I hope to see him at future events, as he is living fairly close by, in a small village between Truro and Falmouth.

With Colin Belshaw and Paul Norris (centre)

With Colin in 1977

Thursday, 18 December 2014

FEI's Alan Butcher calls in

My old friend Dr. Alan Butcher, Principal Petrologist at FEI, called in today during a break from meetings at nearby Camborne School of Mines. The University has just invested in a high resolution scanning electron microscope for environmental research.

Alan was a colleague of mine at CSM. He left 16 years ago to take up a position at CSIRO in Australia, then was a leading player with Intellection until it went into receivership. Now he is FEI's most experienced mineralogist, and is looking for new areas for the commercial exploitation of rocks, particularly on the basis of their mineralogy and textures.

FEI originally specialised in automated mineralogy for mineral processing, and has always been a major sponsor of MEI's process mineralogy conferences, including last month's Process Mineralogy '14. Due to the increasing competitiveness of the minerals market, FEI has expanded into other areas, such as rocks holding oil and gas, and also into the increasingly important area of micro-computed tomography, of which Prof. Jan Miller has been a pioneer in the mineral processing sector.  We look forward to the company's sustained involvement with MEI and to news of interesting applications at Process Mineralogy '17.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Is recovery on its way for precious metals?

This has not been a great year for precious metals but there are signs that recovery might be on the way. Platinum is recovering from its lowest ebb in 3 years which occurred just under a month ago, and the gold price seems to be hanging on to recent gains.
Falling oil prices have reduced production costs, but the 3- year price decline is pressurising operations to come up with innovative ways to cuts costs, so MEI's Precious Metals '15 conference in May could well be at a very opportune time for researchers and operators from around the world to meet and discuss common problems and innovations.
Prof. Jacques Eksteen's keynote lecture on innovations in the processing of difficult and low grade gold ores will be very topical, and we have received abstracts from authors from Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, South Africa, UK and USA on a wide range of topics dealing with the processing of gold and PGM ores.
We will be putting the provisional programme together in a couple of weeks time, so if you would like to be included, please submit your abstract without delay.
Precious Metals '15 precedes Nickel Processing '15 at the same venue in Falmouth.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

It's that time of year again

The world is noticeably winding down now in preparation for the longest holiday of the year. I have effectively shut down Minerals Engineering journal until the New Year, so apologies if you have just submitted, or are about to submit, papers- finding reviewers willing to referee manuscripts over the Christmas period is not an easy task.

It is also the 'office party' season, and on Friday the MEI family had a quiet Christmas lunch together at Falmouth's lovely restaurant The Cove.

Yesterday was lunch again, this time in Redruth for the annual Camborne School of Mines Association Christmas lunch, always a good time to catch up with faces from the past, including 91-year old former lecturer and colleague Ron Hooper (pictured first left below with Tony Batchelor and Nick Eastwood). And also a good time to catch up with the latest news and gossip. This year I was pleased to hear that CSM will be starting up its MSc course in Minerals Engineering again next September, making it the only University in the UK offering a teaching course in mineral processing.





