Thursday, 7 July 2016

Report on The AusIMM Geomet '16 Conference

By Dr. Megan Becker, University of Cape Town, and MEI Consultant to Process Mineralogy '17

Esme Ryan (Rio Tinto), Jeremy Mann (AMIRA) and Will Goodall
(MinAssist) catching up at the conference welcome function

One of the first questions asked at the start of the 3rd AusIMM Geometallurgy conference held in Perth on 15-16 June was the ‘traditional’ snapshot survey to see the distribution of geologists, mining engineers, metallurgists or ‘other’. As usual, a roughly equal split of geologists to metallurgists existed, but less than a handful of mining engineers were present at the conference. Is it because we use the word ‘geometallurgy’ which inherently incorporates the geo and the met side? Is it because the geos and mets have minerals in common? Is it because we don’t talk the same languages? Or is it because the mining engineers have yet to see the value?
Vanessa Leipezeit and colleague representing the
geometallurgy team from Olympic Dam
One of the common themes running through the conference was the need to define the value in what we do. Geometallurgy programmes, especially those incorporating detailed mineralogy are notoriously expensive – but when the value of the implementation can be physically defined with a dollar number, then we start using a common language between disciplines. And ideally, this is the point where the mining engineers become part of the conversation. True realisation of the value of geometallurgy comes when we start changing behaviour. As put by Vanessa Leipezeit in her presentation describing the state of geometallurgy at BHP Billitons’s Olympic Dam operations “when the mining engineer rings me up on the phone to ask about ore type and acid consumption”, then we start seeing evidence of changed behaviour.

And it is in the current economic downturn, where geometallurgy offers the most opportunity to deliver value as a means to manage ore variability. As captured in the keynote presentation by John Vann, Head of Geosciences from Anglo American, ‘tactical Geomet’ is what we should be doing in the short to medium term, ‘strategic Geomet’ is what we do in the long term. John provided a poignant quote from the ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory….tactics without strategy is the noise before death”. Therefore, the days of geologists doing ‘grade control’ are numbered – they should rather be doing ‘value based ore control’. Similarly it should be about value based reconciliation so that there is a price tag associated with each face or stope in the mine. Every member of the team ideally needs to be part of the reconciliation taking place – focusing on reconciliation in space (stope or face), rather than the simple reconciliation in time (month, quarter). Do we think this is possible? The presentations given by Vanessa Leipezeit from Olympic Dam and Craig Butler from De Grussa mine suggest that where the right motivation, communication and teams are in place then it can be done. It will be particularly interesting next year to hear from Steve Williams of Pasinex Resources on his “Reflections on the benefits and tasks ahead for Geometallurgy – from Metallurgist to Junior Miner”. Steve is considered by some as one of the fathers of modern geometallurgy and will be delivering a keynote presentation at Process Mineralogy 17 in Cape Town (posting of 24th February).
Some of the other key themes coming through the conference related to appropriate measures for geostatistical sampling and modelling (especially in the Pedro Carrasco keynote presentation given by Prof Peter Dowd from Leeds University), but also new approaches to using machine learning within modelling. Viktor Lishchuk, from LuleĆ„ Technical University presented on his approach to developing a synthetic geometallurgical model – providing a means to test numerous mine planning scenarios and also quantify the dollar value (e.g. NPV) when mining takes place without consideration of geometallurgy, as opposed to the informed mine planning and decision making that is possible when geometallurgy is considered. Viktor’s research also showed how the tool can be used as a fantastic training tool, and is another example of a platform that can enable communication between all disciplines. Viktor is a PhD student of Prof Pertti Lamberg (who delivered the keynote presentation at Process Mineralogy '14 in Cape Town).
It was good to catch up with Kurt Moeller again (centre below), who is now with Zeiss microscopy. Many from the process mineralogy community would remember Kurt from his days at JKTech. Zeiss are one of the official sponsors for Process Mineralogy ‘17 in Cape Town. Seen with him are Esme Ryan (Rio Tinto) and one of the local Zeiss representatives.
Numerous papers were devoted to new small scale tests or proxies for geometallurgy – most of them as good PhD research from several universities. Anh Nguyen from the JKMRC presented on extracting textural information from hyperspectral imaged core data and the correlation of different textural domains with the A*B parameter. Cassady Harraden from CODES University presented on extracting geotechnical data, also from hyperspectral imaged drill core as a means to supplement that which is manually and often subjectively noted by the person logging the core. Angela Escolme presented on predicting copper speciation for the Productora porphry project in Chile, using simple geochemical relationships resulting in the classification of ore as: oxide, transitional oxide, transitional sulfide, sulfide and refractory without the need for detailed mineralogy. Angela is supervised by Dr Julie Hunt, another well-known member of the geometallurgy community and who recently moved to the University of Liege where she is working with Prof Eric Pirard. Eric will also be delivering the keynote presentation at next years’ Process Mineralogy '17 on “Process Mineralogy: an essential booster to the circular economy” (posting of 7th March).
Last but not least, the final sessions of the conference turned the focus into the sustainability space. The keynote presentation was by Dr Gavin Mudd from Monash University whose work is so often cited to show the global trends in declining ore grades. Consequently, there is an exponential increase in the volume of waste and tailings being produced to meet the current global demand for metal. As Alan Riles indicated in his presentation “who are the customers of the tailings” – the physical environment and the community. Some additional good work is taking place in this space such as that presented by Alex Opitz (University of Cape Town, PhD student) on the application of a biokinetic test as a new tool for geometallurgical characterisation of ARD, and also by CODES students and researchers (Anita Parbhaker-Fox, Nathan Fox, Laura Jackson) focusing on the environmental risks of historical tailings dams and waste rock. Both of the papers presented by the CODES team were considering whether the presence of significant concentrations of some of the rarer metals (Co, In) coupled with high concentrations of deleterious, environmentally toxic elements provided the motivation for simultaneous reprocessing and environmental remediation.
Anita Parbhaker-Fox (CODES), Regina Baumgartner (Goldfields) and
Simon Dominy (Exchange Minerals)catching up in one of the tea breaks
And finally, it was good to note the respectable turnout of the conference with ~165 delegates registering (majority from Australia but also some international delegates). I arrived at the conference expecting to meet an atmosphere of doom and gloom around the mining industry. Instead, I left with a feeling of encouragement that those in our profession are determined to succeed and that mineralogy continues to remain one of the key tools we have to meet the current technical challenges.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great conference - Good to see the developments in this space!


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