Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Process Mineralogy and Geometallurgy

I had lunch yesterday, at Falmouth’s beautiful Indaba on the Beach restaurant, with my former Camborne School of Mines colleague, Dr. Alan Bromley. Alan was an inspiration to me during my time at CSM. He was of a rare breed, a geologist with a keen interest in mineral processing, and I suppose one of the pioneers of the then new discipline of process mineralogy. He gave a seminal lecture in the mid-70s “A geologist looks at mineral processing” which was a call for all mineral processing operations to arm themselves with microscopes and closely examine their feed and product streams, something that was never done during my time at Nchanga, despite its complex suite of copper minerals.

We reminisced on how process mineralogy has evolved since then, with sophisticated automated scanning electron microscopes such as QEM*SEM now commonplace in large operations. In the early 80s, CSM was the proud owner of one of the early image analysers, the monochromatic Quantimet 720, capable of performing linear scans on mineralogical specimens. Such was the power of this machine, that it lured the late Prof. Peter King from Wits University to a sabbatical at CSM, where he worked with Alan on his pioneering research into liberation analysis.

Alan inspired many others at CSM. Dr. Alan Butcher, now with FEI in Australia, a former geology lecturer at CSM, went on to do great work with QEM*SEM at CSIRO, and then Intellection.

Ironically, we met another old colleague in the restaurant, Mike Hallewell, formerly mill superintendent at Wheal Jane tin mine, now with SGS in Cornwall. Mike is now a geometallurgist, a relatively new discipline which has evolved from process mineralogy. Geometallurgy relates to the practice of combining geology or geostatistics with extractive metallurgy, to create a spatially or geologically-based predictive model for mineral processing plants. It is used in the hard rock mining industry for risk management and mitigation during mineral processing plant design. It is also used, to a lesser extent, for production planning in highly variable ore deposits.

Geometallurgy is just one of the themes of Process Mineralogy ’10, which will be held in Cape Town in November. This is looking like it will be a major event, with ALS Mineralogy and IMP Holdings already committed to early sponsorship. One of the keynote speakers will be Dr. Norman Lotter, of Xstrata Process Support, Canada who will present "Process Mineralogy- a History and the Future".

So, if you have an interest in process mineralogy (and all mineral processors should have) then Cape Town’s beautiful Vineyard Hotel is the place to be in November.

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