Monday, 8 December 2014

Laterite processing will be a major feature of Nickel Processing '15

Laterite ores were the major source of early nickel, the rich laterite deposits of New Caledonia being exploited from the end of the nineteenth century. However, the discovery of the sulphide deposits of Sudbury during the early part of last century shifted the focus to sulphides.
About 73% of the world's known nickel resources are laterites, found mainly in tropical areas such as Indonesia, Cuba, Columbia and New Caledonia. The remaining 27% are sulphide deposits with notable locations in Canada and Russia. Australia and Brazil have both sulphide and laterite nickel deposits. Currently, the majority of today’s nickel is produced from sulphide deposits, as it is easier and cheaper to mine and process than lateritic ore. However, known sulphide deposits, which are large in scale and of high nickel grade, are depleting. As a result a higher proportion of future production is expected to come from laterite deposits, and their processing will be a major feature of Nickel Processing '15 in Falmouth next May.
In his keynote lecture, Dr. Andrew Mitchell, of Wood Mackenzie, UK will discuss the future of nickel production and the outlook for nickel sulphide and laterite resource development. The nickel industry has a chequered history of success in the development of new projects, both from a laterite and sulphide ore perspective.  With a global resource base strongly in favour of laterite there can be no question that the future of nickel production will be predominantly from the laterite sector.  That said, if existing sulphide smelters are to maintain production there is also a need for new sulphide mine development. Protracted delays in start-up from numerous western world laterite projects meant that the boom market of China could not be satiated in its demand for nickel units.  This led to China "going it alone" and the advent of nickel pig iron (NPI) production.  From just 3000 tonnes of nickel in NPI in 2005, production has grown exponentially and Wood Mackenzie forecasts that it will reach nearly 400kt Ni in NPI by the end of the year.  This incredible growth has meant that the market for the nickel only now being produced in the West’s new projects has essentially already been filled by "domestic" supply in China leading to oversupply and downward pressure on prices.
This near term gloom belies the future need for nickel project developments and with a potential ore export ban from Indonesia there is a great deal of uncertainty for nickel supply going forward. In the laterite sector, project developments have been expensive and achieving design capacity has been challenging, which means that there is a general scepticism in the market to the so called "high cost, low grade laterite" sector.  In reality, average nickel grades in the laterite sector are higher than those of the sulphide sector and indeed average operating costs, before by-product credits, are very similar for both ore types.   From a sulphide mine perspective,  average nickel grades of sulphide resources being discovered are generally declining which brings with it challenges in achieving design recovery rates and concentrate qualities.  With lower grades there is also a need for larger scale developments with the obvious increase in capital costs.  So with increasing capital and project risk, sulphide mine developments can no longer be considered the "easy" entry into the nickel business.  The net result is that the technical challenges for both sectors are increasing, as indeed are average operating and capital costs.
Despite their future potential, processing of laterites is inherently energy intensive and expensive as, unlike sulphide ores, they cannot be significantly upgraded, meaning the entire ore needs to be treated in the process. Innovative technologies are being developed that are attempting to address the current processing issues, including some that are in their early stages of development. One of these, which is claimed to have the potential to revolutionise the industry is the Direct Nickel Process, recently reported in MEI Online. The technical director of Direct Nickel in Australia, Graham Brock, says that this is a 'breakthrough' technology, and he will be explaining the process at the conference.  The technology is claimed to  significantly reduce  capital and operating costs compared to current technologies. With the ability to make Ni, Co, Fe and Mg saleable products, the recycling of the nitric acid used to leach the laterite and the use of lower grade resources, the process has high quality sustainability credentials.
This all sets the scene for what is likely to be a small but very highly focused conference in Falmouth, with interesting state of the art papers already having been received from authors in Australia, Canada, China, India, Finland, France and South Africa, dealing with the processing of sulphide, oxide and laterite ores.
If you would like to present a paper at the conference, we invite you to submit a short abstract as soon as possible.

Nickel Processing '15 follows Precious Metals '15 at the same venue, Falmouth's St. Michael's Hotel in front of Gyllyngvase Beach.

Falmouth's Gyllyngvase Beach

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Process Mineralogy '14 Conference Diary

Process Mineralogy '14 was held at the Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town from November 17-19, 2014. The 3rd in MEI's series of process mineralogy conferences, it was also the smallest, reflecting the current depressed state of mineral commodities, particularly gold and PGMs, but we thank the companies who provided generous corporate support:

Monday November 17th

Jon opened the conference this morning and welcomed the 74 delegates representing 15 countries. Numbers are down in comparison with Process Mineralogy '12, but most of the companies and institutions that were present two years ago are represented, albeit with fewer delegates from each institution- a sign of the hard times.

MEI Consultant Dr. Megan Becker, of the University of Cape Town, then summarised what we have in store over the next few days, indicating that using mineralogy for prediction is a major theme of the conference.

Megan is back in Cape Town after spending the last 2 months at Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in Sweden as a visiting scholar on the Emerald International Georesources Engineering Erasmus Mundus Masters Programme. The International Masters programme is run through 4 European Universities: University of Liege (Belgium), University of Lorraine (France), Luleå University of Technology (Sweden) and Technical University of BergakademieFreiberg (Germany) entailing the students spending time at each of these institutions. Hosted by Prof. Pertti Lamberg, Prof. of Geometallurgy at LTU, her visit entailed teaching and interacting with the international class of students who are currently based in Luleå studying geometallurgy and mineral processing.

Megan Becker (centre seated) and Pertti Lamberg (2nd left seated)
at LTU with international students
And it was Luleå University's Pertti Lamberg who got the conference off to a fine start with his opening keynote lecture, discussing the use of automated mineralogy for modeling and simulating beneficiation processes as a way forward in process mineralogy. The majority of process mineralogical studies can be described as optimization problems where conditions for the best economic and most resource efficient processing are sought. For solving such problems the raw process mineralogical data is not enough; optimal solution can be found only through modeling and simulation. Automated mineralogy provides accurate and detailed information on processed materials but this data is currently only partly utilized since the use of liberation information in modeling and simulation is very rare. He described the steps needed for establishing such simulations; from experimental work and liberation analyses via mass balancing, model development and model fitting to simulation of different scenarios.

This was followed by a number of papers describing the measurement and interpretation of mineral textures, a controlling factor in mineral liberation, and the use of such information in designing comminution and flotation circuits. Four of these were given by the 5-woman strong team from Australia's JKMRC, led by senior scientist Elaine Wightman, and including three graduates from the Philippines.

With the JKMRC team, Elanie Wightman, Tamsyn Parker, Kate Tungpalan,
Riza Mariano and Vannie Resabal
Will Goodall and Al Cropp
The coffee break gave us the first chance to take a look at the small exhibition and to talk to Al Cropp and Will Goodall who are co-chairing the morning session. They were both involved with Intellection in the early days of QEMSCAN technology. When Intellection went into receivership in 2008 its QEMSCAN assets were taken over by conference sponsor FEI.

On leaving Intellection Will formed his own company, Melbourne based MinAssist, a progressive young company offering services to the minerals industry in the interpretation of mineralogical information, and also a sponsor of this conference. Will is leader of the AMIRA P843 Geometallurgical Mine Mapping and Modelling Program (MEI Online).

Although based in Cornwall, UK, Al worked closely with Will as a consultant, but recently moved to Cambridgeshire to take up a position with Carl Zeiss, also a sponsor of the conference. Three months ago Zeiss launched a new automated mineralogy system for the mining industry, which is on display in the exhibition, and is described in MEI Online (see also posting of 18th November).

Igor Tonzetic of Zeiss demonstrates the Mineralogic Mining Automated Solution
During the afternoon session, a joint paper by Carl Zeiss, Australia's JKMRC and Anglo Technical Solutions Research, South Africa, described the use of X-ray computed tomography for 3-dimensional mineral characterisation, and a paper from the University of Utah also discussed 3D analysis of packed particle beds. This was presented by Chen-Liu Lin, and co-authored by Jan Miller, who presented an excellent keynote lecture on this subject at Process Mineralogy '12. As most people know, Prof. Miller was seriously injured last year in a car crash in Tibet, and was unable to travel to Cape Town this year, but it is good to hear that he is on the way to a full recovery.

Chen-Liu Lin (3rd left) with Ben Thompson, Teresa McGrath and Nicole Meyer
After a very long first day, which included 16 papers, it was good to relax in the Vineyard Gardens during the 'Happy Hour' (see also posting of 17th November).

Chen-Liu Lin with Roberto Galery, Otavio Gomes, Paulo Brandao and Marek Dosbaba

Tuesday November 18th
Acid mine drainage, a growing problem in South Africa (MEI Online), was the theme of the three papers this morning prior to the coffee break. In his keynote lecture, Bern Lottermoser, of Camborne School of Mines (CSM) UK showed that total worldwide liability associated with the current and future remediation of ARD is approximately US$ 100 billion. Consequences of failing to predict ARD for individual operations and for the mining industry include unplanned spending on remedial measures and reputational damage. Despite these severe risks, predicting the properties of mine wastes is typically not an attribute which is strongly embedded into the development of mineral resources, and examples of failures to predict waste properties accurately are plentiful. He stressed that the time has come to drastically improve our scientific efforts to forecast the likelihood of ARD accurately. Improvements in our predictive capabilities will come from new field and laboratory tests and the application of state-of-the-art characterisation tools and methodologies at individual exploration and mine sites. Such data are needed to establish the operational challenges, impacts and closure liabilities of ores and wastes.

There is reason for optimism that the required progress is possible. Such optimism is based on the phenomenal advances which have been achieved since the 1960s in our ability to predict ore and waste properties, processes and impacts. While the research community needs to establish practical state-of-the-art characterisation tools, industry has to accept and use such tools if we are to achieve more cost-effective mine closure and reduce environmental liabilities in the long term. Such progress also requires the application of predictive tools at the beginning of the life-of-mine cycle. At the earliest stage of mineral resource development, tests and methodologies should rely on integrated field and laboratory measurements using mineralogical, geochemical and geometallurgical tools. A more predictive approach to early ore and waste characterisation supports more effective management and valuation during operation and ultimately less costly mine closure outcomes.

Anita Parbhakar-Fox and Bern Lottermoser
Prof. Lottermoser divides his time between CSM and the University of Tasmania (UT) and he co-authored the 2nd paper of the morning, given by his post-doctoral student Anita Parbhakar-Fox of UT on the prediction of acid rock drainage from automated mineralogy. She showed how an accurate understanding of acid forming potential can be gained based on a detailed knowledge of mineralogy. A case study on the application of mineralogy in the interpretation of laboratory scale acid rock drainage prediction tests was then given by Megan Becker of the University of Cape Town (UCT). The study used a mineral mass balancing approach on a gold ore to understand the contribution of various minerals to laboratory scale acid base accounting and net acid generation tests, as well as on the novel UCT biokinetic test.

During the coffee break, I looked in on the Oxford Instruments booth. The company is showcasing a new version of their Automated Mineralogy Suite, INCAMineral, which now offers fully automated minerals identification and greatly enhanced reporting options on mineral liberation, deportment, particle and common perimeter associations, phase abundances, size distributions and element and phase grade recovery. Analysis options are available for modal or particulated samples and rare particle search functionality is integrated to increase throughput. They were also demonstrating new applications enabled by combining crystallographic (EBSD) and compositional (EDS) analysis.

At the Oxford Instruments booth
Following coffee were 5 papers on the use of XRD techniques, given by authors from Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands, Brazil and UK.  Oxford Instrument's INCAMineral and EDS were utilised in work described by James Strongman of Petrolab, UK, on the increasingly strategic REE bearing ores and the need to characterise and process these often complex ores. The case study looked at a flotation concentrate from a deposit in the Fen carbonatites, Norway. The fine grain-sizes and wide range of REE bearing minerals create a number of issues for classification by traditional automated mineralogy systems. INCAMineral combined with the next generation of large area silicon drift detectors allowed the particle detection and EDS acquisition to be optimised to produce an accurate, clean and robust data set, capable of detailed mineral speciation.  He concluded that INCAMineral is an extremely quick, powerful and cost effective tool for assessing complex metallurgical test products and correlating them directly with chemical assay.

Quantitative phase analysis using X-ray diffraction (XRD) has became a standard tool for process optimization and quality control in industrial environments such as mining or metals production. A presentation by Uwe König of PANalytical B.V. showed how Partial Least-Squares Regression can be used in industrial environments to easily and precisely predict properties such as crystallinity and process parameters more directly from hidden information in XRD data.

Uwe König (3rd left) at the PANalytical booth
Conference sponsor Bruker has two technical presentations this week and the second of them this morning showed how energy dispersive linear detectors and dynamic beam optimisation, recently available with Bruker XRD instruments, have opened the door to routine quality control XRD on poorly crystalline material such as clay.

At the Bruker booth
The afternoon session was an eclectic mix of papers from UK, Finland, South Africa and Australia, dealing with the process mineralogy of vermiculites, spodumene, sphalerite, porphyry copper, gold and PGMs.

Then after coffee, we were off to nearby Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for the conference dinner. Great setting, great company, great food and great entertainment (see also postings of 18th November and 19th November).







Wednesday November 19th

The last technical session of the conference contained a number of case studies involving mineralogical characterisation to optimise processing of various ores, including complex sulphides, nickel laterites, kaolin, heavy mineral sands, iron and gold.

Tantalum and niobium minerals (coltan) belong to so called "conflict resources" which are mined in civil war regions such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and others in order to finance the fighting of rebellion groups.  A law was introduced in 2010 to prevent U.S. based companies trading the coltan minerals from DRC. Implementation of this law brought a need to characterize publicly traded coltan concentrates. Marek Dosbaba of Czech company Tescan Orsay Holding presented an interesting paper this morning on the TESCAN Integrated Minerals Analyser (TIMA), a system which could significantly help the characterization. The device provides information on proportions of minerals, which are precisely chemically characterized using a wavelength dispersive spectrometer without the need to move the sample out and without a new search for specific particles, allowing the very precise fingerprinting of ores from a particular locality.  Earlier in the month Australia's CSIRO installed a TIMA, the first in the country, a second due to be installed at Curtin University in January (MEI Online).

At the Tescan booth
The future of process mineralogy was the theme of the afternoon panel discussion, chaired by Megan Becker of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, with panellists Bern Lottermoser of University of Exeter, UK, Will Goodall of MinAssist, Australia and Elaine Wightman of JKMRC, Australia. The proceedings of the discussion will be reported in a later posting.

Amanda closed the conference, and invited delegates to attend Process Mineralogy '17 at the Vineyard in March 2017. A farewell wine function in the hotel gardens closed what has been a productive and enjoyable week in Cape Town, with interesting and friendly people. The atmosphere of the week is captured in this 7-minute video.

UCT's Prof J-P Franzidis was a welcome visitor to the farewell wine function
The Proceedings are available from MEI, and a special issue of Minerals Engineering, containing selected papers, will be published next year.